A while back, one of our younger boys in the 3-5 class went through a phase in which he'd enter the classroom and introduce himself to everyone by saying, "I'm a bad guy." Sometimes it was a "bad monster" or a "bad dinosaur," but it was always something "bad." A few of the older boys, then, took him at his word and "put him in jail," which was the mesh basket in which we kept our stuffed animals. They didn't physically restrain him in the basket, but rather simply told him it was "jail," told him to go in it, and told him he couldn't escape.
At one point, he was jailed in the top of the loft and I noticed two other boys trying to drag the basket down the stairs, although they weren't physically strong enough to budge it, having succeeded only in blocking the passageway. I said, "I don't want you to block the stairs. You can play your game down stairs." They agreed that this was a fine plan and all three boys walked down the stairs carrying the basket together, then re-set their game under the loft. It all appeared very matter-of-fact, the younger boy just toddling along with his older classmates, then climbing back into the basket, an apparently voluntary prisoner.
Later he reported to his mother that it was a scary game and that he didn't want to play it any more.
A synonym for "play" is "experiment," and every research scientist I've ever met would agree. Another is "explore." Another, I would argue, is "adventure."
He'd had an adventure, alright, without leaving our little classroom, one kicked off simply by trying out a role that seemed appealing. He'd lived, first hand, a story with the classic plot of Where The Wild Things Areor Storm Boy: boy tests out his power, finds himself on a strange adventure among alien beings, then returns home where things are once more familiar.
It was early in the school year and as a social experiment it certainly was a way to get to know some of those glamorous older guys. He also learned that if you call yourself "bad" perhaps you shouldn't be surprised if the other people take you at your word.
It was also a nice exploration of the word "bad," which often seems so clearly to be one side of a diametric pairing, like black and white, but as we all know really isn't. I suspect he was trying out the word "bad" as a synonym for "powerful."
For several days thereafter, he avoided the older boys, tending to play alone or with his age peers. He still introduced himself to me, quietly, as "bad," to which I always replied, "If you say you're bad, people might treat you like you're bad." But by now the word "bad" meant "powerful," not just to him, but to all the boys playing those games.
He's now one of the older boys, quite boldly proclaiming himself a "bad pirate." Last week, when a couple of his classmates wrapped ropes around him, telling him he was their prisoner, he got out his sword, cut through those ropes, and made his daring escape.
A little later, I tried echoing his own words back to him from only a few months ago, "That looked like a scary game."
This is my personal blog and is not a publication of the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschools. I put a lot of time and effort into it. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
I am a preschool teacher, writer, speaker, artist and the author of "A Parent's Guide To Seattle".
For the past 15 years, I've taught preschool at the Woodland Park Cooperative School. The children come to us as 2-year-olds in diapers and leave as "sophisticated" 5-year-olds ready for kindergarten.
The cooperative school model allows me to work very closely with families in a true community setting.
I intend to teach at Woodland Park for the rest of my life. I love the kids and I love the families. It's an incredibly rewarding job.