Sunday, September 16, 2012

Game Over

I intend to write more about the first week of our new 5's class in the coming days as well as more about our catapults, but I just had to tell this story.

Charlotte has appeared on these pages before. She's one of the kids who's been coming to Woodland Park since before she was born, arriving in our classroom first with her mom to drop off and pick up her older brother, then as a member of our Pre-3, 3-5's, and now 5's class. If I've ever known a student, it would be Charlotte, and among the many things I know is that she is not conflict averse: she will stand up for herself, and for righteousness in general, like few people I've ever known, whatever their age.

To say she knows her way around the place is an understatement, and as we began making our classroom rules on Thursday, she helped us put together a short, but very workable list, including the vital ones of "No hitting," "No kicking," "No biting," and "No taking things from other people." We will, of course, add to this list in the coming days and weeks, but could in theory run our community quite well with these dozen or so rules we've created to get started.

On Friday, we played with our catapults. The kids fell on them with abandon. There are a lot of other more "organized" things we'll be doing with them as the year rolls on, but it was clear, given the wide-eyed enthusiasm, that the best course for this initial session was going to be to simply let the kids figure them out for themselves. Graphing, targeting examining trajectory, and other "games" could wait. It was rather wild at first, although I was proud of how well these kids -- most of whom are just getting to know one another -- figured out how to share the 5 machines without any input from me. 

Naturally, they quickly fell into targeting one another with the ping pong balls. I was trying to stay out of the way, observing, and helping to retrieve balls that had gotten under furniture, waiting all the while for a signal from the kids that we needed to consider a new rule: "No shooting other people with a catapult." It wasn't a problem yet, but I simply assumed that it would become one before too long and we'd soon have to figure out something else to "target," such as the alphabet blocks I had handy for the purpose. This moment never came, at least not on Friday.

At one point, a group of four boys had allied themselves as a team, "the boy team," leaving Charlotte all alone as, "the girl team." Charlotte had her back against some shelves, in possession of one catapult, while the boys were arrayed with their catapults in an arc aimed toward her. The boys boasted to me about their potential fire power, talking about "doubles" and "triples." A couple balls were launched Charlotte's way, which she ducked, then grabbed before they bounced back to the boys. I checked in with her and while she didn't seem particularly happy, she also didn't seem upset. There was a determined look on her face. I asked, "Do you like this game?" She made it clear she didn't need me, so I went back to hunting for lost balls.

Moments later, however, she was objecting loudly, "Hey, no taking things!"

I said, "Did someone take something? We all agreed to a rule: no taking things from other people." I pointed at where the list of rules hung on the wall and all eyes followed my finger.

"But she has all the balls!" 

That's when I noticed that Charlotte indeed had a large collection of  balls between her knees. Reluctantly abiding by our community rule, the boys gave back the one ball they'd taken from her, this girl who'd figured out a way to even those apparently insurmountable odds. I couldn't help observing, "So you guys have all the catapults, and she has all the balls." 

While Charlotte sat upon her stash, the boys, still in their semi-circle, were dumbstruck, feeling, I suppose how one feels every time one has been checkmated. Maybe I should have kiboshed the boy-girl divide earlier. Perhaps I should have been more assertive in getting to the "No shooting each other" rule. I could have handled it all differently, but at the same time, I really couldn't help but be proud of "the girl team." She had used her knowledge of the rules and her experience as a younger sister to masterfully work things around to a kind of victory that must have been satisfying to her. It was to me.

The stand-off lasted for several minutes, with the boys idly flipping their empty catapults while Charlotte proudly stood her ground. A couple of the boys started hunting under furniture for balls, but without luck.

Finally, Archie crossed over to Charlotte and asked as politely as possible, "Could I please have one ball?"

With that Charlotte sat up and pushed the whole pile of balls toward the boys. Game over.

(This is the first year of our 5's class. If you have a 4-5 year old, live in Seattle, or know someone who does, we still have a few spots available. Contact to set up a tour.)

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Meagan said...

That is fantastic. This just makes me grin, and I'm trying hard not to disturb my half-asleep toddler by laughing.

Jean said...

Heck, yeah, Charlotte!

Aunt Annie said...

A job well done, Tom. What fabulous political skills you've developed in your kids! Laughing hard here!

Anonymous said...

I can't help but think of all the things we would never know about an individual, their mind, and human interaction if we jump in and change the course of action. What a beautiful and amusing reflection. I know a little girl just like this.

Cave Momma said...

I am very impressed by her. If we lived in the area I would love to send my daughter there.

Alison said...

Well, Teacher Tom, I have been a lurker for some time your posts. Charlotte really does have "all the balls," no? ;)

I have to tell you that I'm linking to both this post and your previous post "Agressive and Violent" for my early childhood seminar students to read and discuss: The topic is gender development in ECE. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Alison Thielke
Front Range Community College

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