Monday, May 20, 2013

Choosing To Take Turns

A few years back our 3-5's class went on a field trip to a local post office. The woman leading the tour kept asking the children to "form a line" and follow her from place to place. It was a knee-jerk reaction on her part because, quite frankly, the facility was compact, making this sort of crowd control technique entirely unnecessary. It was frustrating for her and confusing for the kids. I suppose some might argue marching around in single file is a way to teach a kind of discipline, but this isn't something we do at Woodland Park, although with the right motivation, meaning when it's necessary, we can manage the queuing up part with the best of them.

In a world of limited resources, and preschool classrooms are certainly that, there is a necessity for figuring out a way to make things fair. Taking turns is one of the key ways we do that. I don't exactly set out to teach the kids to line up, but it always emerges when the time comes. I'm not saying it's something the kids naturally do, exactly, but enough of them typically do have the instinct, or the experience from other places (like dance classes or sports teams), that usually all we need to do is introduce the "limited resource" and the kids fall into a kind of self-managed line.

For instance, a couple weeks ago, we put a large chunk of wood in a shallow cardboard box, then invited the kids to climb atop our super sturdy art crate, one that was designed specifically to transport a sculpture by the great artist Alexander Calder, a perch from which they poured cups of tempera paint mixed with white glue, one at a time, over the top, a "tall paintings" technique pioneered, coincidentally, by Calder's grandson Holton Rower. (For details on how we did our version, click the link.)

At first, the project only had a few takers, early adopters who were willing to give up on their other outdoor activities to take a moment to pour their paint from on high, but as the first followers began to catch on, the challenges of limited resources began to show themselves. I thought of that poor woman at the post office as, with only a little coaching from the adults, the kids lined right up, one behind the other, talking among themselves about such important concepts as "no cutting" and "move forward" and "you're next," self managing the fairness of the process because figuring out a way to take turns was necessary. When someone tried to barge to the front of the line or take more than one turn, the others would point out, "That's not fair!"

When we're infants our needs are few and, unless we're very unlucky, such things as food, clothing, shelter, and human touch are plentiful. If they're not, that's a sign of gross unfairness that shouldn't exist in any civilized society, let alone a democracy. As we get older, however, and desires beyond our fundamental needs come into play, resources tend to become limited. How we share those resources is one of the central questions in any society. Preschoolers in our democratic preschool chose to take turns.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you wrote "I'm not saying it's something the kids naturally do" and that they experience queues in other parts of their lives and see it modeled by adults. And I'm also glad that you closed off your post with an emphasis on democracy.

Anyone who has visited China knows that there is no concept of a queue in that country. Only the most aggressive get on the bus, on the elevator, medical treatment, etc. The less aggressive get nowhere. The experience is very disconcerting for Western visitors.

And so, it would have been erroneous to say that lining up and taking turns is something that is "natural", because clearly, it is not.

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