Friday, October 25, 2013

"It's About Playing Dinosaurs!"

Four of the oldest boys in our 3-5's class were playing together with the outdoor dinosaurs. Although three have been coming to school together for three years now, they've stilled struggled with their friendships at the beginning of the year: nothing unusual, but they've had to put a lot of effort into figuring out how they're going to play together. For the most part, they've done well in groups of two, but those third and fourth guys have often felt left out. I want to play with them, but they don't want to play with me. 

There have been a number of adult supported conversations in which we practice telling others what we want, listening to one another's answers, and talking about our feelings. That's the most important part, of course, talking about our emotions. It's quite powerful to share how we feel: it sparks compassion and empathy from both sides, and the boys have seen the truth of it this past month or so. Of course, they've had just as many conflicts as any other group of 4-year-old boys, but they've been short lived, and begin to end the moment one of them remembers to say, for instance, "That made me feel sad." As a teacher, I feel quite gratified, even honored, to be witness to this. 

Lately, they've seemed to hit their stride when it comes to large group play.

For the past week or so, it's taken the form of playing dinosaurs. The boys for whom it's important have staked "until further notice" claims on their favorites, and there remain plenty of other outdoor dinos for the guys who don't care, a system of agreements hammered out over the past few weeks, organically devised amongst themselves for reducing pressure, at least, on that particular conflict point. It's the latest iteration of our "let's play a story" invitation, with these boys shaping their dinosaur story together as they move from place to place around the outdoor classroom, stopping for chapters here and there, swimming together, hunting, or generally rampaging the way dinosaurs do. 

None of these guys are interested in being "bad guys." They're all about being "good guys" in their stories, so instead of vying, they been tending to form a team. When they're on a roll like they've been lately, it's easy to answer, "I'm sorry" when the other guy says, "Hey!" There's a kind of magic in how they've been playing together, one in which they even, amazingly, tend to not take offense when one calls another out for breaking the rules. That's right, they actually kind of listen to one another, which, having spent over half a century studying people, I've found to be a truly rare thing when people get together.

Yesterday, after a wallow in a puddle, they marched off with their dinosaurs along the ridge behind the laurels. One of them said, pushing forward, "Me first!"

Without a beat, a friend replied, "It's not about being first. It's about playing dinosaurs." Another echoed from the middle of the pack, "It's about playing dinosaurs!" Then they each repeated it, boldly, men on a mission, "It's about playing dinosaurs!" as they marched off into the laurels, not worrying themselves with being first.

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