Wednesday, April 09, 2014

One Big Pile

At any given moment, there are boys in our 5's class discussing teams. "I'm on your team," "What team are you on?" "This is our team's hideout." They usually try to divide up into "good guys" and "bad guys," but since they all want to be good guys, they've been mostly charging around as one big team, which often leaves "the girls" in the role of opponents. For their part, the girls have either been unaware, haven't cared, or have engaged as active participants, discovering that the threat to hug, kiss, or otherwise "love" the boys is enough to send them running.

We saw a different take on the team phenomena last week.

As a boy, my brother and I had a set of these cardboard blocks. I recall actually creating with our classic wooden unit blocks -- forts, castles, factories -- but what I most remember about the cardboard ones is dressing up as football players and running down our long hallway to crash through the tottery structures we had erected for the purpose.

As a teacher, I'm not so fond of them, although they have their place with our youngest kids, giving them a chance to build tall without the risk of being brained by a chunk of wood when the whole thing inevitably comes tumbling down. That said, last week several of the kids in our 5's class requested them, so we gave them a go.

At first, there were some attempts to build things, but the blocks are so light-weight and easily misshapen that progress was frustrating.

Then the hoarding behavior set in, along with the by now familiar division into teams of boys. There were three fluid groups or 2-3 who had collected blocks for their projects. There were a few furtive attempts to build, but with opposing team members always on the prowl for the opportunity to snatch an unattended brick, it was mostly about protecting those damned hoards. That's when Gus had the idea that he was selling his supply. "It's a block store."

Representatives of other groups came by to check things out. "You're selling blocks?"


"How much?"

Gus set a price. Whatever he asked for was always accepted, then imaginary money exchanged hands.

At first, the other teams took advantage of Gus, re-distributing the wealth in their own favor, but after a time, the others opened their own stores, selling off their supplies. Before long, a kind of barter system emerged in which there was a pretty nifty balance of trade, with different colors and sizes of blocks holding different values for each of the three mini-communities.

Each team had sort of leader, although their role was more as idea-man than boss. A few of the boys remained loyal to their team, but most served as go-betweens, bouncing from team to team, affiliating with first one then another, often providing the impetus for trades or as channels of communication.

The game went on like this for a time, but came to a head when Gus, in an attempt, it seemed, to become the leading businessman of his day, announced that he was no longer selling his blocks, but rather giving them away. It makes sense if you understand that the highest purpose of this economic system was not profit, but rather popularity via moving the merchandise. Not to be outdone, his "competitors" made similar announcements and before long all of these crappy cardboard blocks were stacked in the middle of the rug, one big pile that belonged to everyone.

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