Friday, October 10, 2014

"You Win!"


































A handful of kids have continued to experiment with using our planks as "diving boards" since coming up with the idea last week. As you may recall we broke one plank in the process. Well, we broke another this week, prompting us to agree that this probably wasn't the best use for our planks, but in the meantime, this happened . . . 


D and G were taking turns on the diving board when Y arrived on the scene, picking up a bench and calling out, "Okay guys, who wants to play my game?"

D and G said they would, so he placed the bench, upside down, several feet away in the diving board landing zone. "The game is you have to jump onto this bench."


From where I stood, both literally and figuratively, I could see that this was a manifestly risky proposition. The bench was placed at the farthest point I'd seen any of the kids jump. It would require a supreme effort for anyone to launch themselves that far, making it nearly impossible to stick that particular landing, not to mention the fact that the bench, being upside down, was likely to tip over with the merest touch. It didn't take a catastrophic imagination to know that the first kid to try this was going to wind up landing hard on his or her back. 


So here's the classic adult dilemma: could I trust the kids to make a similar assessment of the situation or should I step in with warnings, substituting my thought process for theirs? I've known D for a long time and he was the first one queued up for an attempt. He's physically competent, but no daredevil, and since thinking for ourselves is what school is all about, I decided to keep my mouth shut and give him the chance to noodle this through on his own.


D lined himself up for the attempt with G behind him, watching, awaiting her turn. He leapt high, but not far enough, landing solidly on the ground in front of the bench, which he slapped with the palm of his hand.


There was a moment of silence before Y, the games master, announced, "You win! You touched the bench. That means you get to go again."

G followed suit, also slapping the bench, also winning a second turn.


On a dime, without a word of disagreement, these three children had altered the game to fit the realities they discovered before them, an unspoken adjustment based upon their on-the-fly calculations about their capabilities, accommodating the realities of their risk assessments, and with a sharp regard for the feelings of one another. There was no debate. There was no attempt to urge anyone to go against their own best judgement. There was no shaming. There were no losers.


D and G took several more turns, each time being told, "You win!"


Then D tried something new. He again stuck his landing directly in front of the bench, but this time without slapping it. He stood for a moment staring at Y, not in a challenging way, but rather as if asking a question about the nature of their game. There was a pause as Y thought about his response, then he announced, "You still won! You could have touched the bench. That means you get to go again."


This is one of the primal driving forces behind free play, that is, play untainted by adult interference: the urge to keep the game going, bending and shaping the rules to suit the players, their judgements and their capabilities. This is what happens when the goal of the game isn't winning or losing, but rather playing the game. When left to their own devices, when left to think for themselves, these are the games children play.


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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is so fantastic. Trusting kids and staying close rather than stepping in and asserting the solution you would have thought of allowed them to be their own silly, wonderful, caring selves. Kids are capable of so much. Thanks for sharing this. -A fellow preschool teacher

Mari Hubert said...

Reading your posts such as this always makes my heart happy! I feel so sad when I hear a teacher or parent (I work in a co-op as well) tell a child, "you can't do that" without them thinking through the process to the end result.

Courtney Lawson said...

You'll never know how smart or kind or adaptable a child can be if you never give them the chance to test those attributes. Kids are amazing, teaching each other the way they learn best. i think we could all learn from this!

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