Friday, September 25, 2015

Sharing The Swings

Yesterday's post ended with the suggestion that we had a little democratic action brewing around some challenges we are having with our swing set. Specifically, we only have two swings and a pair of children who have recently learned to pump themselves have been more or less occupying those two seats before and after school and for the entirety of our outdoor time.

Our official adult-administered policy about "sharing" is that we don't insist upon it. When a child is using something, be it a broom, shovel or swing, it's that child's right and privilege to use it until she is finished. When another child wants a turn, we encourage him to make his desire clear by saying something like, "When you're finished, I want a turn," or, more efficiently, just declaring, "Next!"

Most of the time, it's a highly functional technique and the children who employ it find themselves in possession of the object of their desire within a few minutes of declaring it. Indeed, it's far more effective than the typical preschool "sharing" process in which an adult manages turn-taking according to the clock, which usually leaves the usurped feeling reluctant, compelled, and short-changed. Even in those rare cases when a child continues to monopolize a prized object for the remainder of the day, we've found that he relinquishes it the following day in deference to his classmates. My theory is that it's much easier to resist and resent adult pressure than the knowledge that a peer, a friend even, is waiting for you to be finished.

In this case, however, the two swingers, a boy and a girl, best friends, have become unified in their joyful pursuit of self-propelled heights, and here we were, approaching the two week mark of our new school year and they were still not relinquishing their seats despite a growing discontent among their classmates. Yesterday, as I predicted, while we were sitting together at circle time, our daily community meeting, one girl raised her hand and proposed a new rule: "You can't swing on the swings for the whole time."

My standard approach to opening discussions about new rule proposals is to turn it over the group by asking, "Does anyone like to get hit? No? Then we all agree, that 'no hitting' is a rule." In this case, I asked, "You can't swing on the swings for the whole time: does everyone agree?" There was a chorus of "Yes," but I saw the mouths of the joyful swingers saying, "No."

I said, "So, it sounds like most of us think it's a good rule, but some of us don't agree." We make all of our rules by consensus, so I added, "That means we can't make it a rule." Then I tried a method that has worked in the past when we've failed to achieve consensus. I said, "I want everyone who thinks it would be a good rule to sit on this side of the rug and everyone who doesn't like that rule to sit on the other side." It was clear there was some confusion among the kids about what I was asking, but through a process of repetition and clarification, we eventually sorted ourselves out. It surprised me that we seemed to have a fairly even split, but then again, I'm not sure all the kids understood what we were doing. Not all of them, after all, even cared.

I then said, "I want the people who don't like the rule 'You can't swing on the swings for the whole time' to look at your friends who like the rule. These are people who don't feel like they ever get to swing on the swings." I left some silence for the looking to take place. Then I said, "And I want the people over here who like the rule to look at the people on the other side who don't like the rule." There was no discussion. The whole process took about three minutes, then we moved on to something else.

Later, on the playground, our swingers were right back in action. I was a little crestfallen, but also knew that eventually, be it days or weeks, they would move beyond it, so I decided my best course of action was to let it go. Fifteen minutes later, however, I noticed both of the swings hanging empty and the swingers standing off to the side. No other children were around, so I grabbed one of the swings for myself, thinking I would at least "hold" it for someone who wanted a turn.

The girl swinger said to me, "We got out of the swings so other people could have a turn." The two then ran together to the art table. I spent the next five minutes pointing out the empty swings to the children who had complained the loudest, but they were too busy doing other things, so the swings more or less hung still for the rest of the day.

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Sara said...

I love this! We have the same thing in place at my school. To new teachers that come on board they think it's strange to not set a time limit, however after some time they realize that the children can handle their own turn taking. It's also nice to see when a child asks for a turn and another child grants their wish without an adult forcing them. It makes for a lot less tears.

Anonymous said...

I imagine the powerful lesson learned by those two kids, in large part because of the ownership they had of that learning. They will carry that lesson about kindness and community with them in their hearts for the rest of their lives. Thank you, Tom.

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