Thursday, January 12, 2017

Talking, Laughing, And Making Up Stories


Over the weekend we had one of our thrice yearly, all-hands-on-deck, Saturday workdays. I can count on some 20 able-bodied folks to show up at each of them because participation is a requirement of enrollment, but also, honestly, I believe that most of our families would show up even if it wasn't.

One of the things we did was pull all the furniture away from the walls and sweep up all the debris that has collected there. While doing this, one parent came across our box of plastic sea creatures and mentioned that her daughter "V," a shark fan, would be thrilled if we could play with them, especially the sharks. So I've had the sharks in the sensory table this week.


We have several model sharks, but the "center piece" of our collection are four Great Whites, larger than the others in scale, with wide open, tooth-lined mouths behind which are their deep, hollow bodies. They are the reason I often segregate the sharks from the rest of our marine animal collection: they tend to invite a kind of play that involves aggressively jabbing the damn things in other people's faces, which not everyone likes. So, on Monday I put them in the sensory table and prepared myself to coach the kids through their episodes of jabbing.

Our 3's class more or less ignored them, but the 4-5's class, in which our resident shark admirer is enrolled, mobbed the table. I'd provided more than just the sharks, including dozens of smaller fish, octopi, lobster, artificial seaweed, and our collection of polished petrified wood, recently given to us by Pastor Gay's husband Leonard, an accomplished rock hound. There was no jabbing. Instead, V and her friends stuffed those hollow sharks full of whatever they could shove down their throats, while talking and laughing and making up stories.


I am always struck by this type of play: children using surrogates like these sharks to interact with one another. In most cases, each child at the table selected one of the sea creatures to be "me."

"I'm your baby!"

"I'm going to eat you!"

"I can fly!"

"Let's pretend we're friends . . ."

No one teaches children to wield these kinds of hand-held avatars. It comes naturally, perhaps not to all kids, but a lot of them. Of course, the classic of these surrogates are dolls, but we've all seen children do it with cars or rocks or flowers or just about anything one can hold in one's hand. It's something fundamental to learning to play with other people, a way to experiment with roles, environments, and situations; to try out, for instance, what it would be like to live in water with no arms and legs, but rather a powerful tail, rows of sharp teeth, and an insatiable appetite. And through that alien avatar play, they deepen their understanding of working and living together.


By the end of Monday, the group around the sensory table was essentially down to V and a couple of her oldest friends. They spent a good 20 minutes using the hollow sharks to scoop the water from one side of the sensory table to the other, eventually leaving one side dry, all the while talking and laughing and making up stories.

They played sharks on Tuesday and yesterday as well: being "me" the shark, emptying one side of the sensory table, "making an ocean" on the other. And all the time they've been talking, weaving their story together, one that has continued in installments for three days. And at no point did our sharks feel compelled to jab themselves into the human faces of their friends, leaving us adults with nothing to do but watch.


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1 comment:

Scott said...

"leaving us adults with nothing to do but watch"
And, often, this is the best part - the most important part - of being an adult in a preschool classroom.

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