Thursday, May 05, 2011

Dog Crates

I have a theory that perhaps only applies to me, but if I were ever to have a preschool purpose-built to my specifications, it would have at least 4 times more storage space than actual classroom space. In fact, it simply would not be possible for me to have too much storage space. As it is, even with limited room to stash stuff when not in use, I keep a lot of large scale items around, piled up to the ceilings, including a collection of dog crates, which usually only come out for one week a year.

It might not look like it, but these are challenging items, both for the kids and the adults.

There are two "toy" crates with handles on the tops. These are fun to fill up and carrying around.

But since there are only two, they quite naturally become bones of contention, which means that we all have to work very hard at taking turns with them.

Fortunately, they are a kind of one trick pony, which means the excitement and perhaps power of commanding one for a time gives way fairly quickly, giving the next kid in line a crack at them.

The real focus, however, are the two large crates, which are large enough to hold 3-4 kids at a time. Not that they don't try to fit more bodies in there, which gives us another opportunity to figure things out about one another. And as much as these items appear to be a wonderful opportunity for dramatic play, they really are all about conflict and cooperation.

For one thing, the doors are in many ways the focus of the play. Should they be opened or closed? Who gets to decide: the kids inside or outside? Are we trapped inside or are we keeping others out? And, naturally, there is a lot of talk about being careful with the metal doors in order to avoid pinched fingers.

I'm sure we've sent the parent-teachers in charge of the kennel play home exhausted so far this week as they've helped the children negotiate important questions like, Can we keep someone out? How will we share our limited space and resources? Who is in charge of the door?

But once we'd settled those questions, at least for a time, there must have been a great deal of good stuff going on, dramatic play that always bordered right on the edge of being real as they found a way to work through their conflicts and figure out a way to cooperate, settling on games that needed some to be out, some to be in, and an acknowledgment that the doors are for everyone.

Every time I get these out, I go back and forth in my mind about whether or not to put the tops on, instead leaving them open to the ceiling, not only reducing the opportunity to feel "trapped," but also doubling the spaces in which they can play. Or what about those doors? They really don't need to be on the crates. That would certainly make things easier for both the kids and the adults.

But that's not what we're here to do. Learning isn't always easy, especially when it comes to learning to be with the other people. Working through conflict, exploring fairness, and figuring out how to get what we want and need through that process is perhaps the most important thing we do in preschool.

So I left the ceilings and doors on and we've all been working.

In reviewing these photos and thinking back over the past 3 days, however, I've noticed a confusing phenomenon. I wonder if anyone else sees it too. I have some theories and will be testing them these next 2 days, and perhaps even into next week. It's a phenomenon that has popped up so far in both the 3-5's class and the Pre-3's: where are the girls?

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Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Love it! The room with all of them sitting there is a riot! Come on Teacher Tom, I know that's where you put the naughty kids when you're tired of them right? :)
Seriously, I LOVE that they have so much fun with those. Their like little forts and caves. What a blast!

mrstwigg said...

I'm not sure how comfortable you are suggesting play ideas -- but in my experience if you say, "let's try playing pet adoption" the girls will come running to you.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

I enjoyed reading this Tom!
There is always good philosphy in your posts - really much of what children need to learn for life seems to be available in this activity! :)

It will be interesting to read more - I agree with mrstwigg - possibly putting some stuffed animals, or ponies - and relating the play to pets may bring the girls.

Scott said...

The exploration with the crates is so cool. You never cease to surprise and inspire me, Tom.

But I want to get back to your first comment - and echo it loudly. A preschool should have 4 times more storage than classroom space. Or maybe just a separate warehouse next door. We need space for all those treasures we find and collect.

Floor Pie said...

The kids had fun! Although I feel compelled to add that this underscores the point I was trying to make a few weeks back about Aspergers and preschool.

For a student on the spectrum, when an activity get to a point where the chaos/distress level is that high, anything they could be learning about cooperation gets obscured by their easily-flooded senses. I'm sure it was joyful and invigorating for our NT (neurotypical) boys, but it would have sent my son screaming from the building in his preschool days (or, more likely, screaming toward an unsuspecting classmate). What's "fun" for NT kids can be hell-on-earth for a kid on the spectrum. And in that sense, play-based curriculum isn't always ideal.

Maybe that speaks to the "where are the girls" question, too. Or maybe most of them were painting butterflies with me at the art table. They loved it!

Barbara Zaborowski said...

A perfect example! It's not about playing with pets or dog crates. It's about the negotiation that goes on. When the kids get out our marble maze, they are only allowed two marbles, originally because I didn't want a floor full of loose marbles. But the conversation, the cooperation, the negotiation that goes on turned out to be fantastic!
By the way, on the subject of storage, boy, do I hear you!

kristin said...

ha! yes! we've done dog crates too! great fun.

jen @ said...

this is awesome! what a fun challenge, huh? we were happy to be a part of it, too, and i'm glad it led me to finding your wonderful blog! i'll be following along on fb now - find us, too!

Anonymous said...

I grew up with three older brothers , one younger (so sweet...didn't mix well w/the older ones) ( this is not to post) and I just wonder if the negotiations were done in loud voices, barks, commands about the doors and getting in and out, or actually "playing" something. Others suggested adoption, etc.

I tried out being a tomboy, once, and it was all about running atop a huge snow pile, but we weren't "doing" anything that could keep my interest.

Interpersonal skills...tend and befriend...everything I love about being a "girl."

I love your blog and read it daily. I read the past posts and I have always noticed a lot of boys get in the pics and I actually have to calm the little girl in me with the three wild brothers and hope the girls aren't relegated, instinctively, away from the boy action. I would move myself away from the wildness of boys. The vacuum cleaner post and using the cord to run around was too much for me.

One year you mentioned there were no girls, so I knew not to look for them.

I guess I am looking at the pictures to see if the boys are actually controlling the space and the girls are adjusting to where they can fulfill their day....or even the boys who aren't as active.

As a teacher, I always gravitated toward the wildest boy and made sure he was never labeled as "bad." One 4 year old was all over the classroom, but I discovered he liked maps, so we drew a way for him to "map" out his plan for his day. The paper was filled with John Nash brilliant mind lines, but it focused him and he self-managed. He was extremely smart and the kids no longer ran from him, but engaged.

My brothers lost their father to cancer rather quickly, so I am always sensitive to the emotions of a "wild" boy, the unique personality and needs.

I mention all of this because I see a kindred spirit in you. Thank you for not posting this.