Sunday, September 04, 2011


Parent-teacher Jaimee was down by the boat, peering up the hill between the trees. I followed her line of sight to find it ended on her daughter, the youngest child in the class, in the midst of some sort of verbal altercation over the swings.

Jaimee was just watching, but I made a beeline for the scene. Her daughter was addressing another 2-year-old in a commanding voice, "Stop! That's Charlotte's swing." She was firm, convinced of the rightness of her cause, "Stop!"

We teach that technique at Woodland Park: to forcefully say, "Stop!" when someone is hurting you or scaring you or taking something from you. We practice it at circle time, usually holding our hands in front of us, palms out, saying together, "Stop!" Although in this case it was something learned second hand, from her older sister, or maybe Jaimee, because we hadn't introduced it in the summer session. Not only that, but she wasn't defending her own swing, which she held by the chain with her tiny fist, but rather the one which her friend had lost when she briefly walked away.

It didn't seem to be working, however, probably because the child to whom she said it had also not yet learnt this tool. As she took a few steps away from her own swing to get closer for better effect, she let go of the chain and another child who had been awaiting a turn snagged it, an unanticipated additional injustice. Tears were next. I wanted to jump in now before the best chance for talking was washed away by them. We can always return to conflicts once the tears subside, but it's never as effective as catching things in the moment.

I asked this group of four 2 and 3-year-olds, "What's happening?"

She said, "They took our swings!" No one else said anything.

I asked, "Did you get out of your swings and they got in?"

She nodded. 

"They probably thought you were done swinging." I waited for someone to say something, but when no one filled that space, I asked, "What should we do?"

"They can get out of the swings and we can get in them!"

The other three children were silent, two of them still swinging, but paying attention.

I can't remember exactly how we got there finally -- I probably forced things a little -- but we agreed on a system of sharing that involved taking turns in twos to the count of 20, those of us standing counting aloud in modified cheerleader fashion while others swung, then they switched and the counting started again.

It was a fairly typical solution to a fairly typical kind of problem. The kind of thing that happens in preschools around the world every day. In a cooperative, however, the parent gets to see it with her own eyes, not through the reports of others. 

After awhile, my participation in the sharing game no longer necessary, I returned down the hill to Jaimee. She said, "I was just watching to see what would happen. She's the youngest and the smallest. I wondered if she would stand up for herself."

I said, "She did."

And Jaimee answered, "I know." Knowing: what a great feeling that is.

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The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

Ooh, it's so tempting to step in and "solve" the problem by telling them they can't play if they can't share, or by putting the coveted toy out of takes such time and care to TALK with children and give them the tools (and the power!) to solve problems themselves. But isn't it a wonder to see them standing up and protecting themselves...must remember to teach the "STOP" technique when Kindergarten starts this coming week!

Unknown said...

Having twins, this type of struggle comes up often each a day with my kids. Over the years I've done this same type of talking with them where I broadcast what's happening & ask how they can solve it. It takes so much effort to hold myself back from solving it FOR them, but now, at age 4 1/2, they are often able to do the complex negotiations themselves.

Knowing that I am raising two children who can work through situations so each person fels heard and pleased with the outcome is incredibly rewarding.

I love that Jaimee's daughter is so empowered at such a young age! Awesome. :)

Gina Phillips said...

Good Day Teacher Tom!
I am an Education student at the University of South Alabama, USA, and for one of my projects in my Classroom Technologies class EDM310 I am required to post comments on the blogs of teachers. You’re my first assignment!

I have really enjoyed reading your blog this week. It started with the one about painting and I am commenting one your latest one about the playground. I enjoy that you really listen to your students and you hear what they are saying even if they aren't talking!

I am a Secondary Ed major and I fear that I enjoy teenagers as much as you appear to enjoy the younger children! Although there is a definite age gap, I can see similarities in how one would handle them. You patience alone is a teaching tool to those who watch and read what you say. I hope to engage students in learning about themselves much in the same way you engage your students. I want them to teach themselves the material and share with others. I would prefer to not be as much of a teacher as a learning guide. You are a great example of a great teacher! I look forward to many more of your blogs! Thanks for sharing.

If you would like to contact me or if you have any questions about EDM310, I have left my blog link (or at least I hope I have!)and I will leave my class link as well. (Maybe! I hope I can do it correctly!)

Class Blog:

My Blog:


jaimeep said...

Thank you for posting this “moment.” I learned to stand back and watch from you! Thank you!