Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Magic Word

The day before, we'd stacked the prop laptop computers in a corner of the lower level of our loft, so it's understandable that when the 2-year-olds started opening them up and spreading them out on the following day, they did it right there in the lower level of the loft.

This took up all the space and so when our friend the tiger wanted to join them, there wasn't enough room to maneuver. 

"I'm a tiger."

No response.

"I'm a tiger."

Again, no response.

"Grr. I'm going to crawl on your computers." It's not clear to me whether he wanted them to move so he could pass or if he was just trying to engage them in play.

One of them said, "No!" The other said nothing, seemingly at peace with the idea of a tiger crawling on his computer.

I'm still working on unlearning the habit of intervention. There have been times in my life as a teacher when I would have managed this interaction. I used to think that's what teachers did.

The silent moment that followed wasn't particularly tense as everyone seemed to be simply waiting to find out what would happen next.

"Grr. Grr. Grr."

Then she said the word "let's," perhaps the most powerful words in the English language: "Let's take the computers up there."

When I was a boy they said the word "please" was the magic word, and I suppose it was when we were performing for adults in order to get something we wanted, but "let's" is the word with real magic in it. "Let's" is, of course, really two words that we speak as one, meaning "let us." It's not a command nor a question, but rather an invitation and in the mouths of children it's most often used as an invitation to play.

"Let's play trains."

"Let's be princesses."

"Let's pretend we're pirates and I fall off the boat into the water and you have to rescue me." (Without the word "let's" cooperative dramatic play would hardly be possible.)

It's not so common in our Pre-3 class, which is why it jumped out at me, but by the time the children are 4 and 5 you hear it a lot as they play together, often at the beginning of every sentence.

And that would be enough, if this magic word could do only this, but listen, it's a real magic word. You can use it for almost anything you need to do with the other people.

"Let's take turns."

"Let's make a rule."

"Let's try using a rock to open it."

Of course, there's always a dark side to every kind of magic, a way to misuse it.

"Let's take all the balls."

"Let's keep the girls out."

"Let's pretend we're pirates who push everybody else into the water."

But even so, even when we use it to experiment with the misuse of our collective power, there's no denying it's a magic word, one that brings us together, that creates room for other people, that makes our play better and our lives bigger. "Let's" is always an invitation, one that contains all of the open-ended possibilities of human beings together.

"Let's take the computers up there." They took their toys to the top of the loft, leaving space for the tiger to crawl. But he accepted the invitation as well and became a tiger, with them, typing on a laptop.

(Note: If you've been missing me on Facebook, it's because their security system has falsely determined that my computer contains malware, which automatically limits my access for a few days. I can read things and "Like" things, but I can't post. I thought I could solve this by trying a different computer, but it seems I'm just going to have to wait until they let me out of quarantine.)

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Sylvia@MaMammalia said...

I really enjoyed this post. I think "let's..." is a far underused word by adults. It really is incredibly powerful, but without being controlling. I also really like your take on intervention. I think a lot of people mistake this type of hands-off approach for being totally permissive, when really it's just giving the kids a chance to figure things out. And they did! I still struggle to hold back at times to give my 2 YO the chance to work his way through an issue. Let's all say "let's" more often!

Lesley @ early play said...

Love this post. The power of words.