Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Rules We Lived By: 2011-12

Each year our 3-5's class makes its own rules, a list that starts short, then grows longer over the course of the school year, sometimes as a result of situations coming up that we want to address, sometimes as an exercise is catastrophic thinking, and sometimes as a game we play during circle time. If you want more details on how we go about making our rules, click here.  

I know there are a lot of very smart people out there who believe that it's important to keep rules short and sweet for preschoolers, many opting for some version of "Treat your friends gently." That's not the way we do it. Woodland Park belongs to the children, it is their community and their education. This is one of the central ways by which they shape their preschool world via a democratic process of consensus, everyone having their say, everyone contributing, everyone discussing. These rules, to me, become not a mechanism for behavioral control, but rather, taken together, a statement of intentions: a practical vision for how we would like to live together. When I point to the list as it hangs on the wall and say, "You and your friends agreed . . ." I am simply reminding them of their collective ideals, inviting the child to re-commit to that vision.

More than any prior year's class, this group "rejected" rules proposed from the floor, willing to raise their hands in the face of overwhelming opposition to say, "I don't really like that rule." And when that happened, the proposal is set aside, because unless all of us agree, it doesn't become a rule. We also found ourselves wanting to really understand certain rules, amending and adding to them (in the list below, the parenthetical statements represent these amendments) especially the "No hitting" rule, making sure we all really understood what that meant.

All of these rules have stories, but I especially want to point out a couple.

At the end of the day, we come in from outside to read a story and sing our goodbye song. Some of the children always race into the classroom ahead of the rest of us. During the Halloween season, these children started waiting for their classmates in silence in order to shout, "Boo!" as each entered the room. This became an almost routine practice, loud more than scary, that went on for at least a month after the holiday. One day, however, they were particularly effective and caught Siena off guard, genuinely frightening her, so much that she broke into tears. As she fell into an adult's lap for comfort, I could see the look of genuine concern on the children's faces -- they hadn't meant to scare her. I think it was Archie who then raised his hand and proposed the rule, "No saying boo, except at Halloween," and his classmates agreed to give up their game, a commitment they stuck to for the rest of the year.

The "No potty talk" rule comes up every year. Usually, it starts with one child dropping a "poop" or a "pee" on us, followed by someone else saying, "That's potty talk!" I'm always a little surprised that we can get consensus on this, but we always do, especially when we add, ". . . except in the bathroom." This year, we twice took the entire group into the restroom so that children (their parent's were so proud) could have their "potty talk" stories read aloud during circle time.

Now, without further ado, here is the 2011-12 list of rules for the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool's 3-5's class:

No pushing (especially into something hard)
No poking (especially with pencils or spider webs or in the neck)
No hitting (especially with boxes, seaplanes, knives, hands, sharp hammers, apples, trucks, pumpkins, dressing up clothes, jackets, toilet plungers, boards, stuff, with shoes in eyes, umbrellas, or with very hard things)
No kicking
No splashing paint on faces
No taking things from other people
No bumping cars or trains into people
No throwing weapons
No playing weapons
No putting paper in our mouths, or play dough or shoes or paint
No putting fingers in people's eyes
No name calling
No eating poo
No squeezing people
No throwing zippers in eyes
No rough hands on people
No hitting sharks or bears on people
No throwing boots at people's faces
No hitting cars
No painting other's paintings or drawings or other stuff without asking first
No dirty water in your mouth
No putting tape in hair
No crashing people
No taking down decorations
No punching people
No drinking bath water
No real dinosaurs at school
No whacking people in the face
No making the earth move
No putting goo in people's mouths or hair
No scratching people hard
No drinking toilet water
No spitting
No yelling at people
You can't say you can't play or come in
No potty talk, except in the bathroom
No pushing with the corners of pictures
No pinching
No shooting people with Batman guns or spooky vampires
No stomping on feet
No throwing bowling balls
No hitting heads
No pushing with blocks
No poking eyes
No throwing cups
No taking people's iPads
No saying "boo" except at Halloween
No crushing feet
No throwing apples and bonking people
No sitting on people
No pulling hair
No squashing hands
No throwing boots in people's eyes
No throwing tooth brushes in people's faces, or markers, or gooey sticky stuff
No saying, "I hate you."
No throwing people's clothes unless you ask first
No getting behind Teacher Tom's chair
No stepping on people's hands

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Jen said...

So glad you printed all of these out. I never seemed to have a chance to read through all of them while in the classroom!! I was really impressed this year with how much the children looked out for one another. The " No Saying Boo" rule was just one of many, many ways the children loved and took care of one another. It was really amazing to witness.

Laurie said...

I am relieved to hear that there will be no real dinosaurs at school or poking with spider webs in the neck. But most especially, I'm glad there will be no throwing zippers and/or boots in people's eyes.

I love children. :o)

Let the Children Play said...

Tom, for the past few years my boys and I have been looking forward to your rules and there is much hilarity when we read them together. I can't wait to show them this list when they get home from school :)

kids said...

This was a great post!!!
Really entertaining and clever

Kids said...

I am glad that i discovered your blog recently....this list is amazing...

rosesmama said...

That's a lot of nos! Do you ever talk to the kids about making positive rules?

"Miss Missa" said...

Most of our preschoolers have a hard time grasping "positive rules", and demand an addendum to any positively stated rule detailing what that rule forbids: "Walking feet" has to be translated to "No running" and "hands on your own body" needs every variation imaginable of "no hitting" added to it before they will agree.

To their credit, this week they've started telling me rules that don't start with the word "no": "You can only spit in the toilet or the sink" is the least generic one, so far. It seems hard for them to be specific enough to satisfy each other without starting with "NO!"