Thursday, October 16, 2014

"They Won't Fall"

Yesterday, we were playing with our large wooden blocks, long cardboard tubes, and tennis balls.

It was the kind of cooperative engineering play I've come to expect from this group, with a dozen or more kids playing together in a small space at any given moment. And for whatever reason, the play was getting a bit wild, with many of our boys in particular seeming to vibrate with barely contained energy.

There was a time in the not too distant past when I would have been right there amidst them, attempting to somehow settle things down, to subtly direct them, in what I now would understand as a misguided attempt to reduce the chance of injury and conflict. On this day I sat off to the side, keeping a close eye on things, loitering with intent, but saying little and allowing the kids' collective executive function space to develop.

Most of them were playing in stocking feet and after hearing several of the heavy blocks slam onto the carpet, I did interject, "If those heavy blocks land on your toes it's going to hurt." Moments later, Gio dropped a block on his foot. He limped over to me, tears in his eyes, where he took a seat on the bench beside me. I said, "You dropped a block on your foot." He answered, "I wasn't careful." I asked, "Do you want me to do anything?" He replied, "No, I'm waiting for it to stop hurting."

Later, Henry pounced on a long tube that several of the kids were attempting to maneuver into place. There were a few shouted cries of, "Hey!" Henry was clearly right on the edge with his wildness, just barely containing himself. He got off the tube, which, in this case, was a sociable response to "Hey!" but for good measure punched the tube quite hard with his fist. As the boys hoisted the tube into place, Henry fell to the floor beside the tube, wincing in pain. I said, "That hurt when you punched the tube." He replied, "I shouldn't have done that."

After a few more incidences like this, most of which were self-inflicted minor bumps and bruises, all in a day's work, the wildness began to subside, almost like a tide turning. 

I noticed a tall stack of these heavy wooden blocks, balanced uncertainly in the midst of what was still very active play.

It loomed over their heads. I said, "When those blocks fall on someone, it's really going to hurt." Three of the boys paused to examine the stack. Ket said, "It won't fall on me." I took it for bravado, but I was wrong. He helped his prediction become true, by removing the top block from the stack. Another of the guys removed the second one. And a third said, "Teacher Tom, they won't fall."

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Chips and Salsa with Beans said...

Could you tell me the age span of children in this group? I am curious if this approach works with a mixed age group and if so, what the youngest age in the group might be.

Teacher Tom said...

This is our 4-5 class, but I do the same thing with the 2-3 year olds.

Chips and Salsa with Beans said...

I really like the idea of natural consequences however I don't know how to handle when I have a new two year old that wants to help (destroy?) while the older threes are wanting to build. We have a super aggressive older three year old with possible processing issues. Any advice would be appreciated.

Teacher Tom said...

We make a distinction early on between "knocking down buildings" and "NOT knocking down buildings." Things still get destroyed, but we keep repeating things like, "This is NOT a knocking down building. You can build your own knocking down building," then perhaps demonstrating by creating an official "knocking down building." I will physically protect a child's creation if necessary, while saying these things. It's only fair. It's a useful, and I think respectful, technique for most kids, although things like processing issues would cause me to consult an OT.

Chips and Salsa with Beans said...

Ok, yes, that is the language we use. I think we just have a group with an unusual amount of perserance. Hopefully it will serve them well in their future ;). In regards to the processing issues, an OT has been consulted and evaluations are being given. Thank you for your response. I gain a lot of insight from your posts.