Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Getting What We Want While Also Getting Along

A clutch of three-year-olds were standing around our blue table. They were attracted there by a pair of toys that always attract a crowd, both of which were designed with solitary play in mind. We play with these toys in our full, robust classroom, in part, exactly because only one person at a time can really use them as intended.

There are dozens of others things to be doing around the classroom, but there is always a handful of kids who freely chose to go shoulder-to-shoulder with their friends around the blue table, finding ways to cooperate. Yes, sometimes conflicts erupt, but yesterday, if there were any, they didn't rise to a level of intensity that drew my attention. Sometimes they played with multiple hands on the toys, each in a solitary exploration. Sometimes they took turns. Sometimes they found ways to play together.

This is why we're here, of course, to work on exactly the cooperative skills that playing with these attractive toys make necessary. The only way it's any fun for anyone is if we are all in a constant state of working things out. We practice both making our own needs and desires clear while also listening to the needs and desires of others. Is this a battle worth fighting? Is there an agreement we can make that avoids a battle? It's an ongoing negotiation that changes from person-to-person and moment-to-moment.

It's a lot of work, but there are always a half dozen kids choosing it, nevertheless. This, I think, reflects our instincts at work. We often think of human instincts in terms of the baser variety, especially when it comes to school, but these are among our highest instincts, the ones that drive us to engage in the hard work of getting what we want while also getting along.

As I sat at the blue table watching the many hands manipulating doors and keys and switches and knobs, listening to the children chat and bicker and agree and, yes, sometimes even give up, at least for now, Jack said to me, "I want the keys." 

I said, "Miles has them."

He turned to his friend and said, "Miles, I want the keys."

Miles seemed to ignore him as he tried inserting a plastic key into a plastic lock, then another. Jack watched over his shoulder. Then, after about 15 seconds, Miles said, "Here you go, Jack," and handed him the keys. They then started opening and closing the doors together.

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maria said...

I would love for my two children 5yrs and 2.5 yrs to be able to resolve their conflict in play like this. I try not to intervene and just observe but it always ends in tears with one of them storming out of the room. Will cooperation come with practice?

Teacher Tom said...

Maria, siblings are a special case, of course, but practice is the only way to learn these things. It's an emotionally messy process.

Unknown said...

thanks for your reply. Actually, most of the time they are best of friends but some days I feel like I'm constantly reminding/butting in but I guess that/s what it's all about at the age. And dealing with conflict is good for them right? I also have to remind myself that conflict is natural between siblings and not to have unrealistic expectations!!