Wednesday, November 04, 2015

A Not Knocking Down Building

Among the earliest games parents play with their children is some version of "build it up and knock it down." It's a fantastic, developmentally appropriate activity, one that becomes challenging when a roomful of the game's devotes come together in a two-year-old classroom. You see, while most of them enjoy the whole knocking down business, many are not prepared for, nor happy about, their own constructions being decimated by outside forces. This is why we spend a lot of time during these first few months of school negotiating and explaining the concept of "knocking down buildings" versus "not knocking down buildings."

By this point in the school year, most of the children have caught on to the idea, understanding, and usually even remembering, that one must confirm the knock down-ability of any given structure before launching into it. Of course, this is more easily remembered with some types of blocks than others. Usually, for instance, especially as they get older, the kids tend to be more circumspect when approaching something made from wooden blocks, while our light-weight cardboard blocks don't lend themselves to as much intuitive caution. Probably the most challenging blocks is our set of large, spongy blocks (the kind that look like 3D gym mats covered in vinyl), which is also why I consider them to be the most "dangerous" of our blocks: both children and adults, I think, see their "padded" nature, are fooled into assuming "safety," and begin hurling their bodies into and onto them without precautions being taken as to what or who might be in, under, or behind them.

Another of our "block" sets that are perennially tempting knock-down targets, even for our oldest children, are the re-purposed diaper wipe boxes a former teacher collected through the baby days of her two sons. Not only are they lightweight, but because they must be more or less balanced atop one another to create a structure of any size, anything constructed from them is always on the verge of coming down.

Last week, I wrote about the rowdiness of wrestling. Well, when the same children built with these blocks, in the same space, only a few days removed from the wrestling, we saw an exercise in the opposite style of large motor play. The first children on the scene, two girls and two boys, used the entire set to create a delicate "house" for themselves, barely large enough for their four bodies. Ostensibly, the game they played together was one of housekeeping that evolved into shopkeeping, but the real game was about maintaining their building. Every movement, every jostle, every lurch, threatened their carefully constructed home, and every movement, jostle and lurch required corrective measures, as well as more discussion.

The game was one of constant conversation, the four of them creating their game together sentence by sentence, question by question, negotiation by negotiation, idea by idea. They were so engrossed in their game, that they didn't notice when a pair of boys, coming across their temporarily empty building started toward it with their gleeful intent obvious. I role modeled what I want the children to learn to do, stepping toward the boys mid-assault, and saying loudly and firmly, "Stop! That's not a knocking down building!"

The boys stopped in their tracks and I stepped back to allow the building owners, now alerted, to take over.

"Yeah, that's our house!" "Don't knock it down!" and "We're still using it!" I imagine it must have felt a little like arriving home after work with that last piece of cake in mind, only to find that someone has eaten it. The two boys, these boys who on other days wrestle with abandon, stood, considering their next move.

One of them looked to me in complaint, "They're using all the blocks."

I answered, "They are. You can talk to them about that."

He watched them for a moment and apparently thought better of demanding blocks of his own and instead asked, "Can I play too?"

This is a tricky question in preschool. It's often answered with, "No." I usually coach kids to simply say, "I'm playing with you," ask, "What are you playing?," or, best, to just join in, but in this case our cooperative shopkeepers said, "Sure." It was a delight to watch how six children managed their tiny, delicate space, stepping carefully, slowly bending and twisting their bodies to accommodate one another, finding room for one more, repairing damage, and always talking, talking, talking, weaving together their game, their story with language full of drama, storytelling, engineering, commerce, careful, controlled large body movement, and agreements. 

And through it all, this fragile building remained standing, until finally, in the end, by mutual consent, it had it's date with destiny.

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Rebecca deCoca said...

What a wonderful post!

French Valley K-Prep Preschool said...

I love how you modeled for the girls to say, "Stop...!" You taught them to stand up for themselves and to communicate. I love how you agreed with the boys that they have all the blocks and told them to talk to the girls about that. Communication and negotiating skills are so important.