Thursday, October 13, 2016

"May I Play With You?"

During this first month of the school year, J has more or less been playing alone, milling around the edges, watching. His mother has told me that he yearns to be included in the larger games, that he talks about it at home, but that he's either waited in vain to be invited or has been rebuffed when he's asked the other children, "May I play with you?"

It's not an untypical scenario. My own daughter experienced some of this when she was four and five. I would try to coach her, telling her that most preschoolers automatically say "No" when they are already engaged and someone interrupts to asks if they can play. I suggested she would have more success if she were to instead start by asking, "What are you doing?" or simply stating, "I'm going to play with you," or inviting, "Let's play on the swings," or best of all, just join the game without any introduction at all, dropping to her knees and getting busy alongside the other children. But despite my best efforts she would insist on doing it her way, continuing to ask "May I play with you?" and suffering those heartbreaks in return.

J's mother has been coaching him along the same lines with similar results. He's not been miserable at school, finding solo activities or grown-ups with whom to interact, but he's also been immune to our adult ideas on how he could more effectively enter into play. I've noticed he was particularly focused on a group of kids playing superheroes: The Hulk, Spiderman, and Batman, along with made-up up caped crusaders with names like Violet, Falcon, and Frogman.

On Monday, he was still hanging back. On Tuesday, however, he arrived in full-on Thor regalia, complete with helmet and Mjolnir, the thunder hammer. From the moment he walked through the gate he was surrounded by the other superheroes, questioned, enthused over, included. His mother told me that it was his own idea.

Yesterday, he came as Wolverine and was not only again included, but several times took on the leadership roll of boldly calling for the superhero team to assemble in this or that place on the playground: "All superheroes to the hideout! All superheroes to the hideout!" And the superheroes responded.

Every human has vast experience with how it feels to be rejected. Studies I've seen indicate that even the most "popular" children are told "No" some 30 percent of the time. And it's not something that goes away as we get older, even if perhaps we've learned to be more philosophical about it.

J made his study, he performed his experiments, he evaluated the results, and through his own process, in his own time, found his way from the edge into the center. But as we know, the center always shifts and sooner or later he'll find himself on the outside again, we all will, but now he knows, though experience, that he can always find his way back in. 

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great message! I know how awkward it is for me to approach a group and ask to join them, how can we expect children to do this? When a child tells me that they have no one to play with, I usually will say," let's walk around and find someone who is not playing with someone or looks like they need a friend. It's great to have them stand back and see what's really happening. I'm guessing Seamlessly joining in group play starts with parallel play and goes from there. Children that don't parallel play probably have a tougher time joining in.