Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Giving It Away

We're due for a new batch of play dough, so I thought we could make it during class yesterday, but one of the kids arrived with a supply of store-bought kinetic sand that she was donating to the cause. I figured we could do with a little change of pace, so I put it on the yellow table instead of the usual ball of dough.

At one point, I found myself sitting with four boys, one of whom was attempting to collect it all for himself. This rarely happens with the regular play dough, but often happens when we're investigating something new in its place.

"Hey, I want some!"

"He has all of it!"

"He won't share!"

He didn't have all of it, as a matter of fact, but simply most of it, leaving each of the rest of us with portions the size of a child's fist. He had formed his lion's share into a mound and was encircling it with his arms, hunching over it with his body. There is no official classroom expectation that he give any of it up, but there it was clear from the reaction of his friends that there was an issue of fairness at stake. 

"You can't have it all!"

"I need some more!"

"You're not even using it!"

I said, "He does have most of it, but look at his face. He's not happy about it, either." And indeed, his expression was one of tense misery. 

One of the boys asked, "Why isn't he happy?"

I left the air clear of words for a moment, hoping that the boy with all the sand would offer us his explanation, but he remained silently dour. I said, "You'll have to ask him why he's not happy, but I've noticed that people are usually miserable when they're hoarding something."

I've been using the word "hoarding" for a couple of years now, not in a judgmental way, but rather by way of objectively labeling a particular, common behavior. Often, the kids ask for a definition of the word, but this time no one did, the illustration before them, I guess, being clear enough.

"But I just need a little bit more sand," one of them said to our hoarder, leaning toward the boy, which caused him to lay across his stash even more protectively, his expression approaching anguish. At that moment, one of the guys who had slightly more sand than the rest, broke off a fistful and passed it across the table to the boy who needed just a little bit more. In contrast to our hoarder, he was beaming.

I said, "Look at his face. He gave some of his sand to his friend and now he's really happy." Then I turned to the hoarder and said, striving for the same tone of objective narration, "And look at his face. He is hoarding his sand and he looks really unhappy." There was a moment as everyone studied one another's faces, before the group opted for happiness, each one handing some of his meager supply of sand to the kid beside him. There was a flurry of giggles as they joyfully gave it all away to one another only to find that there was always more to give.

Our hoarder, his stash no longer under assault, eased up for a moment as he watched his friends play their game of give-away. His body was still tense, his expression a stark contrast to those of the rest of the kids who had forgotten him for the moment. 

I leaned toward him, "They are giving their sand away and they are happy. You are hoarding your sand and you are miserable." He looked from me to his pile then at his friends before taking a handful and shoving it across the table. His face immediately relaxed into a grin. He did it again and again and again until he had no more or less than anyone else, laughing, exchanging his hoard for a share of the joy the rest of them had found in giving it away.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice piece. For a moment here : "before taking a handful and shoving it across the table." I had a vision of an angry explosion "you want my sand" Have my sand!" kind of thing. Glad that was not the case!