Tuesday, August 01, 2017

"Hey, I'm Using That"

I knelt at the sensory table amongst the children and began fiddling with a small toy that I'd found there. It was an old broken thing, nothing of value, something the kids had spent the morning ignoring. I said something innocuous like, "I have this thing," or "I've been looking for this," and within seconds a four-year-old reached out to snatch it from my hand for her own particular use. I said, "Hey, I'm using that. If you want it, you can ask me for it or wait until I'm finished."

With my, "Hey," her hand snapped back almost as if it had touched a flame, followed by the words, "Can I have it?" I monkeyed around with it for a moment longer, then said, "Sure, here you go. I almost always give people things when they ask me."

It was an exchange I would not have had when I first began teaching. In fact, I'd have likely just let the child take the item without comment because, after all, that's what adults do in a child's place like a play-based classroom. And that's likely what I would still do in a classroom of two-year-olds, at least at the beginning of the school year. After all, the give-and-take game is one of the earliest ones babies learn, a first step into cooperative play, a way of communicating, interacting, turn-taking, and yes, one could even call it sharing. It's developmental and normal and every parent plays it with their young child. Babies sometimes even do it with one another, and when adults can avoid riding to the rescue bearing their banner "grown-up justice," it rarely leads to tears, because those most liable to snatch an item from the hand of another are also the ones most likely to then give it back as they explore the cycle of give-and-take that characterizes most human interactions.

But sometime during the two-year-old year, the snatching, rather than leading to a cooperative game, begins to increasingly tend toward conflict, which also characterizes human interactions, and that's when I begin to role model an appropriate response, which I interpret as, "Hey, I'm using that." At least that's the way I've generally heard children skilled at play say it, so I'm just echoing them, using the natural words of the playground, albeit perhaps stripped of the emotional energy. Indeed, I strive to convey my words in a matter-of-fact manner, following on with a clear description of the conditions under which that child can have the desired object: either by asking me for it or by waiting until I'm finished.

"No taking things" is generally among the first agreements our three-year-olds make as they begin the process of developing their own classroom rules. It's up for them, it's happened to them, and they don't like it. Past a certain age, no one does. By the same token, the moment something is in the hands of another it becomes more attractive and our natural instinct is to want to hold it in our own. Balancing those competing urges is one of the things we all must learn if we are to get along with our fellow humans.

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