Thursday, November 09, 2017

Knowing The Full Story

As a boy, my brother and I owned a game called Rebound. It's a tabletop version of shuffle board that one plays using small plastic disks with ball bearings in the center, rolling them to bounce off a pair of rubber bands before they scoot into the scoring zone. It has survived to find a second life in our classroom. Despite hundreds of children having played with it over the years not only has it remained intact, but we still have all 16 of the small game pieces.

I suppose some might consider it a kind of miracle that nothing has been lost or broken, but it's not magic. Whenever I make the game available to the kids, I tell it's story, the one about how it's my old toy, how my brother and I used to play with it, how it is 40 years old, and special to me. I ask them to treat it gently and to try to not lose the pieces. They then play with it, sometimes rowdily, sometimes until all the pieces are on the floor, but at the end of the day, for going on two decades now, all the pieces have always been there.

Yesterday, I forgot to tell the story of the game. Within minutes, I heard the sound of the Rebound board crashing to the floor. Fortunately, it didn't break, and I used it as an opportunity to inform a few of the kids of its background. Not long later, however, I discovered that several of the game pieces were missing. We looked everywhere for them, but no luck. I began to suspect that one of the children had snatched a fistful to use elsewhere in the classroom, not maliciously, but rather in the spirit of loose parts. I imagined I'd find them later, perhaps years later, in a container somewhere or squirreled away in a nook. Still, I was feeling a bit melancholy, even as I attempted to be philosophical. After all, I wasn't going to get to keep those things forever.

We still didn't find the pieces when we tidied up, so when we re-gathered on the checkerboard rug to de-brief before going outside, I told the game's story, hoping that one of them would recall what he or she had done with the lost pieces. I strived to tell the story in a matter-of-fact manner without suggesting any sort of suspicion or blame. I just wanted them to know that I missed those pieces and why. The children listened, several offered theories about where the lost ones might be, some offered to make me some new ones, but none offered any clues to the mystery.

Several minutes later, however, as we gathered in the mud room to gear up for the weather, one girl presented me with the lost pieces, saying, "Here they are." She had indeed squirreled them away, not in the classroom, but in her own cubby, intending, I suppose, to take them home as treasures. She had admired them, had wanted them, had secured them for herself. Children often take things home in their jacket pockets, small things, usually of little value like bottle caps or florist marbles. I'm sure she had considered these game pieces in that light, small, plentiful, insignificant things that no one would miss. When she heard my story, however, she readily returned them, knowing that they meant more to me than they ever would to her.

People often describe young children as selfish, forever putting their own needs and desires above those of others, but it's not, on balance, true. Usually, what we label as self-centered is really just a result of them not knowing (or not being developmentally capable of understanding) the full story, which is, I think, probably true of most humans most of the time.

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