Friday, October 11, 2019

Something To Think About Every Day

A group of us visited the Borg preschool here in Reykjavik, Iceland this week as part of our participation in the annual Play Iceland conference. Their playground is surrounded by an asphalt track, a circuit around which children rode a variety of sturdy wheeled vehicles. It was a natural thing, this going around and around, logical even, the only variation being that children occasionally either blocked the way by stopping or opted to go around the course against the flow of traffic.

It’s not just we adults who dictate to children as they play. Their environment, the “third teacher” in Reggio Emilia parlance, can be almost as directive as we are. Had the pavement been a single rectangle, the play would have been different. Certainly, they might have set up a kind of track either by using obstacles or by coming to agreements, but that would have been evidence of the children manipulating their environment to accommodate their game rather than the other way around.

Adults are forever seeking to manage the third teacher in an effort to produce certain types of behavior. Indoors, for instance, we generally avoid setting up accidental race tracks that call out to the children to chase one another in circles, a common sense safety measure in a crowded classroom. Play ground equipment like swings or slides or climbers are all intended to encourage an approved type of play even if children aren’t always willing to go along as they go up the slides, stand on the swings, and try their skills by climbing outside the safety railings. Much of our playground nagging stems from children who will not be party to these attempts at third teacher manipulation

Alternatively, we might manage our schedule or expectations to mitigate the effect of our third teacher’s quirks on the children. At Woodland Park we have a couple of long hallways that call out, “Run!” to most children. This is all well and good, except when they try to run down the hallway at once, which too frequently results in someone getting trampled when they inevitably fall amidst the jostling. Instead of the adults forever nagging the children to walk, we’ve agreed to play a game whereby I release them one at a time: they still run, and they still sometimes fall, but at least we’ve eliminated much of the trampling.

Often, however, our third teacher influences children’s play in unanticipated ways, for better or worse. Our daughter’s preschool playground featured a large lawn with a single tree in it, which encouraged games of chase with the tree serving as a “base.” Their games of chase were daily, epic episodes that sometimes ran for weeks on end. I recall her teacher once moaning, “It’s all they ever do!” Woodland Park’s playground on the other hand is on an obstacle-filled, hilly terrain. The children still chase one another, but far less often than did Josephine and her classmates and there is rarely a “base.” I sometimes find myself longing for a good game of chase.

As I watched the children at Borg happily go around and around, they certainly didn’t feel that they were being manipulated and when I asked one of the young teachers about it, she replied that the track has “always been here,” with the sort of shrug one gives about inevitabilities. Still, I wonder about it. I’ve always been averse to committing to large, permanent installations on playgrounds, tending to prefer the moveable and temporary. I suppose I imagine them to be less scripted, more open-ended, but at the same time every space manipulates us in one way or another. I don’t have any particular insight here with which to conclude, other than, I suppose, to remind myself to think about the influence of my third teacher every day. 

I've published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: