Friday, April 02, 2021

The Hallmark of a Master Player


The girls were playing a game that involved being in the playhouse with periodic forays to the top of the concrete slide. 

"I'm sick!"

"No, I'm sick too!"

"Me too."

They were huddled together, five of them. They had been playing together for the better part of an hour.

"You can't be sick!"

"Yes, I can be sick!"

"I'm sick!"

"We're all sick!"

"Everybody can't be sick!"


There was a lot of bickering as they played. It hadn't started as a game of sickness, but from the moment they had declared the lilac leaves to be medicine, someone had been sick. It seemed that someone else had to remain healthy to fetch the medicine which could only be found at the top of the concrete slide. What had been a smooth, free-flowing game up to this point, threatened to become bogged down with the bickering.

"Okay, I'll be the doctor." Sarah affected a weary resignation, sounding very much like an adult giving in. She scampered up the slope, collected a fistful of leaves, then dropped to her bottom to slide back down.

I moved on to other things, but when I returned they were all running up and down the concrete slide. I remarked, "You're all doctors now."

One girl paused to correct me, "We're sisters, Teacher Tom. And our mother is very sick." Now I noticed that Sarah was lying on her back in the playhouse, eyes closed, under a scattering of freshly picked leaves. Sarah was always a popular playmate, a leader even, a kid who initiated games and who had learned to phrase her ideas as invitations, like "Let's pretend . . ." or "I've got an idea . . ." But the real secret of her success, I think, was knowing what to do to keep a game going, even if it meant making the sacrifice of playing the less desirable role of doctor or sickly mother. This, I've found, is a hallmark trait among "master players," those kids who are always at the center of the action.


After a bit, Sarah declared herself "healthy" and became a sister while another girl took her place as the mother, but only after more bickering. Sarah's sacrifice of earlier had the side-effect of making the mother role more glamorous and now they all wanted to be the one being buried in leaves. The turn-taking settled when Sarah numbered them off, the girls were again racing up and down the concrete slide, announcing their mission to no one in particular, "I must get medicine for my mommy," and calling out to one another dramatically, "Help me sister! I'm stuck!" 

One girl was particularly adept at getting to the top, often going up and down twice to the other girls' once. "I'm the best sister!" she declared, standing at the top looking down at the others who were struggling with their ascents.


"That's not fair!"

"You're not the best! I'm the best!" 

"Nu-uh, I'm the best!"

"Well, look how fast I can go!"

"I can go faster."

"Well, I'm still the best!"

The game was teetering again. As the girls argued over who was the best and what it meant to be best, Sarah shouted, "I know! We can all be best!"

The idea was roundly accepted, "Yeah, I'm the best and you're the best" and "We're the best sisters!"

Sarah, shrugged, holding her palms toward the sky as if stating an obvious fact, "We're all the best . . ." Then added in a softer voice to no one in particular, "but no body is better." A master player at work.

******

This story is one that emerged from the Woodland Park "village," one that could not have been told without the parent, grandparent, and educator working together. As preschool educators, we don't just educate children, but their families as well. For the past 20 years, I've been working in a place that puts the tri-cornered relationship of child-parent-educator at the center, and over that time I've learned a great deal about how to work with families to create the kind of village every child needs and deserves. I'm proud to announce that I've assembled what I've learned into a 6-part e-course called Partnering With Parents in which I share my best thinking on how educators can and should make allies of the parents of the children we teach. (Click this link to register and to learn more.) Register now to receive early bird pricing. Discounts are available for groups.

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