Tuesday, November 22, 2022

"Whoever Gets It Gets It"

A few years ago, I was explaining to some of our school's families how "sharing" works at Woodland Park: if a kid is using something that another kid wants to use, we coach the kids to say, "I want that when you're finished" or, in the true language of childhood, "Next!" We don't compel the first child to relinquish their plaything either right away or according to a timer, but rather permit them to continue using it until they've finished, however long that takes, albeit with the information that there are other children awaiting a turn.

In my description, I was particularly enthusiastic over the power of calling "Next!" which is how we did it when I was a boy growing up on a suburban cul-de-sac. I don't recall being taught to call "Next!" It's one of those things I always knew, imitated, I'm sure, from the older children I played with in whatever backyard we found ourselves that day. If the swings were occupied, "Next!" was as close to a sacred agreement as one can have. If anyone tried to jump your claim, you'd say, "Hey, I called it!" and they had to step aside. Indeed, it wouldn't have occurred to any of us to talk about sharing in this context. It was all about who called it first, just as we would shout "Shotgun!" when we were older to claim the front passenger seat in the car.

One of the parents stopped me to say, "But these children are too young and innocent for "Next!" They don't have the kind of experiences you had growing up." She wasn't arguing against the concept, just the short-cut, which she felt lacked the courteousness she wished for her child. And indeed, "Next!" isn't particularly polite, I suppose. It's a word from "the street," so to speak, where children played unsupervised, and in all honesty, most preschoolers today are being raised in their parlors where their street instincts get blunted by constant supervision, so her point was valid.

That said, I liked to think of our schoolyard as a vacant lot. Adults were supervising, of course, but my expectation was that we all stepped back and trust the children to create a community of their own, one that may not always fit our adult notions of niceness, but that functions for them nevertheless. As preschoolers, the older ones are about the age I was when mom first started sending me "outside," closing the door behind me, leaving me in a world of neighborhood children to figure things out. It wasn't always peachy, of course, but most of the time we solved our dilemmas of limited resources by calling "Next!" or "Shotgun!" or "Me first!" and if we started "innocent," it didn't last long.

Shortly after this conversation with parents, a single tennis ball appeared on the playground. I don't know how it got there, but for several weeks it became one of the most sought after items. There was in particular a group of our three and four-year-olds for whom that ball became a sort of grail, with some of them forgoing their jackets in the rush to get outside and find that ball each day. In the beginning, whoever got the ball would then walk around clutching it as the others danced about, pleading and bargaining for a turn. There was quite a bit of unproductive arguing at first, especially since the person with the ball wasn't particularly inclined to relent.

Of course, the great truth about balls is they're really no fun if you just hold them. At some point they must be thrown or rolled or bounced, and once that happened, all bets were off, which meant that, at intervals, we had a mad dash of bumping bodies chasing after the ball, followed by several minutes of negotiating over who was "next" before another free-for-all that did not necessarily produce results that matched the outcome of those negotiations, instead tending to favor the fleet of foot and sharp of elbow. There was anger and tears and even the threat of hitting. It was not easy to stay out of it to be honest and it did occur to me to just get a few more tennis balls out of the shed, but I managed to stay back in the hope that they would work it out for themselves.

And I was rewarded, although only after things devolved into a back-and-forth of angry pushing. As I moved near to nip the violence in the bud, I heard the boy with the ball shout, "Hey, no pushing!"

"But it's my turn!"

"No, it's not! I got it!"

"But it's my turn!"

Then, before I could do anything, he had his moment of genius, "It's no body's turn! Whoever gets it gets it!"

A friend agreed, "Yeah, whoever gets it gets it!" There were several more echoes of agreement, including from the boy who had only moments before insisted it was his turn. "Whoever gets it gets it!"

With that, the ball was hurled over their heads toward an empty part of the playground and the scrum was on, children shouting, "Whoever gets it gets it!" as they jostled one another, their argument ended with an agreement that would not pass muster in a parlor, but was just perfect for the vacant lot playground.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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