The playground today was beautiful! Sunny and mild, color everywhere. Blue sky, rainbow leaves, bright sun. And my class was getting along fabulously – happy buzz was all about. I take pride in that! I actually had time to sit for a minute and read a special-needs report on one of my students.
I began to hear two children arguing over a ball. It was the old “I saw it first!” claim. They moved closer to me. They addressed each other, but were clearly and deliberately moving into my radar.
I looked up and watched for a minute. The culprits were two of my most competent kids – a boy and a girl with excellent expressive language, good problem solving skills, and great confidence and empathy.
The tug and pull over the ball continued. When I saw which two children were involved, I was honestly a little annoyed. They are both such capable kids! Why can’t they work this out?
“S,” I addressed the girl, “P wants the ball too. I don’t know who actually saw it first, but you need to figure out a way to fix this problem so you can both play with the ball. And I know you are both smart enough to do this.”
I stepped back and waited. ‘S’ looked at me rather calmly, still holding tight to the ball. Her little blond-headed face processed what I had said. She dropped the ball and rolled it towards ‘P’ – sort of away from him, but in his direction.
“Here, you can have it.” Then she literally skipped away.
‘P’, who had been doggedly grabbing at the ball (he’s quite competitive by nature), watched it come his way. He let it roll on by and said: “I don’t want the ball either.” He ran off in the other direction to play. I was left there standing alone with the ball rolling idly by!
My first thought: how powerful it can be when children are given the responsibility and room to work out their issues without adult intervention! Not have a teacher hammering down rules on them, but actually give them freedom and space to work it out.
Then I had another, more profound thought. This struggle wasn’t about the ball at all. It was about power and control. Do we even want what we are struggling so hard for? Is it more about the end point — the reward we think we are getting?
Or, perhaps is it about the process of getting, proving we can do it, having the reassurance that we can achieve what we think we want it. Then the grip of it all just evaporates.
In the adult world, is this what ‘playing hard to get’ all comes down to — the challenge, the thrill and intensity of the “getting”? And then, once it’s available, it’s all much less interesting?
For the 4 year old, it is important to consider how powerful a little space can be. Rather than authoritatively handing down a directive, giving them the room to experiment with how to take, and give up, control of something they want can be a growing opportunity (for us all!). It’s a chance to reflect before reacting.