School Days and Preschool Days, Too:
A treasury of anecdotes culled from my work and play as a preschool worker and an elementary school after- school activities supervisor




t our preschool, as at many schools, we have a "zero tolerance" policy, at least ideally, about gun and shooting games, and also about fighting. I'm not sure about pantomime, or fake, fighting, but I think that, too.
      But it's about as possible to fully implement this policy as it is to count the grains of sand on a beach. We live in an age when many children spend several hours a day watching their heroes on the TV myth-machine. It's impossible to nip in the bud every little Power Ranger battle, every Batman or space-gun game in every corner of our very large play yard, and indoors, every pretend use of a lego contraption as some kind of weapon.
      As a teacher, I'm supposed to re-direct these forms of play when I see them. In an ideal world such transformations would be child's play. I'd always have at my fingertips the creativity to deftly uplevel the games into something stunningly healthy that's also twice as much fun.
     In practice, even though we're fairly well-staffed, there may be 3 or 4 situations at a given time that could benefit from my applying such magic—assuming I have the magic at close reach!
      However, there are victories. There are times when the ideas flow freely and when it's not so hard to transform energies of suggestible young children in a positive way. There's always some tension with the strong entropy of the repetition-induced media images we're up against. The proposed alternative has to be at least as much fun, to have a fighting—I mean non-violent—chance.
      One of my personal goals is to increase my repertoire of tried and true play yard games. There's one, for example, called Colored Eggs. Children choose what color egg they want to be. Someone who is playing the Wolf calls out a color and then chases after every child who is an egg of that color. If he tags someone, that person becomes the Wolf.
      The games are that simple, but preschoolers easily become absorbed in them. Some children are as likely to choose"colors" like "Yugio" (the latest animated hero) or "lunchbox" as ones like red or pink or blue. But they play the game with great interest, sometimes every day.

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     One high energy day last week I had an opportunity for a much more imaginative Redirection. After finishing my daily hour of supervising the afternoon snack table, I had an opportunity to roam about in the large classroom, rather than go outside as I often do.
      Everywhere I went I found boys, and several girls, with long, sword-like constructions they'd made out of duplos, which are building components similar to legos. Some of the weapons were being used as old-fashioned swords. Others, naturally, were laser-swords. Fights were going on all over the room. The energy felt unusually aggressive and manic.
      In an effort to think fast I came up with the slimmest blueprint of an idea. That wisp was all I had, so I decided to go with it.
      I began telling one of the boys, "Oh, I see you made a TV antenna!" When he replied, "No, it's a gun!", I ignored that response and continued, telling two other children, "Oh, and you made cell phones!"
      I started talking into one of their gizmos. A couple of the boys began putting their mouths to their own contraptions to answer me.
     These first triumphs were short-lived. As I moved on to someone else, the first Redirections were wearing off, and their possessors were shooting or fencing with one other again.
     Finally, though, I discovered an alternative view that really seemed to stick, so to speak: "Oh, you've made a bubble gum machine!" I said to one child.
     After that, all the children were going around "shooting bubble gum" at one another. I'm not sure how much of an improvement that really was. I know I'd rather get hit with bubble-gum than a bullet, though!
      A little later I got one of the children to give me a pretend haircut and shampoo with one of the former guns. Before long I was having an entire "make-over" with the imaginatively-transformed weapons of 5 or 6 little inventors. I sat in a chair getting my shirt vacuumed, being massaged all over, and having my nails done—plus the trim and the hairwash—all at the same time!
      A little girl brought me the plastic phone we have in that room. I pretended to phone my friend. "I'm at the most wonderful spa!" I told him. "I'm getting all sorts of treatments! You should come, too!"

      Redirecting energy for even that half an hour was hard work! It took all my time and concentration, which I'm not usually able to pour on such a small group for such a long time. That was a fun afternoon, though, for all of us. The next day I found people still shooting bubble gum instead of whatever they had previously imagined came out of their lego-creations.
      The "gun culture" is so pervasive in the juvenile imagination that, as another teacher and I wondered aloud, it's possible there's some sort of positive child-development or aggression-handling learning going on in such activities. We're intending to research the subject.

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