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
At 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 magicassuming I have the magic at
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 fightingI mean non-violentchance.
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.
* * * *
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
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,
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 doneplus
the trim and the hairwashall 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
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