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




     In the play yard yesterday, two girls approached me asking for toy horsies. To oblige them I pulled a large plastic crate down from our white wooden fence. This crate stays loosely bolted out of children's reach so that they wouldn't spill everything at once onto the sand. I'd found two plastic horses there the day before.      Searching through a mass of plastic cars, trucks, and boats, I finally came upon one brown horse. The larger, black horse was nowhere to be seen.
      "Girls, there's only one here," I said. "You'll have to either play together or take turns." The girls wanted to take turns, but one of them insisted on going first. A bit surprisingly, the other girl gracefully agreed.
      That situation settled, I turned around to leave, only to find a third girl sitting right there in the sand playing with—you guessed it—the other horse.
      "I want the black horse!" said the child clutching the brown, smaller horse.
      "I got this horse out!" said the girl with the black horse.
      "I want the black one!" said the third, previously patient, horseless girl.
      The seated girl was busy burying the black horse in a small mountain of sand. She said it was a castle.
      "We have three girls and two horses," I said after a moment of frantic thought. "The only choices we have are to play together or else to take turns."
      "No!" said all the girls.
      "Well, that's the only thing we can do, so we're going to do it," I replied, resigned to the necessity of becoming executive, legislature, and judiciary all in one. "So, Marissa, you play with the black horse, and Sandra, you play with the brown horse, for a little while. Then, when I ask you to, Marissa, give your horse to Sandra, and Sandra, you give yours to Bea."
     Now I had to enforce this arrangement. Sandra and Bea were all right when I gave Marissa's horse to Bea, but, as one might expect, Maissa, who felt entitled to full-time use of the black horse, simply collapsed into wails and tears.
      Again I thought frantically. "Let's pretend the black horse is still buried in the sand," I suggested. Marissa cried even louder.      "Marissa," I said, grasping imaginative straws, "Let's pretend your horse went off with the King, to another country. We can build your castle bigger, so it's ready and makes the horse happy when the horse comes back!"
      Marissa liked that idea. She stopped crying and was soon smiling, adding sand to her mound and placing sticks upright as turrets and flagpoles. She was practically cooing in contentment.      "All right," I said. "Now it's time to change again. Sandra, you give your horse to Bea. Bea, give your horse to Marissa." Sandra immediately went into an inconsolable, grief-stricken wail.
      "I want my mommy!" she cried, the last resort of every bereft child. I knew that Sandra is very attached to horses. She brings a stuffed pony or unicorn to school almost every day. For her, a horse seems more than a horse: it seems to provide the security to allow her to separate each morning from mom.
      I sat the little girl on my lap, trying to comfort her but not knowing what else to do or say. "Sandra," I improvised, hoping that through her tears she could somehow absorb my words, "This is what we have to do when there are 3 girls and only 2 horses! Everybody has to spend a little time without a horse. What you are doing now is called waiting. We all have to do it sometimes. I understand how you feel. Waiting is hard."
      I realized it was almost time to trade again soon! If Sandra can learn to experience a connection between waiting and getting, she'll realize that the wait is temporary, I t hought. Next time, then—or some next time—it'll be a little easier.
      A horse back in Sandra's hands quickly ended her tears. I stepped back and observed the girls. Bea was playing with Marissa now, sharing the brown horse. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was time for my break. It seemed safe to leave the girls.
      When I returned in 15 minutes, the girls were all playing together with the horses. Another teacher told me that for awhile several other children had joined them, too, in complete harmony.

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