Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"You Both Want This Toy"




It was a classic preschool stand-off: a one-of-a-kind object and two 3-3/4 year-olds who wanted it.


They've been calling it a "lawn mower" all year long. As a boy we called our classic Fisher Price toy the "popcorn popper," a push toy with a clear globe in which, as you wheel it along, the balls inside are "popped" by a mechanism attached to the movement of the wheels. We've taken ours apart many times to have a look at that mechanism, one time adding several tiny devil duckies to pop along with the balls.


There's another "lawn mower" as well -- a wooden Ikea toy with smiley figures that pop in an out of a cylinder as it gets rolled along. We've gone entire school years when these items get played with, maybe, a dozen times; this year they're used every day. The problem is that the "lawn mower" gang tends to be a group of 3-4 boys, which means there is always one or two of them wishing for a turn.


Sometimes it turns into this, a slow motion tugging match between two good friends, both scowling, both determined.

I didn't see it start, but I had seen L. with his hands on the Fisher Price toy only moments before. In addition, we'd not long ago talked at a parent meeting about how P. had in recent months started to assert himself more at school, standing up for himself, speaking out, feeling more confident and in control. We'd even celebrated the fact that part of how this was showing up was by him occasionally trying to snatch toys from his friends.

I put my hand on the toy, holding it with enough firmness that both boys could stop worrying about the other "winning." Their hands remained on the toy, but the tugging stopped. "You both want this toy."

Neither of them said a word.


"I saw L. playing with this lawn mower earlier." That's when I noticed that P. was holding the Ikea toy in his free hand. "You both have lawn mowers."

They remained silent. I tried remaining silent as well, trying to leave space for their own words, my hand still controlling the toy. After a minute or so, I could feel them beginning to tug again: not violently, but steadily.

I said, "I think L. had it first," looking at P. who kept his eyes fixed on the bone of contention.

Finally L. said, "I did have it first."

P. responded by attempting to hand the less glamorous Ikea lawn mower to L, both conceding L.'s point and offering a solution. I said, "It looks like P. wants to trade with you, L."

L. brushed away the offer with his free hand, rejecting the offer. I said, "L. doesn't want that one."

My usual goal in these preschool conflicts isn't to solve the problem, but rather to encourage the children to engage in dialog. It seemed that they both knew what was going on, that at least as long as I was involved, might was not going to make right. 


Since my earlier assertion had gone without refutation I said, "L. was playing with it first. We all made a rule," pointing to the list of rules on the wall, "that there is no taking things."

As we waited in silence, I could feel the tension slowly drain out them through the toy we all held together.

Finally, P. released his grip and we all went back to playing.


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4 comments:

Leslie said...

I love this post! So well written and explained. I experience a lot of similar situations. I usually handle it similarly, but this gave me even more understanding and clarity in how to handle these situations. Thank you so much. What an amazing teacher you are for these children, bringing them peace each and every day

Emily Plank said...

Thank you so much, Teacher Tom, for your thoughtful guidance and clear examples.

Tom Bedard said...

Tom, I do not know how you post every day, teach, keep up with other blogs, do family, and do all the other things you do in the greater Seattle community. I guess there must be advantages to being young. My hat goes off to you. That is just an excuse for getting to this post two days after it was posted, which is an eternity in the blogosphere. The issue you raise happens in every classroom. In my classroom, I skip the step about so and so had it first. I basically tell the person who I think wants the toy to ask for it. I often prompt the other child to tell them: "Yes, you can have it when I am done." That usually ends the conflict because the one who wants it has gotten an affirmative that indeed he can have the toy when the other is done. My job, then, becomes to make sure that when the child who has the toy is done, he offers it to the other child. Over time, children know if they really want the toy, they will get it. By the end of the school year, conflicts are really at a minimum.

Ceej said...

Aha! Now I get it. I've been trying this method out with my son and his playmate neighbor but I felt like I was missing something. I realize now that I have to be the firm hand in the middle. Thank you, Tom , you have been a mentor and I appreciate the time you put into this blog.

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