Tuesday and the Delicate Balance
Tuesday started off with a lot of sad energy. One child missed mom and the friends who were absent this week. Another wanted to be home playing a video game. Another child silently wandered over to sit beneath a nearby tree. A couple of the children accompanied Erin to check in and they soon discovered he wasn’t really wanting space, he just didn’t think the other children wanted to play with him. It looked like it was just going to be one of those days!
We make space for the kids to move through their emotions instead of trying to “fix” their feelings for them. That is often accomplished through child-led play. One of our roles as facilitators is to let the children guide the play and also to offer ideas when it might promote various aspects of their holistic development. A significant amount of our time is dedicated to tuning in to each child’s individual needs (Is that child, who struggles to speak up and set boundaries, playing in a way that respects their own autonomy? Is that child, who is a people pleaser, taking care of his own needs? Is that child with impulse control challenges in a space where we might offer experiences that develop that skill today? PHEW- it’s a lot!). Erin and I both prioritize touching base with the parents at drop-off to find out if there’s anything significant going on in each child’s life. It might be an illness or a death in the family or a significant change to their routine! But that information greatly helps us tune in to the individual as well as the group.
So on this particular day, when feelings seemed to be a little more delicate than other days, we were on high alert and knew our support would probably be needed with more frequency. A couple of participants were absent, which significantly shifted the group dynamic. It provided a unique opportunity for children to spend time together who are not typically drawn to one another. This was highlighted when one child who was interested in Super Villain play was able to get a couple other people to play along. I was deemed the Bad Guy Horse. With no eyeballs. Obviously. And yes, I walked into a LOT of trees to uphold my role. A participant wanted to play that we were Bad Guys against Good Guys and fight each other this week. My suggestion was that we were on the same Bad Guys Team against some nasty Good Guys! Sometimes Bad Guys against Good Guys within the group can be super awesome, but one of the kids has floated in and out of the group, not integrating as consistently as some of the others. During the game, my time was largely spent looking for moments where this kid could be a group hero for us (I asked for his help when I cut my finger and he bandaged it so carefully for me. We called for him to rescue one of the other Super Villains when they “died.”). It was really special to watch this child celebrated as the best Bad Guy. This was one of the first prolonged positive play among these three participants. Unfortunately, the day ended on a hard note when one child unexpectedly pushed and shouted at another, which led to some tears and more sad feelings for us to help work through.
It’s an interesting thing… when you leave judgment out of it you are left with people, actions, and purpose. We get a lot farther when we ask what the actions are ultimately fulfilling for a person. We have participants with low impulse control and high thresholds for sensory input. We also have participants with high impulse control and low thresholds for sensory input. We have participants that are able to go with the flow and others who are rigidly inflexible. It isn’t a surprise that conflicts will arise. And that’s ok. Just like in the adult world, it isn’t always easy to understand or even always like another person. We want each child to feel loved and respected for who they are while also co-creating experiences that help them navigate these tricky social waters more successfully. This is a space for difficult feelings and easy ones. This is a space for mistakes. This is a space for repairs. This is a space to grow. This is a space to rest. This is a space to create boundaries and to push them.
When Erin and I founded this school, our motto became, “Time to Play. Time to Connect. Time to Be.” This day, more than many, reminded me of exactly that.