"Stop it! Stop that right now! I don't want you to play that!" Oh this little one was on the verge of Big Angry tears. He was trying to extricate his friend from playing "fight" with a group of other boys. His heart was hurting. And they wouldn't stop. He couldn't get close to pull his friend away because he knew that may signal that he wanted to play fight as well. And. He. Didn't. He just wanted his friend back.
Off they ran, and he stood alone on the berm. "What's going on?" I asked him. "I want him to stop playing that. I want him to play exercise with me."
"You can control what you do, but you can't control what he wants to do. He can make his own decisions and you can only make your own. It is a tough situation, though, that is for sure."
He nodded. And it is tough. Our little one is a single friend kind of person. I told him he needed to think about diversifying. I talked to him about how when he was three, he was true and true with another friend and as that friend moved to different kinds of play and with different friends, he was alright with it because he had found connections with this one who was now off playing fight. I suggested we look at what was going on with the play to see if he could diversify and add. And so we sat and watched.
This watching comes in handy. Play is like a spinning wheel, you have to watch it go 'round and wait to catch it just so at the point that seems to make the most sense -- for ourselves -- each of us has to catch it at the place that makes sense to us. When children say they don't know what to do, what to play, no one will play, they won't let me play, or how to play, the sitting and watching of the spinning wheel, with the occasional narration, may help. Sometimes right away they will see a place to jump into the play, but sometimes the wheel has to spin and spin until they see the perfect place to catch it.
We were looking to diversify his play options, so I pointed out, "L. is pretty flexible. You know she played exercise with you before. She is good at playing anything. She is playing in the sandpit now with S. You could see what they are doing."
We talked about what some of the other play arcs that we could see rolling around and he voted no on each one. He looked miserable. I told him maybe we should get some ideas from some "idea-generators." I called over the boys who were playing fight, including the much-needed best friend. "Do you have some ideas for this situation?" I asked after explaining that being a one person friend is tough. They went through a list of options that mostly wrapped around him coming to play fight with them. They wanted him to play, but they couldn't give up their play arc any more than he could give up his.
Finally, one of the idea-generators said, "I know! We could have a pattern! We could play exercise because we have to get stronger for fight and then the next time we could play fight!"
Look, the way I see it -- One of the only reasons to introduce patterns when they are 3 is so that it will be ready for the social whirl when they are 4 and 5! Win!
His face lit up! And the kindness this idea-genarator extended was that the pattern began with exercise! The fight portion was forever away!
Now our work here is not done. This took almost 30-minutes of watching, discussing, and idea generating to get to a solution and now it was time to go home -SIGH-. The spinning wheel was still spinning. The next day, I had to give him another chance to catch it just so. When it was time to group the children for our dramatic play session, I made sure to get all those key players together. During our pre-meeting, the cat-family game got the all-clear and they took off to cat around in the other half of the room as fast as their whiskers could take them.
I talked to our group about how one set liked to play ship battle and our pair of friends liked to play rocket ship building. I had to get these kids all together without telling them that is what I had in mind. I asked them if I could give them a whole new scenario...Aliens. When you watch children play, over time, you see very familiar stops on the spinning wheel, like cat family, ship battle, rocket ship, lost children, etc. I said, "What if . . . you were in outer space, really far away..."
Their eyes got big. "Like Jupiter?"
"Even farther, like another galaxy. And you landed on a planet no one has ever even been to."
Side note. You realize that Jupiter is a planet they have been to because it is named and we have seen images of Jupiter. Imagination is so cool.
I continued, "And you found alien eggs. And you didn't know what was in them and you brought them back to the ship and WHAT IF THEY HATCH???? INSIDE THE SHIP???? They could be fuzzy little bunny pets OR they could have very sharp teeth. YOU JUST DON'T KNOW!!!!"
Side note. Nods to Gene Roddenberry and Ridley Scott.
They were hooked. I gave them some of the rock babies for eggs. Those proved so important to the play, we had to go outside and get more. They worked TOGETHER to build the ship. They worked TOGETHER to make breathing apparatuses from curtain drape tie-back/tassels. They worked TOGETHER to figure out how to x-ray the eggs to see if they had sharp teeth or no teeth. Then, they built a hatching station for the ones without sharp teeth.
That play arc can now be recalled as a stop on the spinning wheel. They played together and they played something new and it worked for all of them.
The wheel never stops spinning really. We just hold it for a second and then it begins again. The time to play is now and yet it is never that simple and you have to be ready.