Observations of a gaggle of players, ages 5 through 10.
Migrating birds move in a skein formation. It keeps track of where everyone in the flock is, from young to old. It is not built on "pecking order," but rather on a cooperative social system of changing places in the lead to preserve the physical strength/health of the entire flock.
We see play more often follow the rules of pecking order, at least in the adult's observational stance. We seek a sense or evidence of constructive industry that happens once the leaders and followers shake out. Of course, both leaders and followers are important in the play and in life really. Please know that everyone contributes to the whole.
This past week, I saw something different though. It made me think of the skein. Once we got through the first few days of the shaking out of personalities and the children dropped the generic, "That dude," for the person's actual name, we began to see an undulating leader pattern. It was as if each person had to figure out how and when they would lead during any given moment, either in their own play pursuits or in joining another's and somehow it was all connected.
Birds moving along their migratory path will work in a social system that splits the intensity of the leadership amongst the whole flock. The change happens with some bit of subtle communication and cooperative acknowledgment to take the lead while the other drops back. Every bird takes a turn. With our young humans, this movement is not always cooperative and I think this is where the mistake of looking for pecking order comes in. There is a quite a bit of squawking about and feathers flying at many a turn, especially this last session. Yet, by the end of the week, the children figured it out.
I am not sure if even this would have been possible without a galvanizing event. The foundational value of a galvanizing event in a community is a known quantity (or quality). We will go as far as creating one during the school year, but at Summer camp, it is a bit of a scramble because we work behind the scenes as the children discover their own paths.
There was a galvanizing event this past week and it was brought to us by a glorious offering from nature -- a great, slime covered snapping turtle with a deep need to put on a show. The children found the turtle on Tuesday and it became the stuff of legend immediately. See, the best part is that the turtle was putting on her show in a place many of the children play all the time. Weren't many of them right there just last week? They could have been eaten!!! Snapped right up!!!
They visited with her again on Thursday, but then nature one-upped the poor turtle by placing a coiled Northern Water Snake on a branch over the creek near Picnic Rock. It perched itself over a pair of empty waders. Surely the boots' former owner had been killed and eaten by this no-longer-nonpoisonous snake (the snake turned, right before our very eyes, into a highly venomous and giant water moccasin, of course).
So over the course of the week a flock that featured 17 boys and 1 girl transformed itself into a unit in which each child played an important role of working for the whole. This is something that I would have told you would have been unlikely at the beginning of the week.