Thursday, August 25, 2011

Adult Intervention

I recently watched the following scene take place among fourth grade boys on the playground. The boys were playing kickball. One boy kicked the ball deep into the outfield. As he rounded second base, the shortstop intentionally stuck his foot out and tripped him. The boy stumbled, but did not fall over. He stopped running and turned to the boy and said in a condescending tone “What are you doing?” The batting team started yelling at their teammate to keep running. The boy ran and tagged home and then turned back to the kid who had tripped him and said “But seriously man, what are you doing? What’s your problem?” He didn’t yell, but he got close to the boy’s face. The boy had nothing to say, and the base-runner finally dropped the subject.

Events like this are exactly why I seldom intervene in children’s play. Obviously, tripping the boy was a lame thing to do, especially in a kickball game. The boy who got tripped was angry and maybe a little embarrassed the way stumbling can make anyone feel. Another teacher might have scolded the boy who did the tripping as soon as it happened, or she might have stopped the boy who was tripped when he started to get in the other boys face, fearing a fight or just thinking that’s not how nice young men talk to each other. 

But the boy who was tripped handled the situation better than I could have. He shammed the other boy. He let him know that what he had done was socially unacceptable. It probably wouldn’t have worked if he weren’t of a higher social status among the group than the boy who tripped him. I, on the other hand, had no status with these boys. I do not work with them regularly, and they have certainly never seen me do anything cool like throw a football. Nothing I could have said would have been as effective at teaching social norms as what the boy did.
I have also seen children solve arguments and try to console crying children. If you trust children, they can often solve problems on their own. Parents send their children to school, not for education but also for socialization. Playing with peers is the best way to accomplish this. Mixed-age groups are particularly effective because younger children benefit from older role models, and older children benefit because younger children bring out their empathetic side. There are other benefits to mixed-age interactions, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

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