It's scary but I like it!
We currently have children between the ages of 3 and 6 playing together in our kindergarten, which is rather unusual here in Scotland. But we see the benefits for our children every single day. The interactions between children at different stages in their development benefits both. One of the areas where the children support each other particularly well is developing emotional literacy and resilience.
At Mucky Boots, like many settings, we prefer to give our children time and space to feel and explore. We stand back from quarrels, watching from a distance, providing helpful vocabulary and other tools to support only when necessary and trying our very best to not ‘sort it out’ for our children. It’s not easy sometimes, judging when to stand back and when to intervene but we see the rewards for the children – that sense of empowerment, increased confidence and emotional regulation.
On one particularly sunny day last week, a group of children were playing in the sunshine. Two girls who have formed a close friendship and two boys who have formed a close friendship. These two groups of children have a love/hate relationship. The two boys are a year and a half or so younger than the girls, have been with us for a year less and are beginning to learn what works for them when regulating their emotions. Sometimes, the boys will push past their friends in a rush to get to a favourite resource or, occasionally grab or snatch from one of their peers. One of the girls had brought a toy from home. The boys wanted to play with the girls and so, still exploring how to join in with play, I witnessed one of the boys snatching the toy from out of one of the girls hands. The girls, now long established at Mucky Boots, used their strong voices ‘Hey, give that back!’, ‘That’s my toy!’. When there was no response from the boys, they looked in my direction ‘Dawn, they stole my toy, that’s not fair’. ‘No, it’s not,’ I said, ‘did they ask you if they could have a turn?’ The girls answered that no, the boys had not asked for a turn. They then used different language with the boys: ‘You can have a turn when I’m done but you have to give it back first!’ The boys, after a few short minutes and more reminders from the girls, handed the toy back, watching the girls' every move and waiting for their turn.
Noticing the boy's close attention, one of the girls made eye contact with the boys and, dancing around, waved the toy in the air shouting, ‘Come and get it!’.
The boys, of course, took this as their cue and started chasing the girls for the toy. A game ensued, with the boys roaring like lions, chasing after the girls as they screamed and ran before the boys returned to their starting point. They repeated this game time and time again, the girls dancing and waving the toy and the boys roaring and chasing them. The girls knew they were taking a risk- there was a chance one of the boys would snatch the toy or shove them in order to get it. But the game was serving many purposes. One of our support workers and I were watching the game closely, discussing the value and possible learning for each of the children. The possibilities included the physical sensation of the big feelings – feeling and recognising the adrenaline rushing through their bodies, controlling their responses; finding a way of joining in a game, developing the rules of the game, experiencing the thrill of chasing and running with friends. And, just as we had touched on the risk of someone getting hurt, one of the girls hurtled past us, on her way back to tease the boys, shouting ‘This is fun Dawn, it’s really scary but I like it!’. She knew she was taking a risk. She had considered the odds of the game going wrong and the possibility she would lose control of the toy or get hurt, she had risk assessed the situation, judging the boys’ demeanour, working with her friends to establish the rules and boundaries of the game and deciding that the risk was worth it. Because it was fun. Scary fun!