Friday, October 26, 2012

It's So Much More Than Just a Group Mural

If you follow us on Facebook, you may have seen this photo where I questioned if a group mural project would help us with some issues we are having with getting along. But first, we need some history.
We seem to be stuck in a rut. And not a good one. It started out innocently enough. See, I like to give choices when I can, because so much in a child's life is not optional. So, all of our free play and group activities are always optional, although most kids usually tend to participate. We always have one child or another who may not choose to do art, or play with blocks, or whatever for awhile, but they usually come back.

So one day, as I always do, I asked who wanted to join me for circle time. I really don't know that I've ever had a child not want to before. But on this particular day, one child didn't want to, and I said ok. I really think it started out as a challenge to see if I would really allow it to be a choice. Because as every kid knows, us adults tend to ask them if they want to do something, and when they say no we make them do it anyways. For example, how many times have you said to your child "do you want to put your shoes on so we can go", and they have said no. And you make them put on their shoes and go anyway. I thought so!

So, of course, the other kids are amazed that one child is in the playroom playing while the rest are having circle activity that we all seem to enjoy. And guess how many preschoolers joined me the next day? Yep, none. I only had toddlers. Which was fine, this was a novel idea and eventually they would come back, right? Well, guess how many joined me the next day. Yep, none. Because of course those toddlers now followed the big kids to the playroom. And nobody has been back yet.

So. Now what do I do? The novelty has not worn off. So let's just not have circle time for awhile and make it new again and they will be back, right? Nope, that didn't work either. And those lovely group activities that we have at our green table. Yep, not doing those anymore either because one child wasn't so now no one is. Or I am dealing with so many behavioral issues that I don't have a chance to even get an activity going.  And all that fighting and complaining and being mean and not following rules and pokiness and blah blah blah blah blah that we (I'm including you parents here) have been complaining about? Yeah, that is still going on, of course.

And I am so over it.

So what's my solution? I really don't know yet. I'm grasping at straws and hoping something works. I realize kids all go through these phases. A lot of it is just a developmental stage that is aggravating. This is just the first time I have had five in this phase at once. And this seems to be the longest freaking phase in history. I'm used to this lasting a few weeks. I have realized lately that this has been going on for months. I swear they are subconsciously keeping each other in it!

I've questioned whether it was them or me. I've made some changes, but nothing really helped. I'm now convinced that it's more about them testing the boundaries and seeing who will let them get away with what. What they can get away with when they think they are not being watched...that has been a biggie lately. 

So back to the original photo....looks innocent enough, right? Looks like many other activity setups at the green table where I would let the kids come over 1-2 at a time. Although I already know they aren't going to if it's optional. So what do I do?

First off, we have circle time. With everyone. No option given. They are told we are having circle time now, and when I got some saying "I don't want to, I want to play"...they were told to go sit down for circle time. We made it short and sweet. A familiar song. A story. A finger play. Everyone go find a spot at the green table. Nope, it's not playtime, everyone find a spot at the green table.

A little crowded, isn't it? I did everything I possibly could to make this into a complete disaster. I crowded them all around one small table with one big piece of paper. We were making a mural of all the things that we might see on Halloween. So I made sure that there were not nearly enough of the colors that were going to be the most popular. I even moved a couple kids around to be sure that I had the most volatile arrangement.  I wanted bickering and pushing. And no I have not lost my mind! Oh, I made them stay at the table for 30 minutes, even when some were ready to leave after 2 minutes.

I went completely against my instincts and every training I have ever went through on how to set up a successful activity.

On purpose.

So what happened during this 30 minute nightmare activity, you ask? Just what you are expecting, arguing, pushing, whining...just what I set it up to be. You are still wondering if I've lost my mind, aren't you?

By the way, there are no photos of the process. I was too busy. Because they were crowded, inevitably someone was yelling at someone else because they were in their way, or just pushing them out. Then I would step in, model how to politely say, "excuse me, you are in my way", and they would say it to their friend (I use that word loosely these days!), repeatedly in some cases until we could do it nicely, and then model what the friend should say, etc, etc. We did this for each situation that arose, and trust me, there were right after the other. And eventually we settled into the activity and everyone was being polite and getting along. A great conversation got started, where I was given several suggestions for costumes ideas.

And playtime afterwards actually went a little smoother than it has been.

So I know one activity hasn't fixed everything. And I'm kind of grasping at straws here, but I think I'm going to stay on this path and see what happens. I do not recommend trying this, but we are in an extreme situation here and something has to give. This group is seriously challenging me right now. But we are going to get out of this rut.

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