Every day we see children exploring what it means to be a friend – what a difficult concept. Does it mean having one friend exclusively? Does it mean that when you play with someone else I have lost you as a friend? Does it mean that we are simply playing in the same vicinity? Is it really fair to say “We are all friends in Studio Blue?” when we all seem to have different definitions of what friendship is? In the fall, we described the children’s process of getting from me to we, needing to establish the ME – a place or “spot” in the group in order to get to WE (click for link).
While this can still be true, as children try out friendships, they become intent on protecting their relationship, instead of protecting ME. We hear things like: “You can’t play this game,” and “He belongs to me!” Children put up gates and lock doors in their play – a locked gate creates a sense of safety or control over any new threat that may approach. Another child who may simply want to join in play can be quite threatening to young children, as they fear they could lose this playmate or that their enjoyable play will be disrupted. While this can appear mean or hurtful in the moment, the intent is more defensive rather than aggressive, and it is an important and unavoidable part of the process as they figure out how to be friends. And once a child has maintained the importance of their friendship, we see children relax emotionally, and become welcoming in their play: “We need more people on our airplane!” And it takes time. Recently we posted “Arc of Play,” and “arc of play” perfectly describes this process: today on the playground we see children begin by what we adults call “playing nicely.” After a bit, conflicts erupt, lines are drawn, toys are coveted. With a bit of facilitation, we do the necessary work through these rough patches so that we can come out the other side to smooth waters again, with a broader view of how to develop friendship. We heard this conversation during snack recently:
AshaNext time, today, you can’t play the pushing game, because only – do you know, only Sam is going to play the pushing game. (Asha and Sam have been enjoying playing a “pushing game” recently in which they push each other over and giggle.)
CarolineIf you’re not sharing the pushing game, I’m going to play the pushing game with Kyla. Cause she’s my friend.
AshaHey, do you see Sam right there, he’s my friend and he doesn’t want to play with me (you) anymore, cause he’s my friend.
AshaNot you. Sam is – he’s not going to be your friend or your friend or your friend.
ThomasWant to be my friend tomorrow?
AshaYeah. We’re still being friends.
CarolineDo you want to be my friend tomorrow?
Asha(still talking about Sam) He’s not going to be your friend or your friend or your friend. No, never.
ThomasOkay, I’ll be another (person’s) friend. (turns to Ruthie) Want to be my friend?
KylaI want to be your friend too.
ThomasWho wants to be my friend?
Asha (to Caroline)After, when we play the pushing game, you can be my friend.
This is normal conversation for a three-year-old. During this conversation none of the children appeared upset as they explored the topic in a matter of fact way. What Asha is expressing is what everyone wants to know about, and she is doing the class the favor of providing a platform for this discussion.
And here’s an example of their abundant empathy: The next day, a child was crying at the cubbies after his mother had left. Travers, Asha and Thomas heard crying from the clay table across the room and froze. Who’s crying? they asked. Without prompting, they ran over to see who it was. Thomas hugged him, and Asha knelt down, put her hand on his knee and told him softly and reassuringly, Momma’s going to come soon… I know. Then they returned to the clay table and resumed their play.
Luca notices a big hole to the side of the Studio Blue door, then Saige does too, and announces, Construction site!!! Gathering a shovel, bucket, and tools, she brings them to the hole, continuing to shout out Construction site! Then she wheels around a construction wagon with her supplies. Soon many other children jump into the action at the construction site.
Asha begins building with bricks: This is my house. It’s made of bricks. I’m in charge of this. Cal notices and comments: That is cement. You are putting pretend cement on your bricks. Sam joins Asha and she announces that they are building a tea house where all children (not adults) can come to have tea. She instructs Sam on how to put layers of dirt and chips between the bricks. Sometimes the bricks are too high and fall over, and they begin again. Eventually, Sam comes across a pink rock that he finds compelling. Asha sees it and wants it. She tries to take it from him, but Sam is not ready to give it up. Argh! It’s so frustrating! But Saige is playing nearby amidst a lot of rocks. Mark suggests that Asha see if there’s one near Saige, or if Saige might see one. When Asha heads over to ask Saige, explaining So, we need to find a rock like the one Sam has in his hand. It’s pink. Saige is game for the search! Hand in hand, Asha and Saige comb the playground looking for pink rocks. They end up settling down with Sam, and as Saige presents one rock after another, the children compare it to Sam’s, rejecting rock after rock. Mark sees that they’re not going to get closure on this, but a pink rock is near Will, so Mark asks if he would like to bring it over to Asha, which he does. It meets with approval! Somehow Asha ends up with both pink rocks and deposits them on a log walkway. Sam then moves them into a little notch, and there the rocks sit for the rest of the morning.
Some connections are quiet and nonverbal. Kyla brushes dust off the playground rock; Will, watching, perks up, runs off to get his own brush, and joins her. Later, Thomas and Travers join her as well.
Kyla is filling up a wheelbarrow with natural items she is finding on the playground. She has pine cones, sticks and leaves. I’m collecting nature.
Will: I’m making muffins.
Will pauses for a moment, remembering that we had enjoyed pretend muffins while flying in an airplane made out of blocks earlier in the day. Now I’m making muffins outside.
What kind were the muffins we had inside?
Kyla, what kind were the muffins we had inside? On the airplane?
Kyla: Banana, strawberry, raspberry and….nature.
Will and Kyla both go off and play elsewhere for awhile. Will approaches Diane later and says that he is going to check if the muffins are ready. When he comes back,
Will: They’re not ready. No. I forgot to put all of them in. I’ll go check now. (When he comes back) They burnt-ed…They didn’t burn. No. I forgot. That means they didn’t burn. We have to sleep first. Then we can have the muffins.
Ian brings over a bowl filled with sand and mulch for us to eat. Is this ready to eat, Ian?
Ian: No. It’s for later.
We repeat this play for a bit, checking if food is ready and sleeping while we wait. Saige has joined us in this play, first as an observer, sitting with us and listening to the play. When both Will and Ian tell us that we can not eat the food until later and we need to sleep again, Saige offers some advice, If you sleep too much, that means you won’t have any energy. She offers a handful of woodchips for a snack to give us some energy. Saige soon gets up with her bucket and shovel.
I have to go bye-byes. She walks around the playground and when she comes back, reassuringly says, I was just around the corner. She leaves again. I was just two miles away. (Again) I was one mile.
Will is watching Saige closely and soon wants to join her. He also says goodbye, he has to go too. Upon his return,
Will: One mile. I was just one mile away.
Saige: I went five miles.
Will: I was three miles away. (This continues on and on. They leave, go different places in the playground for varying amounts of time and then come back. Will sometimes sleeps upon his return, sometimes he has to leave right away. Luca has joined in this play as well. After watching for a bit, he also has to go. Upon Luca’s return,
Luca: I was three miles away.
Saige: I want to go three miles away too. (Luca heads out again)
Luca: Three miles away is way over here!
Saige: But I want to go three miles this way.
Luca: Saige! Come over here!
Saige: I want to go three miles this way actually.
Will: I’m going somewhere safe and sound so I can sleep. (A few minutes later) I’m back.I heard something scary. I did a dream…and it was scary.
Saige also returns. Sounding like she is out of breath.
Saige: I had to go out the front door and then I went around and then through the back and all the way around and then I went that way. I have to go five miles. I have to count to five. One…two…three…four…five. Ok. I gotta go!
Will: I have to go somewhere. I’m going at a store.
Saige: My house is close to you.
Will: My house is close to you!
Saige stops this time and sits on the log across the playground. Looking back over, Saige shouts, Come and visit! Come and visit me! I’m gonna be here for five minutes actually.
Will: I can visit. (He goes and sits with Saige)
Will and Saige spend some time at Saige’s house (on the bench) and then Saige visits Will at his house (the big rock nearby.) The next day, Saige approaches Will, Ian, Luca and Diane, Let’s play that bye-bye game again!
Perhaps the development of this “bye-bye game” will serve to strengthen a friendship amongst Ian, Luca, Saige and Will, much as the “pushing game” has done for Asha and Sam…
Lincoln Nursery School is a non-sectarian, non-profit, cooperative nursery school, serving 60 children ages 2.9 to 6 years old. Our community is composed of families from many surrounding towns.
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