Monday, April 30, 2012

You Can't Say You Can't Play, by Emily Hall, KinderForest Teacher

Let us form a circle, a circle round the sun
Let us form a circle that includes everyone- Tamarack circle song

    "No Boys Allowed!" chants a group of children of mixed ages, colors, and genders. Standing by the back door, while waiting for outside time to begin, it seems that everyday someone is not allowed, whether the children understand what they are chanting or not. Ms. Jane steps in, singing "Everyone's Allowed!". We are. We are all allowed here.  A question many parents ask me, however, is what happens when the children start to experiment with exclusion in earnest around preschool age?
    LifeWays is a diverse place. Children from traditional and non traditional families alike play together here. We're proud of our rainbow, and the dolls and books reflect that pride. Children can be very blunt about difference, however, and pride is not always the first emotion that someone feels about being different.
    I won't go into any stories about who includes/ disincludes who, or share anything politically incorrect that anyone said. I know that at the age of 3-5, children are coming into a sense of self as separate from others. It can be a lonely age. I remember feeling so alone at 4-5, when I realized that my mommy didn't hurt every time I scraped my knee, and that boys didn't play with girls at school. I was used to running with a pack of cousins who didn't see me as different because we were related. I could act like a boy and no one would care. I was included.
    School was different, but there were no playground rules to reflect that difference. We just played alone, or in a pack, and exclusion happened. Teachers didn't step in unless there was a fight. Boys and girls, black and white- play was segregated, unless it was boys against girls in tag. And so elementary school remained in my memory, as it does in many of our memories. Until a mother, at the beginning of this year, quietly gave me a book.
   You Can't Say You Can't Play, by Vivian Gussin- Paley. I read this book in 2 days and swiftly made the title my rule. The children made faces, dragged their feet, and cried, even. Inclusion is a hard lesson, and they are still learning it to this day. Some of those who are most different have the hardest time with this rule. Internalized shame at being different, and repeated exclusion for being different hurts, and takes a long time to heal.
    I was proud of my Forest Kindergarteners when Ms. Mary stepped in for a month, though. I knew that the new rule had truly taken effect when she told me that the children told each other,  "Hey! Ms. Emily says you can't do that! Everyone can play!".
  Sometimes the simplest form of protection makes the biggest difference. If my teachers had enforced 'You Can't Say You Can't Play', the world would be a more cooperative, loving place today. That is all anyone could wish for their child. Thank you.
- Ms. Em

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