By Teacher Anette
Sometimes kids need to be invited to play. I know that was my case a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting one of our youngest preschoolers. Nina in the 2-day and I had finished snacking on her family’s delicious homegrown cherry tomatoes, when she ran over to her very large trampoline and asked very enthusiastically if I wanted to jump with her. Well, it’s been decades since I last jumped on a full-blown trampoline, so I was a little unsure, but Nina was so comfortable hopping around the perimeter and just as eager to have a jumping buddy that there was no way I wouldn’t at least crawl under the netting and sit in the middle. It didn’t take long until her friendly asking and confident assumption that I’d say “yes!” gave me the courage to do more than sit. The rhythm that she was pumping into the trampoline with her own jumping started to work its way into my feet and then my legs until I found myself jumping right along with her. It was magical!
This is how things happen among kids. One of them gets an idea and gathers a friend or two to get it going with a simple, confident ask. There usually isn’t a lot of prelude to it. Some kids are more apt to jump in whereas others either need to observe a bit longer or test it out gradually. Some kids have staying power to stick with an activity whereas others are more wired to try it quickly then move on to something else. Whatever the style of group play a child has, it typically starts with one child inviting the other to play. Playing is simply expected.
The flip side is teaching a child how to ask to play. As you work with the children this year, you will undoubtedly encounter situations where a preschooler is feeling left out—both unintentionally and, occasionally, intentionally. This is not a time to feel sadness or pity. This is the time to begin to teach kids empowerment and self-advocacy. By giving them the words they need, we can teach them early-on that it’s good—great– empowering to ask to join a group if it is playing a game s/he’d enjoy. AND we need to teach the kids who are already established in the game to “open up their circle and let them in.” One of my goals this year is work with the kids on “deliberate friending,” which means going out of their way to both seek friends and be a friend.
We also can do this as adults. If you are at a general meeting or preschool social, stretch out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to a parent in the other class or the parent in your own class whom you haven’t yet met. We’re in the first leg of a grand school-year journey, and I hope we have made you feel anticipated and welcome. Be open to serendipities and you just might find yourself catching some air in unexpected places.