A group of children were playing with puppets on the rug. One child repeatedly threw the puppets high above his head. I reminded him to find other ways to play with them. He ignored me. I was beginning to feel frustrated. Taking the 3.5-year-old aside, I asked if he had heard my words about not throwing the puppets. In the silence of what in retrospect was a rhetorical question, I felt a small hand on my shoulder. The soft voice of another boy, Isaac, whispered in my ear, “You forgot something.” I turned to see him pointing towards the Quaker poster on cooperation.
Thanking the boy and modeling what I teach, I sat down on the tiny chairs by the mule poster with the boy who had been throwing the puppets. We’d spoken many times of how the mules each had their own ideas, but because they were connected by a yoke they had to sit down and figure out a plan together.
Breaking down the conflict into the concept of having different ideas removes blame and self-judgment.
I’d often customized the poster to illustrate individual conflicts. While I’d coached hundreds of children, just lately I’d included myself in the process as a participant. Planning to be both participant and teacher, I was surprised when Isaac began to point out the mules in the pictograph.
“Who do you want to be?” Isaac coached. “That’s me,” said the puppet-throwing boy, pointing to the mule nearest to him. The coach stood up and confirmed with, “This is you.”
“And that’s me pulling at you to listen and stop throwing the puppets.” I continued, saying, “My idea, your idea, my idea, your idea,” going back and forth between the two mules on the cloth poster.
Coming to the part of the pictograph where there was a question mark between the two seated mules, our coach Isaac asked “How do you want to share?” Noting his own interpretive language, I could hear how thoroughly he had integrated the concept of cooperation. Later, I would reflect on this process with regards to sharing.
“What’s our plan,” I asked? Trusting both the process and the children, I could remain curious.
“What if you picked up any puppets left on the floor and tried to toss them into the large woven basket that is their home?”
“Yeahhh!!” said the boy, turning to look at the clock. “Look, it’s on the 2," he said, laughing, and jumped up. While I had previously asked him to step away from the puppet area, I also wanted to give him another chance to change his behavior and return.
“When the long hand gets to the 2,” I said pointing to it on the clock, “you can go back and try again.” It was then that I felt the small hand on my shoulder. Time may be quite abstract for preschoolers. Five minutes may have seemed like an eternity. Manual clocks help make it concrete.
After his puppet-toss filled the basket with puppets, I asked in the language of his classroom teachers, “Did it work?”
“Yesssss!” he shouted. We’d found a solution that worked for each of us. And all was peaceful again.
(Stay tuned for the next blog to see what was happening on the other side of the room while I focused on the conflict.)
Historically, my program began 30 years ago with using puppets to help children solve their developmental conflicts. While I consider the entire Expressive Arts Room a Peace Place, the Quaker poster works well when two different ideas are involved. At other times we may use puppets, speak our feelings or go through the sequential steps of their classroom posters.
There is a Peace Place in each of the classrooms. Teachers have created their own posters and set up areas for children to sit down together and work out conflicts.
The Prairie Dog teachers have added a sixth step: Did it work? If not, this is a good time to go back to Step 3, What Will Work, and find another choice to explore.
I keep a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. beside the poster.
The children know of his work and celebrate his birthday with an annual peace parade. Displaying his photo all year round is inspiring. Both teachers and children can be heard asking, “What would Dr. MLK say? What would he do to solve this problem?”
Setting up a Peace Place:
· Designate an area of the room as a permanent place to find creative solutions that work for all involved. Have a poster, photo or symbol of peace as part of the area. You may include a couple of little chairs or cushions.
· For immediate matters of physical safety, the floor becomes the place to negotiate peace. Our director, Belann Giarretto, can be heard saying, “We need a meeting, right now. Let’s sit down.” She drops to the floor and then guides the children in finding a solution for what has occurred between them.
· You may want to use the 5-step method, shown in the poster above:
1. Sit down together.
2. Take turns talking and listening.
3. What will work?
4. Make a plan.
5. Do it!
· Or use a more familiar system that also teaches conflict resolution and cooperation
As an ongoing part of daily preschool life, these tools have successfully played a part in the lives of the children. They take these methods home with them and often to other schools. It’s never too soon to teach peace-making, one preschooler at a time.