The Questions: "How do children learn right from wrong when you let them freely explore their ideas constantly? How do they learn common sense rules?"
Well, today, I was working in the classroom with the lead teacher. She and I brought our school family inside after playing outside for what seemed like enough time to wear just about anybody out. Almost immediately, a little boy had a "what would happen if...?" moment. He stood up on a table and used that table to stand atop a half-wall. Balancing on it, he took the risk to jump off and (gasp!) survived. This immediately triggered other children to try the same thing.
Facilitating the opportunity to learn rather than instigating an unnecessary conflict, my lead teacher asked the children if maybe, possibly we had something soft we could put down where the kids were landing when they jumped. We all paused the action and piled pillows on the floor.
This led to a plethora of other "what would happen if...?" moments, including "what would happen if we held hands while we jumped?" Naturally, this led to a poorly timed tandem jump that ended in a bonked head (which made a horrid noise!), and a very upset little guy after the shock wore off and the eye test was passed (thank goodness!).
It would have been easy to say "okay, that's it, we're done with this!", right? Not in the long term, and not for the children who were still interested. For them, it would be confusing to navigate our thought process. "Why was this okay earlier but not now?" "Why does someone getting hurt mean nobody gets to try?"
That's right! Just because he got hurt doesn't mean we had the right to end the entire game for everyone. Interestingly, though, as his cries turned to whimpers and dissipated in his teachers arms, magically, so did all of the other kids' interest in this risky game.
After nobody was interested in this game anymore, a little girl walked up to me and said, "maybe we shouldn't jump off of the furniture anymore" and I told her that was a fabulous conclusion to come to.
The absolute worst thing we could have done was stop the risks from being taken, and then the second worst thing we could have done was end the opportunity to take risks the second someone was hurt.
Now we have a group of children who have made their own decision to avoid doing something despite knowing they have the freedom to do it. More importantly, they know WHY they are choosing to avoid it. So, so, so much easier than barking "we don't stand on tables" 20 times per day, every day of the week.
Now, is this game ever going to resurface? Probably. Novelty is amazing. Children crave it. Inevitably, there will be natural consequences every time the game resurfaces, until you've just got a group of children who can admit to themselves, "I don't want to do that because it's too unsafe for me."
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