You Can’t Play

“You Can’t Play With Us!” is what the straight haired blond girl said to my daughter, Ella, as I dropped her off at her school a week or so ago, and I remember distinctly the feeling I had of trying to figure out a way to make the girl’s hurtful words seem not so bad to Ella.  It was strange, because I really don’t think that the blond girl meant anything malicious by her statement, but was just telling Ella that she was playing a game that she and her other friend had created that only had two characters.  It is similar to the game that Ruthie and another girl are discussing in “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play” on p. 62, where they are playing a Cinderella game and there’s one Cinderella and three stepsisters, but when another girl came up and asked to play they told her no, but there really wasn’t a reason other than they just decided that the game should have three sisters. 


Anyways, The two girls had just finished telling my daughter that she couldn’t play with them, and I felt her hand tighten in mine, the sure sign that she’s about to melt into my leg and cry or get upset somehow, but somehow she simply looked at the two girls and said, “Why?” The two girls told her that she just could not, and I whisked her away as she started to cry and the girls went right back to playing as if nothing had transpired at all.


The event, as well as the reading for today both made me think of ways in which we can help children realize that the things that they say and do have ramifications.  I suppose that there are different stages of learning and that different ages and cognition levels are associated with one’s interaction with the world around themselves, that is to say that what one does influences the world.  I am not sure when this happens, but I would have to think that it happens earlier in a child’s development than their school years.  Are children so oblivious to others feelings that they simply do not realize that their words can have the impact that they do, or do they simply not care?


I think that children just do not understand the damage that they can do with a simple exclusionary boundary that is thrown up, but as we are seeing in Paley’s book, the ways to teach the lesson of this principle are not always so easy to put into a nice neat package.  I really like her way of creating a story to convey some of the meanings, and her obvious agreement that the principle of community is an important part of a healthy classroom.  I like that the children are engaged in the discovery process, and not being led toward a goal that the teacher already has, but one that the teacher is also involved with the students in finding.  By joining them in their journey, it shows them that it is perfectly fine to discover new knowledge, in fact it strengthens the act by showing that their figurehead is actively pursuing it as well. 


This week also brought about poetry, and self-reflection in the form of looking at parts of our lives that determine where I am from.  I have never been excited about poetry, but have always been more involved in writing works of fiction (suspense or horror I suppose would be the genre, but without the strange monsters and such), so this was approached somewhat apprehensively. 


The project turned out to be an exercise in looking at my life, but this time, I kept hearing Jane say that phrase about things that I saw then through the eyes of a child would be seen differently when seen today through the eyes of an adult—or something to that effect.  It was a strange exercise in some ways.  There were many things that I chose not to write about, that perhaps a few years ago I would have.  Maybe I have grown older and wiser.  Maybe I have learned what is really important to be said in an assignment such as this rather than what is better left unsaid.  In any event, I found myself thinking of events that I had not thought of in years, of summers spent on beaches when the concept of time meant nothing to me; of soccer games played in the rain; of times good and bad.  Overall, I am satisfied in the way the final product turned out, and am thoughtful of how my kids (and the kids I will teach) will remember the time spent with me, and what I need to do to ensure that they have great memories of those times.


One thought on “You Can’t Play

  1. Hello, Matt,

    I can almost feel Ella’s hand tighten in yours. It’s inevitable that kids will sometimes be exclusive in play (or in team picking, or in group work in class), and there are sometimes logical reasons for forming a group in a particular way. At the same time, we all know that some kids get excluded all of the time, just because other kids sense the power of deciding who plays and how does not… and that sort of exclusion really does matter in kids’ engagement in school.

    And what I really do appreciate about Paley is how she then teaches about this – not moralistically or by imposing rules, but by listening and teaching and stretching herself.

    I’m glad that the poem writing had some value… and I’m grateful that you read, also. It was great — both private and at the same time things that people could identify with.

    And yes, in this assignment and in anything like this that we might do in classrooms in the interest of better knowing students, we have to leave it to them to decide what they do and do not tell….

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