You can’t say ‘you can’t play’

We have an ongoing problem in our setting. It’s a problem that gets mulled over, discussed, argued about, decided upon and then mulled over again. No matter how much we talk it through we just can’t seem to get it right.

Let me explain. Some of the absolute bedrock beliefs that I have about education, and childhood in general, is that in order to facilitate the development of empathetic and mature human beings, children must be treated with empathy and maturity. Lightbulb, right?

Anyway, in order to create an environment that allows for empathy and maturity we leave kids to sort out a lot of their differences without adult interference. We encourage talking (till the cows come home) and we place an equal validity on everyone’s version of the ‘truth’ – no matter how incompatible with reality it may seem to our adult senses. we also allow the kids a huge quantity of freedom – both in their choices of activity and in their friendship associations. We trust that when given the right amount of space that decency and compassion will win the day.

Yet we have a problem. And it’s one of the biggest issues we face. Because within this arena of freedom and trust is the understanding that some people are going to like some people more than other people. And sometimes you just don’t want to hang out with that person.

Maybe that person is the one who tries to change the rules the moment the join the game. Maybe that person is the one who bosses others around. Maybe that person is the one who never has any new ideas.

Maybe it’s just a game that works better with two than three. Maybe it’s a project that three people invented and they don’t really need or want any help, thanks anyway. Or maybe there’s a group of kids who just want to feel secure in their own secret club with their own secret language.

Or maybe those kids really are just being exclusive. Maybe they do always leave people out. Maybe they do make kids feel unwanted or unneeded or unskilled. Maybe they are being bullies.


The question is – do they have the right to tell the others they can’t join in? Does every game have to be open to everyone? Do we need to force them to draw others into their private play? Don’t they have the right to privacy? And secrets? And best friends? And the freedom to choose?

How do you handle this in your setting? What strategies work? Or what I you think we could do better? I’d love your thoughts.

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