The Train Debate

It has been just over three months since I last had the train tracks available in the block area.  There are several building sets that have not been our for over six months but the boys (there are no girls in my current group) had been begging for me to bring the trains out again.  I was hesitant because we have a new infant here now – babies are not usually very ‘helpful’ when it comes to building with train tracks but the boys were so insistent.

Last year I wrote about how wonderfully this group plays with the trains and tracks so I relented and brought the trains out again.  Even though all but one of these children were here last year, they are currently at different stages than they were before and the dynamics are much different.  Having the trains out now has been… interesting.

There is one boy who loves to sort and classify everything.  Now that the trains and tracks are available he arranges them all according to size and shape.  He creates groupings and lines the pieces up in straight lines.  He gets frustrated and very vocal when others come near or disrupt his methodology  in any way.

Another one just wants the train cars – ALL of them.  Upon entering the playroom he tries to pick up and hold all of train cars at once but that is impossible.  Instead, he makes a pile of train cars and sits on them.  If any other child has one or more train cars he will sit and whimper, complaining that they have ‘his’ trains.  If I suggest that maybe he should build a track for the trains he has, he will attach two track pieces together, pile his train cars on the track and then sit on them.

The third boy loves to create several small circular tracks.  He is an expert builder and can quickly select all the appropriate track pieces and assemble his tracks.  He excitedly shows everyone his accomplishment and then walks away.  When I remind him to put away his toys if he is finished with them he wails.  For each track section there is dramatic effort required to pick up and take it to the bin.  Each piece is so heavy that he couldn’t possibly carry more than one and often he is unable to even stand so he must slither and drag himself to the bin while sobbing “I CAN’T DO IT…I caaannn’tttt

The fourth boy is so concerned about and distracted by what everyone else is doing that he has difficulty settling into an activity.  He seems eager to play with trains, states his intentions and invites others to join him however it takes a very long time before he begins to play.  Often he hovers around the block area and complains about what the others are doing.  Once he does finally sit down and become engaged in the activity he can play cooperatively, it just takes so long to get there and there are so many disputes along the way that the others lose interest or we run out of time.

Boy five has little interest in building with the tracks but enjoys driving trains on the tracks that others have built.  He reenacts elaborate scenarios complete with narrative descriptions and sound effects but seems oblivious to the others playing around him.  He is fully engaged in independent play but will get very upset if others interrupt or ‘bother’ him.

Boy six likes to build complex track systems using as many of the track sections as possible.  He enjoys having the others watch him build but is easily frustrated if they attempt to assist – he has a plan.  He discusses his design plans with the others and explains how they will be able to use it once complete.  Occasionally he too plays with trains – briefly – but usually once finished building he loses interest and leaves the block are.  However, he cannot clean up because the others are still playing – they do love this massive track.  When finished playing the others will be overwhelmed by the prospect of putting away all those tracks – they would never have built anything that big.

*Sigh*  By the end of the first week of train play I was ready to pack them up and put something different in the block area.  It is not that anyone is using the toys ‘wrong’ but that they are all using them differently.  It wouldn’t be a problem if they would sometimes play with other toys but for the whole first week they all wanted to play with trains – only trains – together but not in agreement.  Essentially it was a week long argument.

I know that dealing with disputes is an important skill to learn but personally I’d prefer to avoid all confrontation.  It would be easier for me to put away the trains and say it is a consequence due to the incessant fighting.  It might be easier for me to create a chart and assign each child a specified time slot where they can each have an equal amount of uninterrupted independent play with trains. However it is probably better if I let them work it out themselves.  I can tell them what I see.  I can facilitate conversations and mediate physical disputes.  I just don’t like to.

At the moment I really don’t like trains either.  Yet, during train week two there were a few moments of hope.  I few fleeting periods when I thought maybe – just maybe they had figured it out.  We are now beginning train week three and the debate continues….

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