Tag Archives: mixed age group

Let Me Help You – or Not

This summer I have two distinct groups of children.  Half my group is very young – infants and toddlers – eager to explore and learn but just beginning to master some basic skills.  The rest of the children are school-age – they usually prefer group activities but often become impatient when they think the pace is too slow.

The older children always seem so confused when they go to help one of the little ones and I say “No, don’t”.  Yes, I think it is absolutely wonderful that they want to offer assistance but often what they are doing is actually not helping.

Yes, sometimes the little ones do seem frustrated when they are trying to do something but that doesn’t mean they need help.  They are trying and retrying and eventually they will do it.  Maybe it won’t happen today, tomorrow or even next week but they are still trying.  If you do it for them you are taking away their opportunity to learn.

Yes, sometimes they even ask you to help them — that also doesn’t mean they need help.  They have learned that you can do it faster/better than they can and you might be willing to do it for them so they don’t have to do the work.  They know how to do it but they still need to practice before they are able to do it well.  You can assist by encouraging them to do it — cheer them on and celebrate their success.

Yes, I know she wants to climb up there but she can’t quite reach.  If you help her up there how is she going to get down?  Even when she does learn to climb up by herself she will still also need to learn to get down.  Right now she’s not ready for either one.  Holding her hand while she tries to climb actually makes it harder for her – it puts her balance off center and makes her footing unstable.

We’re halfway through the summer and I think they’re finally beginning to understand.  The older ones are learning to pause and observe — to assess the situation to determine if assistance is really necessary.  They’re learning that not helping is hard but sometimes it is the most helpful thing they can do.

Summer Group Dynamics

Many people are surprised when I say that I look forward to summer time when the all the children are here for the full day.  I’ve even considered taking my vacation in the spring instead of summer just so I could have even more full days with the children. Unfortunately, closing for vacation in spring, during the school year, would be troublesome for bus schedules and school/work routines so I don’t.  I do, however, take only two weeks of vacation time in the summer instead of three, four, or even more that many other providers choose to take.

Summer is over now and the older children have returned to school.  This year I say that with a sigh of relief.  This summer was very long – and complicated. This was the summer that I wished I had taken more time off.  This was the summer that almost did me in – there were some days that it took so much effort just to unlock the front door and greet the children with a smile.

So why was this summer so troublesome?  There was only one new child in the group; the others have been here for at least a year – and up to six years.  Over the summer I spent a lot of time observing their interactions and reflecting.  There were a couple of children that tended to stand out – not in a good way.  It would be easy to label these children as ‘difficult’.  It would be easy to say that if they were not here then everything would run smoothly.

Easy would not be correct.  Although many of them have been attending here for years this ‘group’ has not been together before.  I actually have 11 children enrolled in my eight childcare spaces because some only attend part time.  Some attend only during school hours while others only attend when school is out.  Some have spent plenty of time together but not recently – and they’ve discovered that their ‘best friend’ has changed since they were together last – they have new interests.  There was a lot of turmoil within this group.

So, here are some of my observations – I’ve given the children bird names because I can’t use their real names and I didn’t want to number them;

Finch is curious, energetic and at times – defiant. Robin is imaginative and often oblivious to the conduct of the rest of the group.  These two have little interest in most group activities but will participate for short periods before wandering away to something they find more interesting.  Sparrow is wildly creative and independent, always has elaborate plans and is proficient at free play.  Sparrow enjoys cooperative group activities but gets frustrated by conflict and will usually return to solitary activities instead.  These three require very little guidance from me.

Canary is bubbly and full of energy but relies on others to make activity choices. Often Canary has difficulty staying on task.  Canary can become deeply engaged in cooperative play activities with Sparrow if not distracted.  Others sometimes take advantage of Canary’s trusting nature and they encourage undesirable behaviour.  Canary can be easily redirected and is never rebellious.

Jay is a keen observer who is very concerned about status and focused on results – definitely product over process.  Easily overwhelmed, Jay is drawn to group activities but rarely participates – preferring to watch or be watched.  When frustrated, Jay resorts to disrupting play in an effort to divide the group into smaller, more manageable clusters.  Jay can play cooperatively with one or two others in a non-competitive activity – preferably something constructive but not challenging.  Jay is very sensitive and views any suggestion or advice as a personal attack.

Pigeon….so wants to be where the action is, hates to be alone and is willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to be a part of the group.  Others often view Pigeon as annoying and therefore avoid contact which intensifies Pigeon’s efforts to be noticed.  Pigeon has little self control and cannot refuse a dare – no matter how outrageous.  Pigeon has great difficulty with unstructured activities but enjoys adult led group activities.  If the others allow it, Pigeon makes a wonderful addition to any group activity.  One rule infraction and Pigeon seems to feel the day is a total loss and any further attempt to behave or cooperate is now pointless.

Crow is extremely intelligent but easily bored and has little interest in most free play activities.  Crow follows instructions impeccably when participating in adult led group activities or working independently.  Within the group Crow’s favourite role is that of ‘puppet master’ – controlling others activities as a form of entertainment.  Crow has superb leadership capabilities which should be used more constructively.  Initiating or encouraging others inappropriate behaviour seems to be a great source of amusement for Crow particularly with Falcon as an accomplice.

Falcon is the oldest/biggest/strongest of the group and also highly competitive. Falcon does not like to play independently or cooperatively.  Falcon excels at constructive activities.  Whenever others are engaged in a cooperative group activity Falcon swoops in and modifies the activity into something where Falcon is most successful and the others either fail or quit playing.

When Crow and Falcon collaborate world domination is possible – and Jay and Pigeon are guaranteed to be casualties.  The others are safe if they have somewhere to play independently – if not, then they will be part of the fallout too.

This was my summer group.  I will not say any one of these children was the sole cause of disturbances nor were any of them completely faultless. It was the group dynamics and it was a very difficult group. Working on ‘prevention’ is so much easier than dealing with the ‘aftermath’ but both were very time consuming endeavours.

I was constantly analyzing and anticipating – trying to determine whether we needed more structured activities or more free play, more group activities or time to be independent.  How could we balance the needs of all the children in this group?

Certainly there was a ‘best’ scenario: Finch and Robin playing independently, Sparrow and Canary playing together in an elaborate imaginary world of their own,  Jay helping Falcon to create another great superstructure and Crow sitting with Pigeon working together on a planned project.  Yet, I couldn’t keep them separated like this indefinitely.  Besides, avoiding conflict will never teach us how to deal with it.

We had some really great times this summer and some terrible, horrible, wish-this-day-never-happened times too.  I didn’t keep score but for the first time I’m very, very glad that summer is over and school has started and the group dynamics have changed.

Tag

Tag is one of the most popular outdoor activities here.  Hardly a day goes by without at least one game of tag.  The problem with tag is the size of my yard.  The total playspace is just 20 feet by 30 feet and most of that is filled with obstacles.  The largest open area is just 10 feet by 10 feet.

The youngest children in the group have no problem with the space restrictions when the older children are not here.  For them the game is mostly about running around laughing and having fun.  The older ones tend to be more competative and manipulative – often reckless in their attempt to ensure victory.

Although we have gone to the park to play tag in a bigger space they still like to play tag here too.  With our limited space and the vast difference in the childrens’ physical size the game is unfair.

To level the playing field we tried something different.  Instead of running, all the players must keep both feet together and hop;

We’ve also added a rule about using only one finger to tag in order to combat the problem with punching or slapping instead of tagging.  A couple of the children don’t like this rule claiming ‘it hurts their finger to tag like that’ — those that are being tagged like it much better.

The children have also created a game they call ‘Quiet Tag’.  In this version the child who is it stands still in the middle of the walkway with their eyes closed.  The other children try to get sneak from one end of the walkway to the other and back without getting tagged.

You have to be really quiet when you pass by because if ‘It’ hears you they can easily reach out and tag you. Those who get tagged are added to It’s team until there is only one person left trying to sneak by several ‘Its’ standing on the walkway.

Tag is definitely their favorite game.

Adapting

The first week back to school has come to an end. We’ve had many new experiences.

  • The first day back to school/daycare after a summer long absence.
  • Beginning school or daycare for the first time ever.
  • Making new friends.
  • Getting to ride on the school bus.
  • Having no school-age children come here for lunch (this has never happened before).
  • Getting to stay up for quiet time instead of having a nap after lunch.
  • The introduction of an infant into our group – first one in five years that didn’t have an older sibling here.

We’ve been learning and adapting to all these new experiences.  There have been many exciting stories to share with each other.  It is the introduction of the baby that I have found the most interesting.

Initially, when the baby cried, the preschoolers all clamped their hands over their ears and screamed ‘It’s too loud, it’s too loud” – which of course made it worse.  So we discussed communication.  What do you do or say when you want something?  What do you do or say when you’re hurt or scared?  How do you tell someone else that you have a problem or need something?

Now, when the baby cries, the preschoolers stop what they are doing and one of them will say “Shhh! Listen, the baby has something important to say”.  Sometimes they even try to figure out what he wants but mostly they leave that up to me.

The baby likes to be where the action is.  Watching the ‘big’ kids play is so exciting!  He doesn’t crawl yet, or even sit without assistance so he spends a lot of time on my knee – observing.  He really wants to go so sometimes we sit on the floor and try to stay out of the walkways.

In the past I’ve contemplated how to get those preschoolers to slow down and watch where they are going.  They are constantly in a hurry when they play.  Their ‘Rescue Me’, ‘Dragon Hunter’ or ‘Safari Adventure’ dramatic play activities always involve some kind of emergency.  Even the ‘Restaurant’ encounters urgent situations that have everyone scrambling to save the day.  And of course the ‘Family’ getting ready for work/school/daycare is the most hectic game of all.

Sometimes I feel like a broken record repeating ‘walk in the house please’ over and over again. So I was a little apprehensive about putting a baby down on the floor. Yet, ‘out of the way’ isn’t where he wants to be so I sit close by; and I watch.

I watch and listen as Child ‘A’ sends Child ‘B’ for emergency supplies.  Child ‘B’ takes off but then stops and, still in character, narrates the situation for Child ‘A’;

“I must be careful over here.  There is a baby lying on the road.  I will move slowly – taking small steps all the way around him. I have the tools and I am coming back.”

The sense of urgency continues in the tone of voice but the action is slow and careful.  I love it!  So does the baby, squealing and kicking, happy to be part of the game.

We are all part of a new exciting adventure.  Together we are learning and adapting.