Updated: Sep 10, 2020
When children have agency over their emotions and their reactions, they are able to feel confident in what they know is true within themselves. This is the big work of preschool.
At the preschool every day there are many characters and roles that the children try on and experiment embodying. There are always good guys, bad guys, babies, superheros and mamas.
One day during snack time we had a conversation about what a bad guy is. It went something like this:
"I have heard you guys talking about bad guys lately. What's a bad guy?"
"Bad guys are Darth Vader."
"Yeah! He has a light saber and kills people."
"A bad guy does hurt people."
"He's not a nice guy and always runs away."
"Oh! I see. It sounds like a bad guy is someone who isn't very kind. I wonder why he isn't kind."
Silence for a while and the topic moves on to the logistics of how light sabers work.
Recently I have been noticing children saying to each other, "You're a bad guy!" This is often accompanied by running away quickly and the person being told they are a bad guy quickly saying that they are not. The next day as we are heading to the back yard, we all line up along the fence as we often do, I told them that I felt like before we played we needed to have a conversation about bad guys.
"I have been noticing that there is a lot of games about bad guys lately."
"Yeah!" almost everyone shouted.
"I'm a bad guy. Rawrrrr." IG said.
"Someone called me a bad guy, but I'm not!" RM said.
"I'm not a bad guy either," HR added.
"Right! Sometimes we call our selves a bad guy, sometimes we call ourselves a good guy. It can feel fun to be a bad guy sometimes. Other times, someone else calls us a bad guy. I'm noticing when that happens, it usually feels bad. What do you guys think?"
"I don't like when I'm called it." agreed HM
"I like being a bad guy." said QM
"Don't ever call me a bad guy. I don't like it!" said VM
"Ok. So what I'm hearing is that we can choose if we are bad guys. What happens if someone comes up to you and says, 'You're a bad guy!'?" I ask.
"Tell a teacher! Run away! Tell them you aren't a bad guy!" Everyone says.
"Yes! And you can also say, 'My name is______________, that's what you can call me."
"But what if they don't stop?" A few people begin to get worried. That is always a possibility. I continue, "If they don't stop you can choose to not believe them. We get to choose if we are bad guys. Can we all agree on that?"Everyone seemed quite relieved that they got to choose if they were a bad guy or not, and they agreed quickly that that was a new agreement for our school. By engaging the children in becoming aware of their peers, noticing how it feels within themselves, as well as how they effect each other, is a huge part of our never-ending journey of figuring out relationship building skills. When children have agency over their emotions and their reactions, they are able to feel confident in what they know is true within themselves. This is the big work of preschool.