This is my third posting for “Trouble on the Playground”. It describes another 5-year old scenario that displays the superlative skills of a teacher, whom we will call Pat. The same group of “George”, “Polly”, and others, were playing pirates. Jack was desperate to play. He eagerly claimed the role of “third mate”. The game involved multiple pirate activities – building a fire and tending it, going on treasure-hunting expeditions, looking out for enemies, hunting and gathering, and more that I can’t remember. To make things worse for our friend, Jack, it was taking place in numerous venues. The fire was being tended in one part of the climbing structure. The look-outs assembled in another part of that structure. Small bands of pirates would episodically take off on a treasure-hunting or food-gathering expedition in what seemed to me to be a dizzyingly unpredictable manner (but I am not 5-yo).
But what I really want to highlight is Pat’s talents. She posted herself at the top of the climbing structure so that she could be in the best position to keep an eye on Jack. Her job was actually multifaceted. While keeping an eye on Jack – who periodically got distracted and wandered off – she made sure that all the numerous new pirates who were attracted by the raucous pirate cries broadcast throughout the playground had pirate jobs (“Susan, could Tommy help you tend the fire? No? There are too many cooks? Well, let’s see if Jamie needs help in the lookout tower.”), she ran interference in disputes over the proper comportment of pirates and other things, and she made sure that there were no serious accidents. I watched her in amazed admiration.
Jack was very happy. However, the next day he couldn’t find his way into George and Polly’s play again and was bitter and downcast. We tried to help, but this time it didn’t work. Then a strange thing happened. Polly went away for a week’s vacation with her family, and suddenly Jack and George were playing together every day like the best of buddies. I could understand the logic of this happy eventuality, but I was surprised at the rapidity of the transition and the degree of Jack’s success. It got me to thinking about how mysterious friendships are anyway, especially for young children, and how sometimes a small factor in the mix can make such a big difference. I found myself waiting with anxiety for Polly’s return.