Over the last few weeks I have been telling stories at circle time about a puppy classroom. Five puppies (all named after the color of their fur) and their teacher (a dalmatian named Teacher Polka Dot) navigate preschool life. We have told stories about a new student joining the classroom, about sharing a doggy pizza fairly, about a another kind of fairness when each puppy has a different need, and about working together to help every puppy see over the fence into the neighbor’s garden next door. And one morning a puppy from a kindergarten classroom came to visit and tell them about puppy kindergarten. Now, nearly every morning when the children know that I am leading circle, one or two of them will ask, “Are you going to tell a puppy story?”
All preschoolers (and preschool-aged puppies) are learning about friendship. How to make new friends, how to keep friends and how to know someone is your friend even when they choose to play with someone else (or by themselves). So today the story was about how to join in play. I tried to slightly exaggerate some of the things children do when trying to join in so that everyone in the circle would notice why those strategies don’t always work. We went through a couple scenarios, the first one involved free play time outside. Yellow and Brown were deeply engaged in playing with the marble ramps and Black wanted to join in their play.
[Black comes and stands nearby. Black decides to stand in another spot. The other two puppies just keep playing.]
Laura: How could Black get there attention and join in?
RR: You could say, “Yellow and Brown, can I play?”
Laura: So, Black goes back and asks, “Yellow and Brown, can I play?” [said in a quiet, mumbly, whisper voice]. The other two dogs kept playing. So Black went over to Teacher Polka Dot and said, “Yellow and Brown won’t let me play!”
Laura: Is that what you saw happen?
L: What actually happened?
SS: Black was whispering.
KP: I think they were too busy of playing.
KM: Maybe, he was talking too quiet and they didn’t hear Black because they were talking so loud.
Laura: So what could Black do to get their attention?
CW: Black could do it louder.
Laura: Louder. Oh, okay. So let’s try that. Rewind.
Laura: YELLOW AND BROWN PLAY WITH ME RIGHT NOW!
SS: No, not that loud.
Laura: Is that too loud? Okay, let’s try again. AW, do you have an idea? What should Black do?
AW: Yell really loud.
Laura: We just tried that. They kind of stopped playing but their faces looked worried and they covered their ears.
KM: Regular voice.
SS: Like, “Yellow and Brown, can I play?” [friendly medium volume voice]
Laura: Okay. “Yellow and Brown, can I play?” [The other two dogs keep playing]. “I used my regular voice, how come it didn’t work?”
KC: Maybe because they were shouting?
CW: And maybe because they were having so fun.
WG: He’s so far away from them, so they can’t hear them.
Laura: Yeah, Black is way over here, so far away. So, Black said it in a regular voice and said their names. . . But WG noticed that Black is really far away. MH, do you have an idea?
MH: Maybe Black could go over to Yellow and whisper in Yellow’s ear?
Laura: Oh, let’s try that. [whispering noises]. Yellow says, “Hmm? I didn’t quite hear you, what did you say?” Black says, “Yellow, I was trying to get your attention, can I play with you?” Yellow responds, “Oh, sure! We’re having fun with the marbles. Go get a marble from Teacher Polka Dot.” “Okay!”
Laura: So Black came close to the friends, and got their attention and then asked. So that’s one way. Anyone else have another idea?
KM: “Excuse me?”
Laura: Oh, Black could notice that they are playing a lot and say, “Excuse me?”?
RR: Say “Excuse me” and then wait.
Laura: That’s an important part of this, isn’t it? Because sometimes it takes a minute for kids to notice. So, RR said, you could say excuse me and then wait until their eyes are on you. Then what?
SS: Well, this is another idea. Can you do the yelling again?
Laura: You liked it when I yelled? I might do that at some point, but we already tried that in this scenario. AYS, what’s your idea?
AYS: Maybe should the Black say he will walk around for a little. And a big cannon ball comes at that and it pops it and go boom!
Laura: So Black could try to walk around for a minute and then come back?
AYS: Yeah, and a huge cannonball!
Laura: Well, they aren’t playing with cannonballs right now, they are playing with marbles. Of course the marbles do look pretty big next to their tiny puppy bodies, eh?
Laura: So, I think we’ve got it. Black gets their attention, waits for them to look at him, and then says clearly what he wants to do–he wants to join in.
Ask your children about the puppy classroom. Group and classroom dynamics can be complex and layered. Telling these stories about another group helps them understand the discrete and connected skills that are part of being in community with each other.