Growing up was pretty much a free-for-all Lord of the Flies situation. There was lots of teasing, general meanness, some racism and homophobia, and lots of exclusion. Until I was embarrassingly old I didn’t understand why one girl was always calling me, “queer” instead of, “weird.” (This was the same girl that would yell I stuffed my bra when I wasn’t old enough to be wearing one, so I wonder about what her home life was like.) Like Mean Girls but without the happy ending… or perhaps with the happy ending in high school. Exclusion started as early as age 3, since that’s when my memory first begins. (And tattling about it would get the tattler punished!)
At DC’s preschool there’s none of that. The general rule is that kids are allowed to want to be alone, but they’re not allowed to exclude other children from playgroups. Occasionally DC will report that L doesn’t want to play with T but T also doesn’t want to play with L even though they both want to play with DC… this usually ends with a teacher (and now DC) telling them they should all play together, or T going off with her other friends or L going off with his. I have NEVER heard anyone call anyone anything worse than, “Noodle” and only in a hilarious nobody is sad sort of way. (“You’re a noodle!” “Well, you’re a noodle doodle!”). Boys and girls play together. They comfort each other when they get hurt. They apologize for inadvertently hurting each other. They trade and take turns and share. All of this in the standard language taught by every teacher (except a couple of the new mean ones) beginning in the infant room. Are they just good kids? Or is it good supervision? Or that they have better things to occupy their little minds with because it’s a good Montessori? (Idle hands are the devil’s playground… that’s sort of the moral of many of Jane Austen’s books, Emma especially.)
Not all daycares apparently have as nice kids as my kids’ does. I don’t know if you recall but one of the resolutions last semester was to meet more people in real life, preferably those with kids DC’s age who live in the neighborhood. We were really excited at Halloween when we met a big group of little kids DC’s gender who all have weekly playdates. DC hit it off with one of them (a year older, just like all hir friends from daycare) and hir mom put us on her weekly playdate calling list.
It didn’t work out. We went. The ringleader kids in the group took to calling DC, “poopy-butt” and told hir they didn’t want hir to play with them. DC has never experienced anything like that and was shocked. (S)He just didn’t understand. The mom who had invited us told DC that they just weren’t used to hir and they would warm up and that they call each other poopy-butt all the time– it’s just their way of including people and they picked it up at their daycare. (Very different from our, “That isn’t nice of them. People should not exclude other people and should not call each other poopy anything.”) After two more playgroups in which DC got more and more excluded, they stopped inviting us and we haven’t called to get back in the loop.
Bullying has been in the news a lot, especially with respect to rampant homophobia. With the new online methods of bullying it seems easier to make kids’ lives miserable than ever. The existence or lack of respectful behavior and empathy can start on the playground.
Can adults keep children civilized? With enough supervision and training can we create nice kids? Should we?