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Two, four, six, eight, which groups do we appreciate?

It's a hot day and I have eight children in the playground. We are doing drama and trying to see if we can work in a big group.

Lizzie and Sarah do not want to work together. They would like to run around the playground shrieking. Failing that, they will stand in the line together but they will not put their feet out at the same time.

Jake and Alan would like to play together. They would like to be in the line together. But they do not seem to know which foot they should both put out together.

Jessy and Becky want to be in the group together. They want to put out their feet together and seem to know which ones. But they do not want to hold on to the back of Jake and Alan. They are boys.

Tom and Sam want to be in the group. They want to put out their feet together and they do know which ones. But they do not want to put them out at the same time as everyone else. They want to be faster. They also want to be at the front.

They can't be at the front all the time, I say. This is drama. They have to work together. They are all being a snake. A snake moves slowly. It glides. If it had feet it would move them, very slowly, all together.

I guess they don't really want to be a snake.

Later, we act out the Bad-tempered Ladybird. Eric Carle's simple fable depends for its repetitious humour on a running gag. "You're not big enough for me to fight," says the grumpy beetle to each animal antagonist in turn, as they steadily increase in size. The children keep getting this muddled up. "You're too small for me to fight," says the ladybird to the hyena.

Furthermore, they hate being the audience. As each of them gets a turn at being an animal, the others fidget and rush about. I urge them to be generous - "Look how nice Tom's rhinoceros is" - but it cuts no ice. Yet each one who is enacting is completely caught up in imagining: Stanislavski in person.

I take the eight back to the classroom, detouring for a grazed knee, in a pessimistic mood about human nature. What about sharing, co-operative team work? Well, what about it?

Next week, I have six of the eight. I try drama once more, this time with trust and mirror games. At first, it's the same story. Everyone resolutely mirrors on the wrong side. But, little by little, they seem to get the hang of it. We mime passing a mouse. We make a big bicycle wheel. We all work together. I am amazed. They seem now to be working together just as effortlessly as before they were totally separate.

Then I look at Lizzie. She is pale and yawning. All of them suddenly seem very tired. They sit down for a final story, slumped as if they have given something up - and I suppose they have. Some fraction of individuality which has to be surrendered to work within the larger group.

A few weeks ago, we did square-dancing. One set worked perfectly. The other kept being held up because two of the children would not move on from whatever position they were in. They did not seem to have a sense of the dance as flow, as an element in which they were swimming in formation. On the contrary, it was as if by standing stock-still they might arrest the submerging tide of movement, and refrain from being engulfed in the dance. How else explain their look of panic as they clutched each other?

But perhaps I refine too much. Perhaps they were only trying to work out their right from their left. Perhaps they couldn't hear the music. Perhaps it was just another confusing set of happenstance under the rubric "school". Anyhow, at the end of the dance (and at the end of the drama) everyone bursts out laughing. Some things taste better in a group.

Patience is a parent-helper in a reception class

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