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How to Handle a Jerk (Kid Version)

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Read Time: 3 minutes

It is so fun to play, when no one is being a jerk. It is INSTRUCTIVE to play when someone is.

So: You know that we recommend schools offer a Let Grow Play Club. That’s when a school stays open before or after school for mixed-age, unstructured play in a no-phone-zone. Think of it as a wildlife sanctuary…for childhood.

An adult is there, but like a lifeguard. They don’t organize the games or solve the spats, so kids learn how to do that on their own. Important skills!

Here’s what it can look like:

A Let Grow Play Club Presents: Life lessons in a leaf pile!

That was filmed at a Title 1 (high poverty) elementary school in South Carolina by 4th grade teacher Kevin Stinehart. He runs Let Grow Play Clubs before AND after school. (Watch his webinar with us here.) One day, the kids made a huge pile of leaves and took turns jumping in it, just like in the video. But at one point, one of the boys sat down directly in the pile and wouldn’t budge.

The other kids yelled, “Hey! Get out of the way! Move!” But the boy just acted like he didn’t hear them. Clearly he was enjoying his role of party pooper.  After a while one kid said, “Just jump AROUND him.” Which they did. And the kid got bored and left.

Why is that significant?

What happens when adults DON’T step in.

Because THAT is the power of play. The boy learned a lesson – being a jerk doesn’t make life any better. And the other kids learned a lesson, too: How to solve a problem themselves.

First, they figured out that all the kid wanted was attention (though they might not have articulated it that way). Then they adjusted their behavior to deprive him of that by playing without him. What an elegant solution!

Now, what would have happened if an adult intervened, which is what most teachers think they must do? The “jerk” would have gotten the attention he craved. And the other kids would have been passive, waiting for a grownup to solve the problem.

The Let Grow Play Club is like A.P. Class in Maturity.

But you get confidence by DOING things, not by having someone do them for you. So an adult stepping in to “fix” the situation, which is what happens in most adult-run activities, would have meant no creativity activated, strategies tested, or solution devised.

Let Grow’s co-founder — indeed Let Grow Play Club founder — Peter Gray likes to say this: When adults and kids are together, the adults are the adults and the kids are kids. It’s only when the adults AREN’T there (or deliberately do not step in), that the kids BECOME the adults.

That happens every day in a Let Grow Play Club. Play Club is also the easiest way to provide kids with a time and place to socialize without phones. We hope your school offers one soon!

Photo and video by Kevin Stinehart.

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