Here’s a wonderful story from our Upper Elementary (5th-7th grade) teacher, Matthew Fredrickson
A group of my students were recently confronted with a very serious childhood problem: the invasion of a sacred play space. At our school, a large Pine tree keeps a protective watch over the parking lot play area, and the base of this tree is the favored enclave for my 5th, 6th, and 7th graders and their imaginative games. Ritualistically they gather there and create fairy houses, miniature walkways, and make “natural food” from mud, sticks, stones and berries. It is upon holy ground that these children-ages ten to thirteen-engage in sophisticated, almost meditative, role-play fantasies in the golden years of their childhood.
One day, they were genuinely horrified to discover a parked car in their special place, and some of their creations destroyed. How could they?-the children asked. Don’t they know what this is? Don’t they see? I sympathized. I tried to explain that certainly whomever had parked there meant no harm, that they likely just didn’t see what was there, and didn’t realize they’d done any harm. The children weren’t satisfied. They wanted names. They demanded to know who was responsible for this outrage; whom they could blame-whom to punish. This is such an easy road to take for all of us isn’t it? The easiest game to play-The Blame Game. This wasn’t the first invasion of their magical sanctuary. It’s in a fairly exposed position-I tried to explain to them-next to the street, in a busy parking lot, vulnerable to the countless people who drive and walk through the area, maintenance workers who monthly sweep the schoolyard with leaf-blowers, not to mention the random general public.
These facts, and whatever unintentional disruption may occur as a result, can’t be changed. So, given that understanding, I asked them what a possible solution might be. One of the children suggested, “How about we throw stuff on the hood of the car?” I reminded the children that such an action was not a solution but only a momentarily satisfying act of revenge. What are some real solutions? I asked them again. What can you do to protect your play area and your creations? Is there anything you can do? I helped them, and they needed a lot of help, to change their mode of thinking; to engage in creative problem solving in a difficult moment.
They eventually devised an ingenious solution that protects and conceals their game, and it’s implements, from all forces of nature and anticipated human factors.
Solution-consciousness is a learned skill and not instinctual for most human beings. If children can be guided toward creative problem solving, and solution-oriented thinking from their early years, they will be well on their way to success as mature and happy adults.