“What do you think the rules of golf are?” I asked my preschool class, years ago, before a visiting parent showed them golf clubs and described how the game is played. “No hitting with the golf club!” “No pushing the other players.” We didn’t laugh at the children’s primitive ideas of proper golf decorum because they express the knowledge that agreeing on guidelines forms the basis of interacting together successfully.
Asking children for their input about what rules are needed is an important vehicle for building emotional, social, and moral development. When asked about the rules of golf, preschoolers had to imagine what it would be like to be a player and what problems might occur.
Family meetings, classroom discussions, and playground disputes are all arenas for talking about what the rules are and why. Knowing the rules and expecting people to follow them consistently makes life predictable and children feel more secure. Children need recognition for their ability to follow rules and a chance to reset themselves when they forget.
An important part of helping children to be socially savvy is aiding their understanding of what rules apply in a variety of situations. We act differently in a library than we would in a gymnasium. Expectations also sometimes vary between home and school. For example, some families enjoy roughhousing as a fun release of energy, an activity that isn’t allowed at school for safety reasons.
One of the important ways teachers and parents collaborate involves differentiating what’s okay at home and how that differs from school. Sometimes young children who have enjoyed rough-and-tumble play at home may routinely tackle their new friends at school rather than asking to play. In those cases, we may ask parents to temporarily stop rough play at home until the child is more mature.
Rules at school and at home relate to people’s feelings as well as their bodies. “We don’t allow name calling because it hurts people’s feelings.” At school we have more people’s feelings to consider, and school rules are often based on helping children become more sensitive to others. At Halloween we ask older children not to wear scary masks because it can frighten the younger children.
On an everyday basis, we don’t allow gun play at school, and children who have fun pretending to shoot at home may find it hard to understand that other children are scared by gun play or their families may be offended by hearing about it. Discussions at home should include the range of sensitivities in the school environment and the reasons for school rules.
Understanding common rules and values and respecting them is one of the ways we become a more inclusive community. We feel privileged to have many types of diversity in our community, and we encourage the discussion of and honoring of rules as a way of becoming more compassionate with each other.