A kind of daily art auction began occurring in one of our preschool rooms. Individual artists would spontaneously give work to their friends, “I made this for you,” at first creating ripples of happiness and friendship. Then gifting art to others got competitive, resulting in daily arguments: “No, I’m giving my painting to her.” “No, I told her she could have mine first.” The teachers worked hard to facilitate communication, but the desire to donate art became more important than making it, and chaotic communication started disrupting the whole class.
The teachers told the children they appreciated their generosity, but they created a new rule: “For now, no giving away artwork at school. It’s causing too much unhappiness. Artwork goes home. You can still give artwork to a friend by delivering it to their house or sending it by mail.” When the children heard this unusual new rule, arguments subsided. Creating this simple rule reduced tension, and making art became a peaceful activity again. Rules bring order because one no longer has to deal with each situation individually. When a situation repeatedly causes problems, a new rule may be just what’s needed.
The rules might be temporary. As the classroom changes, students may not need a guideline about what to do with their art. New rules can help when situations are becoming chaotic. If you get a new puppy, siblings might argue about who gets to play with or walk the dog. The new rule might be taking turns, at least until the newness wears off.
One of the most important aspects of rules is how we present them and respond to the times they are broken. The best communication about rules is unemotional, like a bus driver telling the passengers where to sit. We might state calmly, “Our new rule is no balls in the house.” If the rule is broken, we can simply say, “No balls, please reset.”
Working with children to write down rules and post them builds a common understanding. When a new rule is called for, we can add it to an existing list, and give lots of positive recognition when we see children following it. “You remembered our new rule. I really appreciate the way you’re cooperating.”