Some of the best games are games that you make up, on the spot, when a child seems to be interested in other things and not playing with you. Such was the case today. I had a game in mind with a set of puzzles but Michael took one puzzle over to the corner wall, took a few pieces out of it and studied each piece by himself. With his back to me, he could not have said more clearly, Leave me alone, I am busy. So the challenge was, how do I find a way to help Michael want to play with me?
Let me lay this challenge out a little more clearly:
1. I don't want to grab puzzle pieces out of Michael's hands (this is not only rude and undignified--it also encourages Michael to grab).
2. I don't want to give up on puzzles, since he is clearly interested in them (although I could have pulled something more interesting out and made sure I kept control of the materials this time).
3. Michael has told me that he sees me as an unnessary complication in regards to this puzzle play and I want him to see me as an important and interesting part of his play.
I give Michael a little time to study the puzzle pieces--which are signs, like road signs and such. While he studies the pieces, I study what he is doing with each one. He takes each one and puts it up against the wall--often trying to place two or three above and below each other--but they fall out of his hands if he lines up too many. I can't figure out why exactly but I try it and line up puzzle piece against the wall beside him. I don't get much of a sensory buzz out of this and I can't remember seeing signs lined up this way in the real world, so I don't know what he is doing or why. He is aware that I am doing something with puzzles next to him but I am probably not doing the thing that Michael was trying to accomplish so Michael is not interested.
Plan B. I think about other things that Michael is interested in that might explain his interest in these particular puzzle pieces--since he actually likes to put inset puzzles into their appropriate spots on the puzzle, what he is doing seems curious. Two of the pieces in his hands have words written on them. STOP and First Aid and the third depicts a stoplight. I know he likes to spell words. I pick up a pencil and trace a sign and then write the words on it as I spell it out. C A U T I O N spells Caution I say. Now Michael is looking at what I am doing with interest. I continue to write and spell words and he hands me puzzle pieces now when I hold out my hand for another one to spell. I hand back each puzzle piece as soon as I am done so he does not think I have devised a tricky way to get them away from him. I think to myself that I could line them up, in written form, one on top of the other and I do that on the paper. Michael clearly likes this idea. We are in business, he is completely hooked on this new game. By including me in his play, Michael is able to accomplish exactly what he intended.