stinehart boy in box photo

How Kids Learn to Handle Jerks, and an Elegant Example

It is DELIGHTFUL to play when no one is being a jerk. It is EDUCATIONAL to play when someone is.

So: By now you probably know that I recommend schools start 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. Kids of all ages play as if it’s 1952.

An adult is there, but they’re like a lifeguard. They don’t organize the games or solve the spats. The kids do. Here’s what kid-organized play can look like. (Text continues below video):

A Let Grow Play Club and Its Life-Lesson-Filled 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?

The Importance of Adults NOT Intervening.

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 Gives Kids Back Their Agency

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. I hope your school offers one soon! Ask them to! Maybe volunteer to supervise! Show them this blog post! Have them read The Anxious Generation, which makes a big plea for Let Grow Play Clubs! And for God’s sake, do it all with exclamation points!!!

Photo and video by Kevin Stinehart.

One Response to How Kids Learn to Handle Jerks, and an Elegant Example

  1. Steve Nations June 5, 2024 at 7:16 pm #

    This is fantastic! And so absolutely true!