I learned a valuable lesson at work the other day: Beware of entrusting a large group of children composed largely of kindergarteners with a large box of marbles.
My new job started this week, and if I haven’t mentioned it, I’m running a before and after school program for K-6 students. The kids are great and also utterly exhausting. One toy that seems to keep them occupied for long spans of time is the classic marble run…which had no marbles, as one of my fifth graders pointed out sadly. Apparently, you can only buy marbles in quantities of 150 at Wal-Mart, which I knew would be more than they needed.
I am, however, something of a rookie when it comes to dealing with a mixed-age group of children, so I didn’t have the foresight to put just a few marbles in the bin, holding back the rest for when the marbles inevitably get lost. No, I just found the first empty container I could in my storage room, dumped all of the marbles into it, and passed it along to the kids.
With my morning group, this wasn’t a problem. I have fewer kids then, and the proportion of older kids to younger kids is more balanced, so the fifth grader who requested the marbles was able to enjoy them in a safe an responsible way, which is to say they stayed on the carpet and I was not particularly concerned about them wandering up anyone’s nose at any point in time.
The afternoon, however, was a different story. My kids are not deliberately messy or destructive, but in a group of sixteen I had five kindergarten boys. I’ve found that on their own, or in groups of two, kindergarten boys are pretty easy, but the more you put together, the louder, wilder, and messier the play becomes. Add to that mix the fact that the construction rug is sized for only three or four kids but is far and away the most popular section of my program, and you get a little chaos.
Check that. You get a lot of chaos. The group hadn’t been enjoying free time for five minutes before I heard the unmistakable sound of a hundred pieces of glass rolling on tile. When I turned around, the lion’s share of the marbles were busy escaping to the far corners of the cafeteria where we hold the program and my kindergarteners were loudly discussing what they should do with the marbles that had remained on the carpet, oblivious to the dangerous tripping hazard they had just unleashed on the world.
I knew, of course, that the mess was not created out of deliberate naughtiness, but as that didn’t change the fact that tripping on a marble on a hard surface could injure someone badly, I put on my stern face and pulled out my clapping hands. Do you know clapping hands? It’s amazing. Walk into any group of kids and firmly clap a pattern. I guaranty that at least half of them will give you their attention and clap the pattern back. It’s weirder than non-Newtonian fluids.
Anyway, once I had the attention of my busy builders, I had to use my “I am not kidding and in no way do I find this situation amusing” voice for the first time this year to impress on them the fact that loose marbles are not safe. I think I went so far as to say that if I caught a single marble off the carpet again that day, the marbles would go out back for the rest of the day. Keeping that many marbles out and on a carpet with so many kids running around is the next best thing to impossible, but for the rest of the afternoon, my kindergarteners watched those marbles like a hawk, dashing after any that rolled away in hopes of recovering it before I noticed.
As the safety issue I had been concerned about was being diligently cared for by the kids, I did them the courtesy of pretending not to notice. A few strays did escape their attention as they got really involved in their play, but you know something? It’s very difficult to take away a toy from kindergarteners who are trying so hard to play safely and nicely with others, so I helped them out while they weren’t paying attention.
Contents of my pockets at the end of the day: One broken crayon, a dozen sequins, filing cabinet keys, and six stray marbles.