Monday, December 31, 2007

Onechan Plays with Time (Imoto: "Me, Too!")

Sometime over the past two weeks, onechan and her 3-to-4-year-old friends have begun playing with time--or perhaps they have been for awhile, and I've only just noticed it. What I mean is, they'll put time in their role-playing games in fast forward, so they can extend their game over many play "days," with many nap times, sleep times, and going to school times in a single play session. So let's say we're playing PowerPuff Girls, and I'm the Professor, Imoto's Buttercup, Onechan's Bubbles, and one of their friends is Blossom, and it's night time, so we all have to go to sleep on the toy box, the little table, and the piano stool, but then her friend announces it's morning--time to go to school--and soon later, onechan chimes in that it's nap time, and pretty soon it's time to go to sleep again. The idea that they don't have to play in real time is an exciting one to them.

Imoto plays right along. When it's time to lie down, she lies down; when it's time to get up, she gets up. She seems to be entering a new phase in her relation with onechan, where she's much more aware of what her sister is doing and wants to do it herself. This extends, as well, to what onechan has. So if onechan gets seconds at dinner, imoto wants more food, too, even if she hasn't finished what's on her plate. And of course she wants whatever onechan is drinking. She's very observant: just the other day, onechan was having a big stuffed animal hang onto the handle of her toy stroller so that it was "helping" her push it, so within 10 minutes (after onechan had gone on to another toy/activity), there was imoto, doing the same thing with a smaller stuffed animal.

The changes should be coming fast and furious in 2008; it's been fun documenting some of them here and at Mostly Harmless over the past year.


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bill benzon said...

So, I wonder how onechan and her friends arrived at, made up, came to understand the "rules" of this type of play? If we're playing Powerpuff Girls, for example, we've got a cast of characters, locations, and miscellaneous collection plot items to choose from and so forth.

Who determines what role each person plays? Does someone play director and hand out roles? Do people choose roles, etc. Who's allowed to announce it's nap time at the school? And now nap time's over? How do kids cooperate in managing all this?

We have to assume there is a willingness to cooperate and there is common knowledge of the PPG world. What rough spots arise and how are they negotiated? As the youngest and least verbal, imoto is not going to be able to participate in quite the same way as the others. She is, presumably highly motivated to fit-in so she can keep company with the other girls. But there are likely to be things she doesn't understand, and that's going to get in the way. And no doubt she has her own ideas about what she wants to do and is not going to do just any old thing.

And then there's Mr TC. If you're playing, well. . . that's a whole different ball of wax. Given that you really are The Daddy, you might be able to get away with being the director . . . for awhile. But that's no fun and the fact is, you're acting as the Professor. which imposes limits. At the same time, you're greater skill and understanding affords you unusual leeway in taking up slack and relieving pressure so as to keep things moving along.

Obviously, I'm not expecting a full ethnographic report. Just thinking. I wonder if anyone's done detailed ethnographic reports on how children manage their make-believe games? I have some vague memories of how me and my friends played cowboys and indians. In general, we made things up as we went along. If someone didn't like the way the game was going, they'd say so in one way or another. They could threaten to leave, at which point the others had to balance their sense of things against the loss of a player, etc.

This is all beside your main point, which is about time compression, and secondarily, imoto imitating onechan. This is about how they manage to do anything at all.

The Constructivist said...

Well, usually I'm Blossom, "commander and the leader," so the stage direction problem just replicates itself. Onechan's chosen Bubbles b/c she identifies with her sweetness and sensitivity, and we've assigned imoto Buttercup b/c she really is "the toughest fighter"; she can be rough and sometimes mean (from onechan's perspective), like Kuromi in My Melody. It'll be interesting to see what imoto makes of this when she's just a bit older.

When onechan tries to play PPG outside the family, it usually doesn't work, as her friends tend not to be into the show. What seems to be the common currency is either playing princesses, witches, and monsters or playing house/school/doctor. And then it's usually pretty fluid and unstructured, or rather repeatedly renegotiated (or walked away from). I actually haven't watched too closely when they're playing on their own b/c it's a chance to do my own thing or interact with the Full Metal Archivist or other adults if we're at a party and the kids are entertaining themselves.

But my sense is one person usually proposes, "Let's play..." and one or more take her up on it. The "Let's x" move seems to allow them to shift games/roles. When we were playing with time, various people would call out, "It's morning!" or "It's dinner time!" or "Time to take a nap!", not simultaneously but sequentially plus they'd follow the normal chronological order when doing so.

For me, making up games/competitions with kids on the street took up a big part of my free time during my elementary and junior high school years. And yes, setting and haggling over the rules was a big part of it, particularly with games with complex scoring systems (mostly team ones that involved throwing a tennis ball over the house or a frisbee across the street, say). As the oldest boy on the block, I kind of took over the rules-making role, but we all revised them as the games evolved.

That was such a guy thing that I'm incredibly curious to see how the collaborative storytelling/improv drama thing works out with 3-to-5-year-old girls! Will try to focus in on it more and not just enjoy the break from being the primary entertainer....

bill benzon said...

What's interesting is that they're switching back and forth between being IN role and enacting the game/story and stepping OUTSIDE the role and managing play.

I vaguely remember that we'd have a little discussion in which we planned out a scene and then we'd enact it. Sometimes a scene would require each of us to be a specific places. So, when the plan was done, we'd take our places and then begin. I forget how we signaled to begin. Note that what I'm recalling stuff where I was easily twice onechan's age.

I also recall that one point of contention in cowboys and indians was whether or not one "took" one's "deads." That is, someone shoots you and declares that you're dead. At that point you're supposed to act the part.

Of course, you might not want to play dead at the time, perhaps because it takes you out of the game for awhile, or perhaps because it meant that you've "lost" in some sense. In this case, you refuse to play dead. I haven't got the foggiest idea how we arrived at a sense of how many "deads" one is supposed to take.