The Teacher's Story

FOUR-YEAR-OLD Devin came to us from a program that is very different from ours. It included many more opportunities for physical play. He loves action and doesn't seem to be getting enough of it in my room. When we do sand sculpture and sand painting, he says he'd rather ride his dune buggy on real sand. By mid-morning he usually has had it with quiet projects. Even block building and woodworking aren't appealing if they follow other sedentary tasks. The one art project he does seem to enjoy is making car/truck/wheel pictures, because he gets to dip the wheels of little vehicles in paint and race them on paper. Of course Devin is delighted when I announce, "It's time to go outdoors." What a grand time he has racing on foot or on bikes and playing climbing and chasing games. But then he's reluctant to return to the classroom. And when he does, it's not easy for him to settle down. I wonder if he will ever adapt to the pace of our program.

The Parent's Story

 I CAN TELL MY SON feels cooped up in his new school. Devin has never been interested in quiet art activities or cooking. He is an exuberant child who is blessed with a lot of natural energy. At home this is not a problem: He can roam the nature preserve behind our house with his older brothers, race with them or the dog, or ride his bike with neighborhood children. He really likes to help his dad in the yard or workshop, especially with active jobs like raking leaves or pushing a wheelbarrow. He is always racing around looking for new adventures to engage in.

Judging by the projects he brings home and the way he bursts out of the school building at the end of the day, I'm concerned that this program may not have been designed with such an active child in mind. I think he needs lots more outdoor time and just plain physical activity. Is there something we can do to help him feel more comfortable? Or should we be thinking about looking for a school that might be better suited to him?

Dr. Brodkin's Assessment

Many preschool-age children start off the year seemingly out of synch with their new school's philosophy. It would be perfectly natural for some boys and girls to seek out more physical activity and for others to feel most comfortable with quiet activities. Devin's temperament and life experience simply haven't prepared him for the pace of this particular program. To make it work, lots of flexibility and compromise will be called for both at school and at home.

What the Teacher Can Do

Fortunately, the teacher wants the match between the boy and the school to succeed. She should make some special arrangements for Devin's day: Whenever possible, a quiet task should be both preceded and followed by an active one. For instance, while most of the others are doing quiet work, Devin may be happy delivering messages to other teachers. If this wears him out a bit, he is likely to return to class a calmer child. Materials should be brought in for in-class, large-motor activities-a climber, a tunnel, or gym mats, for instance, can do a world of good for Devin and other active children.

What the Parent Can Do

 The parents should go on providing opportunities for after-school active play and move toward making some of the time more structured. Perhaps Devin might enjoy a swimming class at the Y or a parent-led bike ride. Devin needs the freedom to flex his muscles and use his abundant energy, but he also needs opportunities for gradual accommodation to group expectations outside of school. Now and then, the family may engage in a structured game or a craft project. But caution should prevail over zeal: All of these new things should be introduced slowly. It may take an entire semester or more for his parents and teacher to decide whether, in time, Devin and this school can enjoy and enrich each other.