Larissa prances across the open space, followed closely by Saskia, and at a distance by Millie, Eva and finally Cara. Larissa and Saskia sit on a bench and the next two join them while Cara hangs back. All except Cara now begin to skip and dance in a cir- cle, apparently spontaneously, although they stop, confer and start up again more than once. At some point the activity becomes ‘My Little Pony’ as they toss imaginary manes (‘Mine is pink’ says Larissa).
Following Larissa’s lead, the four girls now sing ‘Horsey, horsey, don’t you stop’ as they skip in a circle with knees raised, tossing their pony heads. But Cara intervenes, apparently mak- ing a bid for leadership: ‘This is a butterfly song, right? Every- body, this is a butterfly song!’
Larissa stops, stares briefly and loudly begins, ‘Horsey, Horsey, don’t you stop …’; Saskia, Millie and Eva join in, with some gig- gling and sideways glances suggesting that they are aware of the way that power is being exercised. Cara makes one more ‘butter- fly’ bid, which is ignored, and then falls off the scooter she is balancing on, and wails ‘I want my mum’. This evokes no sym- pathy, as the girls respond vaguely ‘she’s over there’ (outside the centre) while continuing to be ponies.
Cara makes two further attempts (‘This is not a horsey horsey, this is a butterfly song’, and then ‘this is a kangaroo song and this is how a kangaroo goes’). Each time Larissa looks directly at her and deliberately begins, ‘Horsey, horsey …’ and the others copy her.
Larissa’s key worker, Anessa, is aware of the power relationships in the peer group:
I knew from the start she was quite a popular child, everybody wanted to be her friend and they’d fight over her, ‘I want to be with you, I want to be with you’, and she negotiates everything, and it’s like she’s the leader of the pack and everyone does what she says.
If Anessa is concerned by this, she doesn’t say so, because her goal has been to build Larissa’s confidence (‘her confidence has only just come … so I have had to make a conscious effort to pull that out of her’). Like the staff in this setting, Larissa’s mother describes ‘learning social skills’ as a priority
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Brooker, Liz, and Suzy Edwards. Challenging Play, McGraw-Hill Education, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ubc/detail.action?docID=771397. Created from ubc on 2022-10-21 05:48:59.
of early education, though she insists, surprisingly, that Larissa ‘finds it frustrating being followed around … she doesn’t like it when people copy her’. Friendship is a key concern for Larissa in her mother’s opinion:
… she knows who her friends are – and that’s another thing that’s going on in this age group with this group, ‘You’re not my friend’, this business, and that can be a bit hurtful sometimes; if she’s in or out affects her mood.
In this centre, parents talk daily to their child’s key worker, and meet regularly to review a portfolio of documented activities, so that their goals for the children are discussed and shared. For the 3-year-olds, these shared goals include establishing a secure sense of identity, and making friends. To a superficial gaze, Larissa and her friends are ‘learning’ in the ways that the setting promotes, although a closer view prompts concerns as to what is actually being learned: the ‘pleasure’ of playing is here closely bound up with the exercise of power within the peer group. For now, however, Larissa’s social learning – accomplished through participation in traditional, girl-group outdoor games – satisfies the expectations of her mother as well as her professional educators.