The day we met Jet Pack Man; A story about fun cup filling
By Sandi Phoenix, Principal Facilitator at Phoenix Support for Educators
Transitions were not Jaxon’s favourite thing. In fact, he would resist every one of them. Time to go inside? Nope. Time to wash our hands? I don’t think so. Group time? Not happening. Jaxon taught his educators that insistence was futile and would end in meltdown. Every time Jaxon was interrupted, he would become furiously frustrated. Jaxon was fortunate enough to have educators who were responsive, thoughtful, and reflective. They realised it was time to try something different.
So, they did. Then magic happened.
On this gorgeous Australian summer morning, Jaxon’s class were rounding up for circle time (rounding up for circle time - see what I did there?). It’s no secret that I’m not particularly a fan of herding children all at once to sit at a mandatory group time where Jaxon and his people are likely to resist and rebel. As a behaviour consultant, group time with two to five-year aged children keeps me in a job. I wish it didn’t.
But this Kindergarten room was different to many. This group time was the most respectful community gathering of children I had ever seen. It started with an acknowledgement to the Aboriginal custodians of the land on which they were meeting and playing today. The children would take the framed words of acknowledgement that they had written with their teachers and bring it to the group. They would then choose one of their peers to “read” the acknowledgement. The first time I joined this session, I was blown away by the child who spoke it with a twinkle in his eye and an unexpectedly genuine understanding and connection of the words he was saying.
However, Jaxon did not always appreciate these moments of
togetherness like his peers did. So, there was always a good chance he’d take
his time getting there. Then he’d likely poke the person beside him a few times
and perhaps practice some new arm pit noises. Of course, this would evoke
corrective responses from his educators.
And now we’re in our regular cycle.
But Jaxon’s educators were trying new stuff on this day. They’d reflected on where expectations of compliance could be replaced by expectations of being considerate of others. So, when we noticed that Jaxon had stuck together two weetbix boxes in the art area and barely looked up to see his peers sitting in their morning circle, we offered him the choice to join us. Not surprisingly he said No. He was therefore reminded that his classmates are having their community meeting and it would be respectful to ensure we don’t interrupt them. But does he need anything for his work? Jaxon briefly looked up to reveal a most puzzled look that said to me “this is new”. Then he mentioned he would need tape and scissors. His educator arranged the tools he needed and moved the fully stocked collage trolley closer to him.
That was the last time Jaxon looked up from his work for
the rest of the session. By the end of group time, it was becoming obvious that
Jaxon was working on a masterpiece. Jaxon’s educators were curious about this
involvement as they had recently had a lengthy discussion about Fun Cup
filling. Glasser suggested,
"Fun is a basic human need and is the genetic reward for learning” (Glasser, 1998).
The teaching team had also been considering how complete immersion in an activity, known as a state of ‘flow’ (Csíkszentmihályi, 2008) can also be intensely Fun Cup filling. Furthermore, they were interested in identifying this type of involvement as it means that there is intense mental activity and the child is functioning at the very limits of his capabilities, with an intrinsic energy flow. According to Laevers there is no more favourable condition to real development. If we want deep level learning, we cannot have it without involvement. Jaxon’s educators were noticing obvious signs of deep level involvement and flow, such as focussed eye gaze and even strong stimuli was not distracting him (as cited in Department of Education and Children's Services, 2008). They were excited to nurture that involvement, support him to fill his Fun Cup and curious to know how long it would last.
Next, it was morning tea time. In the past, Jaxon might have been forced through this part of the routine. Wash hands, sit at the table, eat, then you can return to play later. However, being interrupted in deep level involvement and flow is not only Cup emptying but potentially counterproductive to learning. So, we trusted Jaxon to tell us if his Survival Cup needed filling. “Jaxon, do you need to eat?”. His head stayed down as he muttered “I’m not hungry”. A plate of fruit and crackers was put aside for him for when he is ready. And his work continued, uninterrupted.
After hours of intensely involved experience, Jaxon put the finishing touches on his work. A door was cut into the boxes which opened to reveal many milk bottle top buttons and switches. Two formula tins were attached to the base through which bright red and orange crepe paper flames flowed to the ground. The straps were tricky and required the support of an adult to find a way to mount the Jet Pack neatly onto Jaxon’s back. He was bubbling with excitement and pride as he stretched out his arms and spun on the spot. His educator’s eyes lit up with smiles and pride that matched his own. Jaxon looked up and seemed to bask in the light of his educator’s beaming faces. His peers were in awe of Jet Pack Man. Jet Pack Man flew from room to room, outside, inside, to the office, through the foyer and back to his room in a speedy display of flowing crepe paper, giggles, and zooming noises. Jet Pack Man stayed to play all day, all week even. Whole body, full of imagination, deep level play that involved many of his friends and even some new ones. Children were not scared of Jet Pack Man like they sometimes were of Jaxon. When parents came in the afternoon, they joined in their exclamations of awe at Jaxon’s work. He was quite used to seeing adults frown at him, or raise an eyebrow, or shake their head. But this felt much better. He was being looked at with delight. This was new.
On this day, Jaxon was not expected to be compliant and
obedient and do as he was told, potentially emptying his Cups. The teaching
team understood his need for Fun Cup filling and supported him to make choices
within the expectation of being considerate and cooperative. If Jaxon had been
forced to transition to circle time or morning tea with his peers, we never
would have met Jet Pack Man. If they had interrupted him and forced him to
attend group time or morning tea, there’s a good chance Jaxon would have been
distracted and distracting. After being corrected with statements like
“Jaxon, please stop interrupting”, “Jaxon keep your hands to yourself”, “Jaxon, walk inside please”, “Stop! You’re hurting your friend”, there’s a good chance Jaxon would have become disconnected and angry. Sometimes when his Cups got really empty, Jaxon would yell, throw things around the room or flip a table.
Not today. On this day, we met Jet Pack Man instead.
We met Jet Pack Man that day because Jaxon’s educators
bravely allowed him to co-construct the curriculum while they critically
reflected on a transition that has ‘always been done that way’. We met Jet Pack
Man that day because Jaxon’s educators trusted him to know how to meet his own
needs. Or in Phoenix Cups language, Jaxon was supported to choose behaviours
that filled his Cups without emptying the Cups of people around him. His
educators looked for involved play, respected it, nurtured it, and refused to
interrupt it. Due to this decision to allow Jaxon to continue his work, we
discovered Jaxon’s potential. We realised his persistence and ability to concentrate
on a task for much longer than we knew he could. Jet Pack Man taught us a great
deal that day. I’m so glad we met him. He is awe inspiring. Make sure you don’t
miss an opportunity to meet Jet Pack Man.
It’s time to take the Fun Cup seriously.
By Sandi Phoenix
Guess what? There is currently a FREE early years TV episode airing about The Fun Cup. If you're lucky and click on the link before Friday the 31st August, you'll be able to see it.
For more information about The Phoenix Cups conceptual framework please visit
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow. New York: HarperCollins.
DECS Publishing. (2008). Assessing for learning and development in the early years using observation scales: reflect respect relate / Department of Education and Children's Services. Hindmarsh.
Glasser, W. (1998). Choice theory (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial.
Musson, S. (1994). School-Age Care – Theory and Practice. Canada: Addison-Wesley Publishers Ltd.
Phoenix, S. (2018). The Phoenix Cups; An educator’s toolkit for behaviour (2nd ed.). Brisbane, Q.L.D.: Phoenix Support for Educators Pty Ltd.
Porter, L. (2008). Young children's behaviour (1st ed.). Marrickville, N.S.W.: MacLennan & Petty.