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Rulers of the Playground

by Joseph Kuefler

Summary

Should one child rule an entire playground? Explore power and politics with Jonah, Lennox and their playground pals.

Jonah declares himself ruler of the playground. The children swear allegiance to Jonah because he has power over the slides. Lennox decides to become queen of the playground and creates her own rules. She rules over the swings so children listen to her. Jonah and Lennox fight over playground territory until the other children decide to play elsewhere. Jonah and Lennox decide to give up their territory and power by apologizing and giving the playground back to the children.

Read aloud video featuring the author Joseph Kuefler

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

“Rulers of the Playground” provides opportunities to discuss political philosophy with children using a relatable story. Politics is how we organize government in order for people to live with one another. There are many different types of governments organized in many different ways. The distribution of power and socio-economic attributes can all dictate types of government. Political philosophers try to figure out what kind of relationship a person should have to society.

When Jonah declares himself ruler of the playground, he seizes power over something the other children want and hands out access to it as he sees fit. This story will resonate for many children and provides the opportunity to discuss who should be in charge of the playground and why. Should there be one person in charge of the playground, or should everyone have a say in the playground decisions and disputes? For example, what if two children want to use the same piece of equipment, but only one can use it; how is that disagreement resolved? The discussion may lead to ideas similar to various forms of governments and to ideas of justice. The children may even discuss the government that creates the best life for its citizens.

Fairness is important to children and to most adults who want a just world. It is an important idea when considering how to organize the government. Jonah and Lennox declared themselves rulers; was it fair for them to seize power? Should there be a ruler? The discussion could lead to finding the best way to choose leaders, or if we should have leaders at all. How Jonah and Lennox treated the other children shows how justice was implemented in their kingdoms. Jonah and Lennox shared the playground with the children, but they made their own desires the priority, such as taking their turn on the slide or swings when their patience ran out. Jonah shared one of his many crackers with the children but kept the majority for himself.

Distributive justice is a topic in philosophy that explores the best ways to distribute resources among people. Philosopher John Rawls believed goods should be distributed equally without regard for personal attributes of a person, unless unequal distribution of goods would benefit everyone. Other philosophers put more emphasis on personal responsibility and personal freedom in the distribution of goods. Does the ruler of the playground deserve to cut the line for playground time and deserve to receive more crackers? Or should the playground time and crackers be distributed equally? Both Jonah and Lennox took their turns when they wanted and didn’t wait for other children to finish. We didn’t see any indication that all the children would receive a fair amount of time. One solution to this problem might be providing everyone equal time on the play structures and ensuring that everyone receive an equal amount of crackers. This is an intuitively pleasing scenario, but may lead to a problem if some children have a reason for needing more resources due to circumstance. For example, if a child hasn’t eaten for an entire day, it makes more sense that the child receives more crackers, especially if that child has no control over acquiring their own food. If a child has no interest in slides, but only enjoys swings, perhaps that child should get extra time on swings while giving their slide time to someone who enjoys slides more. These ideas can be explored further using the discussion questions provided here.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Politics

  1. How did Jonah become ruler of the playground?
  2. Why did the other children follow him?
  3. Was Jonah a good ruler?
  4. How did Lennox become ruler?
  5. Was Lennox a better ruler than Jonah?
  6. Which ruler would you choose?
  7. What makes a good ruler?
  8. How should we choose a ruler?
  9. How do you choose rules?

Justice

  1. How do Lennox and Jonah treat their subjects?
  2. Lennox and Jonah both took control of things like the slides or the swings and then let the other children use them; was this fair?
  3. Was it fair for Jonah or Lennox to be rulers?
  4. Is it fair to have a ruler? If so, how do you fairly choose a leader?
  5. Do you ever have fights on the playground?
  6. How do you settle differences on a playground?

Equality

  1. Should rulers get special treatment? Like more crackers or first turn on the swings?
  2. How should we decide who gets first turns with crackers and swings?
  3. What if there are not enough crackers or swings for everyone to get some? What do you do?
  4. Should everyone be treated the same way? Should a child with plenty of crackers from home receive the same amount as a child without any lunch
  5. Should a child with a broken leg be treated the same way as everyone else on the playground?

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Cover illustration of Joseph Kuefler's picture book Rulers of the Playground featuring a diverse group of six children swinging on swings. Two of the children are dressed in royal costumes. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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