What Is It About Balls?

Before my kids could walk, they would pull themselves up, gripping with one hand the metal track in the “Ramps” exhibit at the Boston Children’s Museum and with the other a golf ball.  They would reach as high as they could, drop the ball on the ramp, and watch it circle round and round as it made its way down the track to floor below, all the while flapping their arms in delight.  When they could talk, they asked me to lift them up so that they could drop the ball from the very top of the track.  They would do it over and over, until I dragged them to some other gallery in the museum.  I think they could have stayed there for hours if I could have ever remembered to bring a book.

I know all of the ed school speak that, for children, “play is work.”  And that if children are engaged for an hour then it means that they are still learning something, still trying to figure it all out, still surprised enough by the outcome for it to be engaging. If that’s true, then maybe I should have pushed through my boredom to let them stay put with the golf balls.  They were engaged in meaningful work.

But isn’t it possible that balls are just fun?  Like Tom & Jerry and Ezra’s fart jokes. (OK – those are not fun for me, but the boys can’t get enough of ‘em.) Does Maria Montesorri’s statement, “Play is the child’s work,” apply to all play?  Isn’t a cigar ever just a cigar?

Today, I watched Zach and Ezra in the “Ramps” gallery for perhaps the 40th time.  And they were every bit as engaged as they were five years ago.  Every bit.  And I don’t think it was because they were learning something new about gravity, or friction, or speed, or acceleration.  I think I would have had to call their attention to those aspects of the exhibit for them to learn anything.  I would have had to ask them questions that were in their “zone of proximal development.”  (This is where, if I knew anything about computers or blogs, I would put in a link so you could go read about Vygotsky and his zone. But I don’t, so you’ll  have to Google it.)

But I was too tired to ask them any good questions, and I’m pretty sure they would not have appreciated my efforts.  So I watched them climb to the top of the ramp, drop the golf balls, jump down, and flap their hands like they did when they were toddlers.

It seemed to me that they were enjoying it the way some people enjoy the ballet or a beautiful painting or a rushing stream.  Or the way some people enjoy dancing or painting or canoeing.  Or the way the boys enjoy it when their lizard catches and eats a cricket.  Or when they ride their bike around the block over and over and over.  Some things are just fun.

And sometimes a ball is just a ball.

About Tara Edelschick

Right now, Tara is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. She is sleeping more, and exercising and flossing every day for the first time in her life. She is enjoying her husband, her boys, and Nafisa (the daughter she never had) more than she ever has. And she is learning to rest in the arms of the one who doesn't rank you based on how many things you can cross off your list at the end of the day. Follow her on Twitter@TaraWonders.

  • Theresa

    Kids are great that way, aren't they? They have such joy in discovering God's world, whether chasing the butterfly or seeing balls roll. They have no problems understanding that God created everything. Something happens as we get older. I think we start taking credit away from God and giving it to ourselves. We over-think and over-control everything and every process as though we, not God, hold the key.

    I am really glad you are homeschooling and keeping this blog. I wonder if you would have new insights on theories of education and knowledge/skill acquisition after this venture. I know Ben and I definitely look at our education system in a whole new light now. We knew our system was broken before, but now we just think that the brokenness goes way deeper. There must be a PhD thesis in here somewhere, don't you think?

  • tedelschick

    I do. Thank goodness, I'm not the one who's going to write it.


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