Hit the Wall! Mud Ball!

by Eric Eyman

“Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good”

-Lucia Capocchione

Recently, while out in the backyard with the children, Wesley had an idea to make wet balls of sand and throw them at the climbing wall. Giving him a chance to explore this idea, I watched as he threw the first ball. Specks of sand trailed off as it flew through the air and stuck to the wall, still in the round form as Wesley had shaped it.

wall

Seeing this moment from Wesley’s perspective, I was fascinated by his discovery and exclaimed, “Look how it stuck to the wall!” As a teacher however, my mind immediately began swirling with thoughts about what limits needed to be set. I wanted Wesley to be able to continue playing, but I also wanted to make sure it was safe. I took into consideration that there weren’t many children around in the sand box, and that as long as he wasn’t throwing them over the wall where other children around could get hit, it was A-okay! I gave Wesley that information and trusted him to follow through.

He continued making sand ball after sand ball, hurling them at different parts of the wall, all while being mindful of the limits we had discussed. Soon, Emma and Vanessa joined in on the fun! I gave the same reminders to the two of them that I had given to Wesley. They carefully crafted their balls of sand and took fire at the wall, splattering wet sand everywhere.

I asked the group if they could think of a name for this game. Without hesitation, Wesley shouted, “Mud ball!” Vanessa exclaimed, “Hit the wall!” Then Emma chimed in, “I know. How about Hit the Wall, Mud Ball?” Wesley and Vanessa happily agreed. While throwing more balls of sand, they chanted, “Hit the wall! Mud ball! Hit the wall!Mud ball!”

Later, as I reflected on this experience, I thought about the other preschool I intern at, where rigid rules are enforced. Wesley’s idea to throw sand balls would never fly there (no pun intended). I thought about how much the children at that preschool are limited, and how they are not encouraged to question the rules. I thought about how the children at Little Owl are challenged to think deeper about their play. The teachers and children engage in thoughtful discussions about their work and the classroom environment. They create plans together about how different materials are going to be used. In my thoughts, I realized how important it is for teachers to carefully consider the individual needs of each child, value their ideas, and work with them to explore endless possibilities.

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