having a ball

In his article, A Bad Bounce for Kids, Gill Connell muses most passionately on the odd notion that some educators seem to have that rubber balls shouldn’t be allowed on the playground – because of, you know, safety. His defense of the rubber ball leads us to directly to wonder – to the wonder of the play between the child, the ball and the world; and then to another kind of wonder about the people who would take it away.

“Take, for instance, catching a ball,” he writes. “Your child must anticipate or predict the direction and speed of the ball as it’s coming at her. Then, she has to figure out how to get herself in position to meet and catch the ball. Every part of her body is involved in the effort, and whether she catches it or not, her brain has tracked and recorded the nature and physics of that experience in order to apply it the next time. Only, here’s the thing with Ball Play. Chances are the ball will react a little or a lot differently the next time! As such, Ball Play keeps little ones on their toes, expecting the unexpected, teaching their brains and their bodies to react to changing circumstances. In other words, Ball Play is an early lesson in the art and science of unpredictability and learning to control situations and ourselves in the process.”

And then:

“By it’s very unstructured nature, a ball can become anything in the hands of the players. Whether it’s a conventional game of soccer or basketball, or one the players make up on the spot, the simple, red rubber ball may well be one of the world’s most perfect toys – a cooperative playmate for any game the players wants to play.”

And finally:

“yes, I agree in a playground filled with children and balls flying through the air that there is a chance an out of control throw or kick may hit the wrong target. Yet I would argue that if your child is never in a situation where the unexpected happens, how will she ever learn to duck? Ducking is an essential life skill… self-protection at its most rudimentary level. After all, avoiding trouble often begins with the ability to see it coming.”

Compassionate. Insightful. Evocative. Powerfully clear. Connell’s article is a profound contribution to anyone who believes in fun – and children.


  1. Lily on June 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm


    Another brain development that playing “catch” with a ball can help with is “joint attention”. Joint attention is where you see what you see, but you recognize that someone else sees the same thing, but differently. It’s a way of developing empathy, but it starts in the “real world” with real objects. Like balls. You and a partner are both watching a ball bounce. But, eventually you learn that when one sees a ball bouncing away, the other sees a ball bouncing towards them.

    Love and laughter,

    • Bernie DeKoven on June 4, 2012 at 4:46 pm

      Joint-attention – a very useful concept. Thanks, Lily.

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