Juggling Life

When I was a teenager, I thought anybody who could juggle was superhuman and completely awe-inspiring. So I found 3 tennis balls and vowed not to give up until I could be that person who can say ‘I can juggle 3 balls’. It took me about a month of trying everyday and I eventually mastered it!

Fast forward 10 years. Last Christmas I found myself between jobs, between cities and spending an extended Christmas break at my parents place; 5 weeks in total. I figured, what better time to challenge myself to learn to juggle 4 balls? I got started by watching YouTube tutorials and it looked utterly impossible, but I knew if I did at least 20 minutes a day I would eventually get there; and I did! After about 6 weeks of practicing, I got it.

I have fallen in love with juggling and have a keen interest in the emotional and intellectual benefits it offers. I’ve been so excited to find that there is plenty of research out there which actually links many positive outcomes to juggling. The way I see it, couldn’t this inform the way we teach?

When students see me juggle they are awe-struck – they ask, “How did you learn?” and “Did that take you ages to learn?” In reply I say yes. It did take me a long time. But I did not give up. The amount of semi-cheesy life metaphors that can be drawn from juggling are endless. For instance, like life, juggling is hard. It takes perseverance and concentration. As  Seton suggests, when we juggle we “employ patience and persistence…as gratification and progress is incremental and dependent on the amount of effort applied.” Sounds like life, right?!

Seton suggests that in an educational setting, taking juggling breaks allows students to “return to academic tasks refreshed” and likens this to “having a right brain break in a left brain day”. Physiologically, juggling improves coordination, ambidexterity, physical fitness, balance, rhythm, reflexes and psychomotor skills. Juggling actually increases left and right brain activity (bilaterality) and increases the brains grey matter. Kids think it’s very cool to know that by juggling they are actually growing their brain!

Additionally, juggling is an inclusive alternative to typical physical education. Seton puts simply, “There are no losers in skill-play education.” Juggling “stimulates personal and emotional development through improvements in self-confidence and self-esteem, without any negative stigma attached to failure.” To learn to juggle, you have to adjust to and persevere through many minor failures.

Lastly, it’s fun! In my classroom I have a number of tennis balls and larger balls available for students to either practice juggling during study breaks, or use in classroom games. Typically I’ve found students reactions to be positive and upbeat. I find that students tend to be more relaxed and more open to participating and engaging with the lesson, as they’ve already had the opportunity in a non-pressured scenario to be a part of the group. I love that this is breaking the norm of an academic classroom where students are usually sitting in their desks, facing the front and not moving, sometimes for up to 100 minutes (in a double class).  Without physical breaks, there’s a tendency for students to become disengaged and less likely to take an active part in the class.

The educational, physical and emotional benefits of juggling and ‘skill play’ are so rewarding.

Do you offer any ‘right brain breaks’ in your classes to refresh students’ minds?

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