Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Walla, Walla

My youngest son has always had problems at school. It’s not that he’s not bright, he is. It’s more often social problems. He’s just not interested in throwing things or kicking balls or having things thrown at him during recess or for any other form of entertainment or leisure activity.

I remember one day getting a call from the school social worker.

SSW: “Mrs. BoS, Doodle is having problems during recess.”
BoS: “Oh? What kind of problems?”
SSW: “He’s not playing with the other children.”
BoS: “Are they playing with him?”
SSW: “No, you see, he doesn’t want to play with them.”
BoS: “What are they playing?”
SSW: “Um, well, they play on the jungle gym, and they play tag.”
BoS: “And Doodle doesn’t want to do that?”
SSW: “No, he just stands off to one side.”
BoS: “Have you asked him why he’s not participating?”
SSW: “Yes.”
BoS: “Well, what did he say?”
SSW: “He said he didn’t see any point to running around waving his arms in the air, yelling, ‘walla, walla, walla.’ “
BoS: “Neither do I. Did he give any indication of wanting to do something else?”
SSW: “He said he’d like to play chess or practice archery.”
BoS: “Is there a problem with either of those?”
SSW: “We don’t have archery here, and no one else his age plays chess.”
BoS: “Are you asking for donations for equipment?”
SSW: “NO! I’d have to get clearance from the principal for either of those!”
BoS: “Well, I can understand archery needing supervision, but why not chess? Chess is not usually considered a dangerous contact sport.”
SSW: “But, it’s RECESS. They’re supposed to be running around and enjoying the fresh air.”
BoS: “He could play chess outside and still be getting fresh air. There could be one of those giant chessboards drawn on the playground, and he would have to walk his big chess pieces around.”
SSW: “That’s not it.”
BoS: “You want him to run around, waving his arms, yelling ‘walla, walla, walla’? That is the only acceptable recess activity?”
SSW: “No. Yes. Well, sort of.”
BoS: (silence)
SSW: (sighs) “My point is that he is not interacting with the other children.”
BoS: “He would if they played chess. He likes other board games, too. And, apparently, archery.”
SSW: “Doesn’t he play ANY games like baseball or basketball or football?”
BoS: “He’s been wearing glasses since he was 5 years old. The rest of us all wear glasses, and none of us likes projectile sports all that much because we’ve all gotten hit in the face by carelessly thrown projectiles, which results in a week of squinting at the blackboard while we wait for our new glasses. It’s probably partially that.”
SSW: “I hadn’t thought of that.”
BoS: “He might go for badminton. Can’t break a pair of glasses with a shuttlecock. I suppose someone might whack him in the face with the racquet though.”
SSW: “Oh.”
BoS: “I do see what you’re trying to tell me. You’d like for him to show more interest in interacting in a physical manner, with play, with other children. You are defining play as being physical activity only, and you want him to engage in that.”
SSW: “No, no, I’m not saying that only physical activities are considered ‘play’.”
BoS: “Well, what else would be considered play?”
SSW: (sighing hugely) “Board games, word games, non-competitive sports, playing on the jungle gym…”
BoS: “What ought he to do on the jungle gym? What is it the other boys are doing?”
SSW: “They play chicken where they hang by their arms and try to kick each other off the bars.”
BoS: “That doesn’t sound very pleasant. Why should my son kick other children?”
SSW: (big pause) “I’ll talk to the principal about making a space available for board games.”
BoS: “Thanks. I think you’ll find other children would like to play them, too.”

So, when Doodle came home that day, I talked with him about recess. He agreed that he didn’t like games that involved getting hit in the face, kicked, or which involved getting pushed or yelling dumb things at each other. I suggested “duck, duck, goose” which he had tried and wound up being tripped by the other participants. I suggested “hide and seek” but apparently there was nowhere to hide on the playground. I suggested a few other things, only to find that they were either prohibited by the playground monitors or had previously resulted in injury to him, so I told him I’d talked with school officials about board games.

He was much happier, and spent the next several years playing chess, Risk, and Clue with other kids during recess. He even showed the younger ones how to put map puzzles together. The board games have been a big success at the elementary school, especially for kids who wear glasses or who are tired of getting bullied.

And we still haven’t run through the back yard yelling “walla, walla, walla” for any reason.

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