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Classroom Secrets

At some point in the year, if you walk into my Grade 4 classroom you will encounter 20 to 30 squealing kids laughing and darting around the room chasing tennis balls as they learn how to juggle. Is this part of the Ontario Curriculum, you may ask? Absolutely not. But it is one of the most fun and engaging ways I know to teach them some practical life skills about handling risky situations.

All too often these days, young kids are shying away from taking risks. While this is a good thing when it prevents them from doing things like playing with knives and fire, it can also interfere with their learning – stopping them from joining activities, asking questions, or offering possible answers for fear of making a mistake. So one of the first things I do each fall is to help kids realize that while doing something “risky” can feel scary, it can also feel exciting.

In the case of juggling, we talk about why people might feel scared to try juggling and they usually agree that it seems too hard, and people are scared to make mistakes and look silly.

In the movie, What About Bob, Bill Murray’s character Bob gives us a great example of what to do when situation seem too risky or overwhelming, simply tell yourself, “Baby steps. Just take baby steps.” And so that is what we do. We take the seemingly complex skill of juggling three balls and break it down into easy-to-understand steps. Kids are amazed at how quickly they can juggle one ball, then two, and finally three. After you know the steps, it’s really just a matter of practice.

Another key lesson we address right away is the importance of giving yourself permission to make mistakes. Rarely do people master skills the first time they try something and thinking otherwise is simply setting yourself up for undue pain and suffering. In the case of juggling, you need to realize you will drop the ball. It is perfectly fine and expected. We even go so far as to celebrate these mistakes by yelling out things like, “Hurray! I dropped the ball.”

Almost everything in life is easier with the support and encouragement of others, and handling risky situations is no exception. Seeking out people who can help you, encourage your efforts, and/or share their own experiences can diminish or even dissipate any fears you may have been experiencing. In the case of juggling, every performer is encouraged by the applause and cheers of his peers.

Does this sound like something you’d like to try with your kids or students? Go for it. Round up some tennis balls and let the laughter and learning begin.

Rob Stringer BA, BEd, CPC is an educator and International Parenting & Youth Coach. Visit  www.YouthCoachCanada.com or call 905.515.9822.