Mr. Eggleston endeared himself to his 4th grade class with a kindly smile, non-nonsense demeanor, and a very special game.  A much-anticipated part of 4th grade, Mum-Ball was a hallowed activity, one taught to eager younger siblings by older brothers and sisters who had already passed through the 4th grade.  Trouble was, you couldn’t quite replicate it outside a classroom.  We tried.  Once, at a party, in someone’s basement, we all hopped up on mats and chairs as someone’s older sister tried to explain the magical game that such allures, but it couldn’t be done without rows of desks and chairs, and a classroom full of eager kids.

Mum-Ball had a number of lesser rules, but the basic tenets of the game were that you had to be absolutely quiet (hence “mum”), you had to throw and catch a ball according to specified dictates (one hand or left handed catches two hand throws), and you had to stay up on your desk.  Any grazing of the floor or the seat of your chair, and you were out.  Any murmur leaves your lips, and you sat down to watch the rest battle it out.  There were additional rules governing no-throw-backs, and no throwing over anyone’s head.  These last rules could pretty quickly end a cut-throat game of four, or a check-mate scenario of 3 kids in a row. 

And then there were the ever-changing variables.  Mr. E., as we often called him, kept a cache of every type of ball imaginable in a corner behind his desk – Kooshes, dodge balls, soccer balls, foam balls, ping pong balls, even the ball with a balloon inside, the Balzac.  Kids would bring in new types of balls; we were always adding to the mix.  Mr. E. also loved to change up the game midway through.  He would start the game with a leisurely “two-hand catches, two-hand throws” and suddenly switch to “left-hand catches, two-hand throws”.  Try keeping that all in your head as a projectile zooms about the classroom.  Unlike in the gym, where the female contingent was usually plastered along the wall trying to pretend they didn’t exist, in Mum Ball, the girls were as likely as the boys to make a last-ditch dive off the desk, struggling for balance lest they catch the ball but fall to the floor. 

I was thinking about Mum-Ball this week and, unfortunately, dissecting it into its many virtues.  Now that I’m tasked with motivating a single student or classroom full of kids, I am beginning to understand the brilliance of Mum-Ball.  From a teacher’s point of view, it’s a great way to command silence instantly.  Beyond being simply a game for “following directions,” Mum-Ball requires students to activate working memory.  While the main rules may be learned and stored in long-term memory, the sudden rule changes (e.g., from two-hand throws to left-hand catches) keep the kids constantly alert and focused.  There is strategy with the no-throw-back and no-overhead throw rules, and kids must pay attention to where the ball is at all times.  From a physical standpoint, Mum-Ball also hones balance and ball-handling skills, as kids are accountable not only for successful catches, but also for accurate throws.  Imagine a game kids beg to play where they have to stay quiet – that is the beauty of Mum Ball.

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