The kids invented some game during lunch-time today that seemed like a cross between no-tackle football and a very competitive version of keep away.  They somehow split into two teams, and were able to keep track of who was on each time while they shuffled a soccer ball back and forth in the gym.  They were also able to avoid the many kids playing basketball as well as the few stragglers still eating their lunches at the cafeteria tables at one end of the gym.  There wasn’t any scoring; no bounced touch-downs in the back hallway of the cafe-gym-atorium.  It only got a little questionable when one kid had a dead-lock on the soccer ball, and others were gently pummeling him while the entire mass encroached upon the metal bleachers.  Boys and girls played together, 6th and 7th graders organized teams independently while their less socially adept classmates hung out at the periphery, still trying to master the art of sharing a basketball.  Aside from the scuffles near sharp metal objects and my own fears of being mock-tackled or hit in the head with a flying ball, it was a pretty mesmerizing experience. 

My mentor teacher when I taught preschool was forever rolling her eyes when parents would mention signing their 3-4 year old kids up for t-ball, pee-wee soccer, or competitive knot-tying.  They should be allowed free-play; they should be allowed to develop their problem-solving skills and “rules” of play without coaches and referees and disciplined drills.  Structured play has its place, and competitive sports plays an assuredly important part in the middle school extracurricular activities.  But it’s nice to see this hodge-podge group of kids – some stars on the basketball team, some who usually don’t touch a ball – invent their own game, give it their own rules, and engage in some self-sustaining preschool-inspired free play.

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