Maya Soup

“Soup” is a playful interaction that sets the tone for the day privileging the child’s perspective. It is a complicated version of dodge ball in which there are three balls in play, and students playing against teachers. Because there are so many more students, the game begins with a group of students serving as allies to teachers. Once the game has thinned out to a more even number of teachers and students, the game becomes a contest between students and teachers. The rules are simple once you learn them: 1) You must pass the ball rather than run with it, although taking a few steps is permissible; 2) If the person you are targeting catches the ball, you are out; 3) If the person you target does not catch the ball and it touches her/him, s/he is out; 4) If you hit someone so hard that they cry, then you are out. (The two times I observed this happen, the offender put an arm around the victim and consoled him, even while the victim may at first have been pushing the offender away.) The school’s founders describe this game as an important leveling of the playing field—literally and metaphorically. As an observer, it was clear how the game performed this function. Teachers would run from students with delighted screams. Younger children were often the faster and nimbler players, both difficult to target and fast with the ball. Girls and boys cooperated, passing to each other as well as working equally hard to win against the teachers. Women and men also cooperated, with some of the women teachers using very successful strategies of playing wily defense early in the game only to change tactics when the competition thinned. Observing (and occasionally playing) this game every day for two weeks, I came to see this game as a wonderful metaphor for the school itself. As a form of organized chaos, there are many things occurring simultaneously, impossible to attend to everything at once. There is both playful competition and cultivated cooperation. Natural consequences follow any form of antisocial or unkind behavior. Careful observation and attention are valuable skills, as are assertiveness, cooperation, and risk-taking—when the opportunity presents itself. Anyone can participate, contribute, have fun, learn, improve, and win. However, winning is not the best part or the ultimate goal. It’s the playing that matters.

Comments are closed.