First Graders Can’t Handle Tetherball

27 Nov

Did you ever turn something simple into something complicated?

Sounds like a bad idea, doesn’t it?

I am all about keeping things Simple, so to me it sounds like the worst idea ever.  Who would DO that?

Well, first graders seem to do it quite often.  They love artificial complications.  They also get into fierce debates with their friends over the artificial complications.  Sometimes they come to blows.

I’ve been helping at my son’s school during lunch recess.  He’s in fifth grade this year, but I spend more time on the other side of the playground, with the smaller students.  The ones incapable of logic.

One of the things first graders like to complicate is tetherball.  It’s actually a pretty simple game.  You stay on one side and hit the ball without touching the rope, until the rope is wrapped entirely around the pole.

To make it even simpler, my son’s school has many of the tetherball poles divided by grade, eliminating the height and skill discrepancy between different age groups.

Still, the first grade game turns to chaos on a daily basis.  One of the major causes of chaos: new “rules” the kids make up.  I have overheard things like, “He’s OUT, because he did a bubbly!”

Now, I’m no expert.  I didn’t play tetherball as a child, because I was sure it would lead to head trauma — but even I know that bubbly is a word that shouldn’t naturally come up in the game.  I asked a first grader to show me what the term bubbly is supposed to mean.  His demonstration left me more confused than ever.

Later on, I was hit in the head with the tetherball.  My fault, of course.  I should have known better than to turn my back on a bunch of first graders.  Good news: my head is harder than I thought it was!

Kids have the idea that they can change anything they think is boring, and they will take the initiative to do so.  One of my kids used to change the rules of Monopoly when he got bored during a game.  He liked to give out money to the other players if they were short of cash.  Normally, I applaud the idea of helping those in need, but this is a Capitalist’s game.  The whole point is to bankrupt the other players.  If you play Socialist Monopoly, the game will never end.  Ever.

And it’s already a long game — especially when someone, who also served as banker, was hoarding all of the one dollar bills.  He’d give you a big bill for your rent, and want you to make change, so he could get more ones.  But he wouldn’t make change for YOU, because that would require him to give up some singles.  Don’t have exact change?  That’s fine, just skip the rent payment.  Skip ALL the rent payments.  After all, this is Socialist Monopoly where the goal of the game is… to have no goal at all!  (Except to collect every single dollar bill in the game, and then keep playing.)

At least Socialist Monopoly doesn’t involve bubblies.

As it turns out, I can’t handle Monopoly.  I can’t handle tetherball, either.

14 Responses to “First Graders Can’t Handle Tetherball”

  1. Eugene Eric Kim November 27, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    I’m not sure what a “bubbly” is either, but I’m pretty sure it should be an automatic out in any game! 😉

    Nicole Lazzaro is a guru of game design, and she talks about how there’s four keys to fun: easy fun, hard fun, serious fun, and people fun. According to Nicole, the best games have at least three out of four of those keys. Tetherball definitely has people fun and easy fun. If the kids find the physical aspects of the game too easy, then it makes sense for them to make up rules so as to add an element of hard fun, and to make the game more enjoyable. The fact that the kids are creating those rules on their own? Even better!

    There’s an interesting philosophical analogue when we think about simplifying our lives. If our lives were too simple, then they would be very boring. When they’re too complex, then they induce a lot of anxiety. I think most folks fall into the latter category, which makes people in your line of business much needed!

    • acleansurface November 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

      Interesting, Eugene! Yes, creativity and initiative are involved, both of which are great skills for kids to show.

      Everyone agreeing on the rules before starting the game would make me happy — what really gets to me is when they change the rules in the middle. This reminds me of Calvinball (of Calvin & Hobbes fame; see rules here:

  2. kaleighsomers November 29, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    I kind of love how they invented a word. Little kids are my favorite. I feel like as long as they’re just kids playing against other kids, it’s no big deal if they change things around. It’s not bothering anyone else, you know?

    And I feel your pain on the Monopoly thing. The game never ends as it is, but when you start getting generous it’s like the week-long board game. My sister used to cheat and change the rules around a lot when she was little, to the point where we stopped playing it.

    • acleansurface November 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

      The only problem with the made up rules on the playground is that it gives them something to fight about, because they don’t all agree on the changes. Then they start yelling and pushing. Sometimes the words are cute. Just today I heard another first grader complaining, “He’s playing too easy. He did a lot of help-ies”.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Windsor Grace November 30, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

    Socialist Monopoly sounds terrible. And Monopoly is already really horrible. I’ve never played through a whole game. Ever. When I was a kid, it always ended when my brother picked up the board and threw all of the houses in my face. If he wasn’t winning, you were definitely cheating.

    • acleansurface November 30, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

      Yeah, I never really liked Monopoly either!

    • agoodmirror December 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

      Socialist Monopoly is the worse. It only prolongs the suffering 🙂

  4. birdiechamp December 22, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    UUgghh! Monopoly drives me crazy too! After the first 20 minutes, the only one still enjoying the game is the one winning!

    • acleansurface December 23, 2010 at 10:19 am #

      Birdiechamp, you may be right, and I have never won at Monopoly in my life. Maybe that is why I never liked it…
      Thanks for visiting!

  5. Dia December 29, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    What a great post! Socialist Monopoly…now THERE’S an oxymoron. Small kids are so fluid where rules are concerned, it’s always fascinating just to hang around and see what they’ll come up with next.
    This is a fun blog, yet strangely soothing at the same time. I’m looking around the house and suddenly feeling a little braver. Usually in a face-off with the clutter, I’m the one who backs down but I think it may be in for a surprise this time. It really is amazing how emotional we tend to get about our stuff!

    • acleansurface December 29, 2010 at 10:25 am #

      That’s good to hear, Acuriouscure. Stand your ground — Make space for your life!

  6. Emily January 23, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    That game is THE WORST! It doesn’t help when I keep losing either!
    I remember when I used to make up rules as a kid. We just couldn’t face losing, especially when that young!

  7. Frankie Ortiz February 5, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Haha kids are absolutely adorable. And although I don’t agree with a lot of the rough-housing seen in the playgrounds, I am at least very impressed with the fact that kids have the innovation to create new games and change rules to challenge themselves. Sometimes I think, why aren’t adults this innovative in life? There aren’t too many of us that actually LIKE to think, and LIKE to be challenged, and throughout the course of the day at that. So for now, I shall remain inspired by the minds of our future generations.
    P.S. Isn’t it interesting about Monopoly? EVERYBODY has it, but NOBODY likes it. haha. My games always ended after a terrible 5-6 hours of playing with a very violent thrust leaving money, houses, and the board itself flying across the air. Good times.

    • acleansurface February 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

      There must be SOME people who like Monopoly. It has been around for so long. I have seen that there is now a version with a calculator. Getting kids to use math in a game was one of the redeeming qualities of Monopoly, so I think the calculator will make the game worse, not better.

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