As regular readers of this blog know well, I am obsessed with finding those elements of the environment which physiologically trigger play behavior. Last month I added water as a trigger, and this morning I realized that I had ignored another of one the most potent prompts … the ball. Of course, ball play is universal across recorded history and cultures. John Fox has written the seminal work on this subject The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game, and I will leave it to John to fill you in.
I think that I came late to realizing the importance of the ball as a prompt for play because it is so incredibly fundamental that I overlooked it completely.
As a sculptor, I am struck by the contrast of sphere to the majority of the built environment. The urban setting is primarily edges and corners, and we rarely see spheroid shapes, and when we do, they generally house something of a spiritual nature.
As a toy, a cube is great for stacking up, and that’s about it. A ball, on the other hand, can be rolled, thrown, caught, kicked and hit.
I am also struck by how durable the ball is as a life-long toy. We play with balls from infancy to our dotage as we head out to the golf course.
Whereas a ball’s essence is its shape, water is the opposite; it has no form. Water play is all about the container, whether the container holds water or water contains the player.
Both balls and water share the aspect of flow. Both are preeminent in their capacity to be entirely under the child’s control, which is the key to their power as both toys and learning facilitators.
As a metaphor for sharing a communication, it seems that shaping a message as a sphere rather than a cube would make its transmission much more effective. Maybe that’s what is happening to modern society in that information these days can be transmitted in a multitude of ways, not just by word of mouth. The same can be said for water as a shape for communication, as information has the same tendency for a flow-like behavior. It wants to run downhill and can be only temporarily dammed up. As they say, information wants to be free.