It was one of those summer mornings when the sun was hot early, the breakfast dishes were put away, and it felt like the right thing to do was put on a Harry Belafonte album. The kids were outside filling water balloons and making big plans, experimenting with a newly unwrapped birthday present: a water balloon slingshot.
Counterintuitively, this Y of plastic weaponry has inspired more cooperation and agreement in my kids than the miniature foosball table, which proved more a cry to war than birthday gift.
Looking out the window this morning, I saw the water balloons flying, heard the laughter after each SPLAT, and only saw a couple of wobbling latex spheres flying into the neighbor’s yard.
I didn’t hear a scream from the other side of the fence; I don’t think it would have hurt my mood if I had.
Watching my kids play in this timeless way reminded me that sometimes the most successful things we do in our classrooms aren’t newfangled. I love seeing students collaborate on a shared Google Doc, really engage in review using Kahoot, and plot graphs with the latest tools in science, but as simple as it is, I also recognize that I see as much engagement when students are outside drawing geometrical shapes in chalk, building boats out of cardboard and duct tape, and making rockets out of two liter bottles.
When I taught, I was sometimes surprised by the way the simple things worked. In my first job at Hood River Valley High School a nature trail behind the school provided a perfect venue for a walking discussion of Wordsworth. Later in my career, a box of costumes gave students the freedom to perform Tennessee Williams one acts. And once a class dug five foot deep trenches in the Oregon mud as we learned about World War I and trench warfare.
Like that water balloon slingshot, those creative, but not technological experiences resonated with kids, even as some of my more complicated classroom ideas sometimes played out as well as my own kids’ foosball game.
This isn’t to say that we should avoid technology rich lesson plans or shy away from complicated schemes. Variety, as the old saw goes, is the spice of life. But seeing the (almost) guilty smiles as a water balloon cleared the fence this morning provided inspiration to celebrate the simple things. In a classroom or on the patio, it’s okay to hum a little calypso music and pull back (proverbially) the water balloon slingshot.