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There's more to juggling than balls

Juggling always used to be thought of as a party trick, something done by street entertainers or clowns, but as an article in Friday (September 24, 2004) suggested, it can have a serious purpose.

Last year I received some free sets of juggling balls from a friend who works in corporate affairs. So a group of us started to learn to juggle during form time.

We allocated two 20-minute sessions a week. The amount of peer group demonstration, enthusiasm, learning and smiling has been huge. When the class is asked to do an assembly on a topic of our choice, we pick juggling. This brings in other talents, such as developing organisational skills, presentation, stagecraft, finding out, summarising and sharing aspects of juggling beyond throwing balls. Students who want to be involved, but don't want to juggle, take these on. The assembly includes details of the history of juggling, examples from real life, how to do it safely, examples of single and team juggling, and a "juggle off".

Our headteacher, who has a background in PE, then decided to invest in juggling equipment for the school and allowed juggling to become part of our activities week. One student couldn't throw and catch a ball at the start of the week's sessions. But, by the end of the day, with coaching and encouragement from myself and her peers, and a lot of reflection and determination on her part, she managed to juggle three balls for a short time, smiling her biggest ever smile.

Juggling provides endless fun and differentiated exercises so students learn at their own pace. I have seen it improve self-esteem and confidence.

Some visual-spatial learners make amazing progress; kinaesthetic and interpersonal learners shine. Students not too keen on sports and physical exercise enjoy themselves, throwing and catching, bending and lifting, laughing, using balance, co-ordination and rhythm. I have seen marvellous examples of co-operation between students, and have seen others stretch themselves and push their limits.

Juggling demands that tasks be broken down into sequences of smaller parts, each part being important to the whole picture. It also demands that the participant pays attention to what's going on, observes critically, plans and reflects on their own progress, learns from mistakes, learns from others and perseveres.

What started as an opportunity to use some free gifts has now become a bigger, better, brighter enterprise. I am planning family juggling nights at school, we are thinking of running a juggling club open to the local community, the students want to make a DVD on the subject, and we will soon have a website on juggling.

Meanwhile, I'd like to study its benefits more formally; maybe there's money somewhere out there to fund a controlled trial that will define and quantify the benefits of juggling.

Alan Slater teaches at Gosford Hill secondary school, Kidlington, Oxford

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