Monday, January 02, 2012

Bigger, Longer, Louder Memories

I suppose everyone's memory works this way, but I often remember things from my childhood as having been much bigger or longer or louder than they were to anyone else. We all know how that might work with a traumatic experience. For instance, the one time the neighbor yells at us for cutting through his rose beds gets transformed through the vagaries of human memory into a campaign of fear and intimidation waged over an entire childhood. Memory works like that for non-traumatic things too. For instance there is a whole slew of toys I recall from a certain period of my boyhood that, in my mind, absorbed and entertained me for years, but that, when I get the "truth" from mom turned out to have been passing fads for a few weeks in the spring of 1968, if she remembers it at all. 

One of the toys that fits into that category for me was a kind of action board game called Rebound. It was a table top take-off on the retirement community game of shuffle board, involving pucks (plastic disks with ball bearings in the center) that you propelled along a track toward the scoring zone. Like shuffle board, the deeper into the scoring zone you placed your puck, the higher your score, unless you were a bit too heavy handed, in which case the puck fell off the end of the board scoring a big, fat zero. The thing that made it much, much cooler than plain old shuffle board was that you had to bounce your puck off a pair of thick rubber bands, positioned at the far end of the board, that caused them to "rebound" back toward you.

Oh man, the way my memory has it, I spent hundreds of hours mastering this game, both in competition with my brother, but also in solitary practice, working on my technique, aim, and velocity. One of the most gratifying aspects of the game was to use your puck to knock your opponent's off the board into the "zero" pot, while yours remained up top, scoring the maximum "100." I worked until I'd more or less mastered this, coming to an intimate understanding of the physics required to place my puck exactly where I wanted it. 

Whether I became as skilled as I recall or worked at it as diligently as I remember, is immaterial. The truth, whatever the truth, is that I became so fully absorbed in understanding something that the process of learning is still with me some 40 years later. Maybe on a clock the time I put into it can be measured in minutes, but in reality it was the work of a childhood.

Several years ago I found a couple re-makes of my old Rebound game at a store at which I no longer shop. I think they're actually better than our old plastic one, being, for one thing, made of wood. I use many toys in our classroom to which are attached my own childhood memories, and some, like when the kids get to play with my old Matchbox car collection, I make sure they know they're special, but most of the time I think it's best to stay out of the way and let them create their own process of learning without some old guy's wildly inaccurate childhood memories getting in the way. 

I've had these out in class before and typically most of the kids will try their hand at it in a sort of drive-by fashion, but there are always one or two boys (targeting toys almost always seem to attract more boys than girls) will really get into it. And this pattern held true this time. 

I more or less stayed out of the way, checking in periodically to make sure they hadn't lost too many of the pucks because replacing them will likely involve detective work, but I observed long enough to have flashbacks to my own childhood experiments. At one point I noticed that only one of the boards was in use, while the other lay fallow. I could see why: someone had removed the rubber bands from the pegs that held them in place. I returned them to their proper position, saying, "This one's fixed now."

When I returned a few minutes later there were no kids playing there and the rubber bands had again been removed, this time from both boards. Sheesh! I replaced them again. Almost immediately the boys returned to play.

When I later found the rubber bands yet again removed, I decided to stay to see what was going on. A team of three 3-year-olds had formed the core of the play there all morning and they returned right away. The scoring zones meant nothing to them. It was all about the hands-on physics of speed and trajectory. I guess I should say this was true for two of the boys. The third one, Luca, was just observing, standing quietly alongside as his friends raced their pucks. It was during a lull in the action caused by a hunt for a lost puck under a piece of furniture that I noticed his fingers deftly creep across the board where they carefully removed both rubber bands. With the puck recovered, his buddy returned to the table only to be disappointed to once more find the board was "broken." 

The two Rebound players then joined forces on the one functioning board, but it wasn't long before Luca again found an opportunity to remove those rubber bands as well. When the boys discovered that both boards were now, once again, broken, Luca said, "Let's go in the loft."

I'm still not 100 percent certain that Luca was fully aware of what he was doing, but writing it all down here, it sure seems like he must have had a plan, one that he'd worked out over the course of the morning. Not everyone wants to "go deep" with Rebound. Some people would rather play with their friends in the loft.

They crowded themselves together up the stairs and into the loft. Luca had done something pretty cool, every bit as cool as figuring out how to knock an opponent's puck off the board. I wonder if this will be one of those bigger, longer, louder memories for Luca. Or maybe it will be one for me.

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1 comment:

Jason, as himself said...

I have never even heard of this game, but it looks like a great one.

I haven't commented for a while, but I just want to let you know that if I lived in your area and had a preschooler I would do everything in my power to get him/her into your school. I continue to be so impressed.