Monday, April 8, 2013

How a Japanese ball-and-string toy helped prevent bullying at Lakes Magnet Middle School

Posted By on Mon, Apr 8, 2013 at 12:01 PM

click to enlarge aKendama.jpg

This week we’re publishing a cover story about how schools are fighting bullying in the region. Throughout the week, on the blog, we’ll also publish related tidbits and stories.

As a longtime administrator, Lakes Magnet Middle School principal Jeff Bengtson has seen the way that bullying as evolved with the advent of social media. He has a lot of thoughts about bullying, about the middle-school culture, and about the crucial role of parents.

Numerous interconnected, environmental factors affect the growth or elimination of bullying, but Bengtson points out a factor many people miss: boredom. If kids are busy, they don’t have as much time to be cruel.

“We look at the times we deal with the most problem, they are before school, at lunch, and after school,” Bengtson says. “We look at things to do during those times.”

That’s where kendamas come in.

Like nearly all addictive toys, the kendama is simple: A string connects a wooden ball to a double-sided mallet topped with a wooden spike. It’s an evolution of simple ball-in-cup toys. In one motion, experts can switch the ball from one side the mallet, to the other, then to the top of the wooden spike with just a few flicks of their wrist. And just like yo-yos and hacky sacksbefore them, they’re a fad that has blown up at local schools. Last month, they headlined the Spokesman-Reviewtrend piece, and today, instead of a magician or a juggler, the organizers of the “Bryan Bounce” fundraiser for Bryan Elementary brought in kendama professional Hunter Bailey.

“Everybody would say ‘Oh my God, they’re getting in the way of everything,’” Bengtson says. “Now, we don’t let them use them during class. But before school, at lunch, after school – some of my kids that have been mybiggest troublemakers, now that they have a kendamas in their hand, they are not in trouble.”

He doesn’t expect the fad to continue beyond this year. Next year, it will be something else. “In my day, it was the Rubik's Cube,” Bengtson says.

But the underlying point will remain.

“You keep the kids busy, active, engaged, and they are far less likely to bully,” Bengtson says. “If they are sitting at home on the couch with their phone, text messaging, they say some things that are inappropriate. If they are out shooting baskets, they’re not bullying. And that’s no different than it was 40 years ago.”


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