The author’s children staging their first Kendama challenge
The other day, I overheard some students making comments about a popular game on our school’s campus: Kendama. For those of you who may have blinked and missed it, Kendama is latest fad in many Hawaii schools, as well in other places on the west coast mainland. I have heard that stores can’t keep enough in stock to satisfy the new craze. This Japanese game has roots that go back to the late 1700′s, and is comprised of a wooden, mallet-sized object with concave “cups” on the heads and base of the mallet, and one “spike” on top. The cups are large enough to cradle the small ball, which comes attached to the mallet by a string. The object of the game is to catch the ball in as many different locations as possible (i.e. spike, cups, cross-section, base), with ranking and skill increasing as the complexity changes. During Kendama challenges, various stances and grips are required to perform different tricks. Accomplishing these difficult moves in sequence or repeatedly for long periods of time enhances your status in competitive play, as the first person to fail a trick is disqualified from play during a true competition.
As I observed these students at play and listened to the ensuing conversation, I was struck by one of the student’s comments in particular. Several of the students were having a disagreement about whose turn it was during a “challenge tournament.” One boy felt that his friend had been dishonest in play, and the other felt certain that they had played by the rules. After some bantering back and forth, without reaching resolution, one loudly warned the other, “You know we’re being watched, guys. If you don’t stop arguing, they are going to ban Kendamas for all of us just like they did with Silly Bandz and Pokemon cards at my brother’s school.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! Silly Bandz? Were these students placing Kendama on the same playing field as Silly Bandz or Pokemon Cards? I knew right then and there that I had to interrupt and take a stance. I walked right up to the boys with a bounce in my step, and asked them if I could give Kendama a try. After about five minutes, I was hooked! In fact, after I finished playing, I drove straight to the mall to buy my two seven year olds their own Kendamas. The twins were quite surprised to receive them this early (they originally had been told that Santa might bring them for Christmas), but our weekend was delightful as a result. Over the next two days, I never had to remind my kids that screen time was almost over, or to get outside and play. They took their Kendamas everywhere, and worked tirelessly to perfect their new moves and tricks. The television and hand-held games were all but a distant memory during those two blissful days. My husband even became a professed addict!
As a result, I decided to spend some time learning more about this new fad. Students are completely obsessed with it, and spend much of their recess and after school free time playing Kendama with friends. Sure, there are a few disagreements from time to time over rules, fairness, cheating, sharing, and/or scoring, but I truly believe the benefits outweigh the risks. And so, for those parents (and students) who wish to know how I really feel about Kendama, here’s the rundown. I fully support Kendama, when used appropriately, for the following five reasons (Pokemon Cards and Silly Bandz will not be up for discussion):
1) Kendama encourages and promotes hand-eye coordination, which benefits all children regardless of age, gender, athletic ability, academic strengths, or social capital. Research shows that strong hand-eye coordination helps individuals perform well in daily activities and athletic sports, and may actually help delay the aging process (I wondered if it also might help a 40-something female with memory challenges). I have witnessed children with diverse backgrounds, interests, and abilities find common ground with Kendama, and have been quite impressed with students’ facility, creativity, and ability to safely maneuver the ball in such a short amount of time.
2) Kendama stimulates creativity, as children work together to find novel ways to “catch” the ball, and become creative in their ventures to negotiate and create new rules of play or challenge. If one stops to listen closely to the conversations taking place during play, it quickly becomes apparent that creative thinking is taking place. How many different ways can once catch the ball? Is it possible to move the ball to various positions without stopping? Which move is the easiest to learn? Which one is the most difficult? Why do some kids spin the hanging ball before they begin the catch? Though I never performed well in high school Physics classes, I might have fared better had I experienced more Kendama-like entertainment in my younger years!
3) Kendama enhances focused play and attention. Just take the time to observe someone as they try to catch the ball. It requires careful attention to hold the mallet and swing the ball with the appropriate amount of force to accomplish a successful catch. My daughter, who often has difficulty with focus and attention at school, is enjoying the challenge that comes with Kendama play. In an era when increased screen time has grabbed many youth’s interest, it is refreshing to see Kendama as an alternative. Likewise, research shows that increased focus during formal and informal activities encourages children to clear their mind and attend to the task at hand, which leads to greater success in multiple areas of life.
4) Kendama curbs screen time. Go ahead, try it and see for yourself! My children were totally hooked on electronic gadgets each weekend (since we banned them from use during the school week). They previously swarmed on their handheld games like a beehive full of hornets each Friday after school, and I never imagined anything could take them away from their cherished screen time. Kendama changed all of that, and my children now look more forward to Kendama time. It has become a terrific family event that we all enjoy.
5) Kendama introduces children to simplicity. Remember the days when children would find delight in building with empty boxes, making paper dolls out of paper, or creating a musical band with pots, pans, and kitchen spoons? Well, Kendama comes pretty close to being categorized as a “simple toy” (without the $15 – 60 price tag, of course). The materials include a piece of wood, a string, and a ball. You don’t have to plug it in to recharge it. The concept is fairly straightforward. Creativity is encouraged and supported. The game has withstood the test of time. Our current generation of youth are typically introduced to many innovative ideas and products requiring complex ideas, thinking, and materials. Having the opportunity to experience “simplicity” is a gift, in my opinion, for it gives students an authentic perspective on “finding joy in ordinary things”.
And so, I encourage you to allow your children to experience the ordinary, whether it be Kendama or building a village with empty boxes. The benefits will be many, in my humble opinion. In fact, my only problem at the moment is finding time to go shopping and buy my husband his personal Kendama. I just might wait for Christmas in his case!
As always, I look forward to hearing from my readers and would love to know your opinions.