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Schools

Life's big questions pondered in the pit


courtesy of Joe Chan
Students at Almond School convene in a sea of balls to engage in conversations that center around a question or a prompt.

As Almond School principal Erika Benadom’s teachers gathered at the beginning of the school year, they pondered life’s big questions via icebreakers designed to build a sense of relationship and community.

The idea came from SoulPancake, a company that recommends ways to engage with “big think” topics from the realms of philosophy and spirituality. The company suggests exploring such weighty topics while seated in a pit of plastic balls.

Benadom said the scheme “captures the magic that ensues when two people engage in dialogue around a question or prompt.”

After a dry run sans ball pit (not yet a standard feature on local campuses), a teacher urged the school to make one. One shipment of balls later, the teachers were ready to build with students participating. They quickly realized that 1,500 balls – the initial order – only rose knee-height in the box a parent had crafted for their plan.

“We brainstormed how to fix this. … Then brilliance struck. … What if we add playground balls?” Benadom recounted. “The assembly was a great success. The students’ curiosity was piqued and a playful atmosphere arose when the parent putting together the pit tossed balls into the audience. It was electrifying.”

Student volunteers climbed in to jump-start the philosophical conversations – and then had to devise an exit strategy from the vat of balls. Since that first attempt, classrooms have been collecting their own conversation starters for future ball-pit encounters, ranging from “What do you look forward to the most when you wake up each day?” to “What is your pet peeve?”

“This ball pit will be a centerpiece for our school at underscoring our commitment to each other. We’re thinking through how we might recruit a group of students to lead this effort in creating a mobile ball pit that potentially could be marketed to schools around the country,” Benadom said. “The students will be part of designing the business model, improving on the prototype, conducting market research, advertising, budgeting and more.”

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