The Games Project
By Nancy Howe, Head Teacher
Playing games is an integral part of Bing’s early childhood program. Teachers seamlessly weave games into all areas of the curriculum.
At snack time, teachers engage small groups of children in playing guessing games by focusing on familiar things: their names, the clothes they are wearing, animals, colors and so on. During music time, children participate in circle games that use movement, repetition and rhythm such as “London Bridge,” “Ring Around the Rosie” and “The Farmer in the Dell.” At story time, children come together as a large group for action rhymes and finger plays. These games actively engage children in using their bodies, fingers and hands to act out rhymes that are repetitive and often accompanied by music.
Historically, games have played an important role in the development of young children. Originally, games were linked to survival, their focus to promote agility, endurance, precision and strength in preparation for hunting. Later, games became entertaining diversions for children in an era long before television and videos.
Traditional childhood games are passed down from one generation to the next. Most parents enjoy teaching their children the games they remember playing as children. Almost instinctively, parents bounce baby on their knee while reciting a familiar nursery rhyme or they play a simple game of peek-a-boo. Chase and hide-and-seek follow as toddlers become mobile. It is not until nursery school that most children have their first opportunity to play group games with their peers.
The Games Project
Games were the focus of an in-depth project in Center PM this year. The teachers first noticed the children’s interest in playing organized games during the fall quarter. It was the windup of the baseball season, and several of the older children were interested in sports. Some children already knew the rules of ball-oriented games such as baseball, basketball and football, and they looked forward to playing together every day. As teachers of a mixed-age group of three- to five-year olds, we were concerned that the competitive nature of sports might be challenging for the younger children.
We decided to introduce the children to activities and games that emphasized skill development and mastery — competence rather than competition. We knew that the children naturally enjoyed jumping and that the sand area seemed a natural and safe place to practice and to see how far they could jump. One of the teachers introduced the children to a yardstick and showed them how to measure their distances. The children quickly embraced the concept of personal best, measuring and recording their “long jump” on a large chart.
In the winter, teachers helped the children construct a bowling alley on the patio, using large, hollow wooden blocks to mark the lanes. Bowling pins were made from clean, empty milk containers, recycled from snack time. The children took turns rolling balls and recording the number of pins they knocked over. They liked the idea of aiming at a target and other “aim games” followed, including a beanbag toss and Hula-Hoops as targets for paper airplanes. When winter rains kept the children on the patio, they played aerobics in a follow-the-leader style as well as musical chairs.
During spring quarter, our spacious play yard was an ideal setting for large group games: “A Tisket A Tasket,” “Duck Duck Goose,” “Hide-and-Seek,” “Red Light, Green Light,” parachute games, relay races, scavenger hunts, treasure hunts and an invented game the children called “Lava.” In addition, we were fortunate to have the expertise of Beth Wise, Bing music specialist and head teacher. She taught the children many traditional musical and circle games as well as original games incorporating dramatic play or musical accompaniment.
How Games Benefit Young Children
Simple, organized games provide young children with many cognitive benefits. Games help children develop an understanding of rules and goals, learn how to follow directions, learn strategies and how to keep score, make decisions and think logically. They give children the opportunity to articulate to others “how to play.”
The children in our classroom have become quite skilled at describing the rules and goals for some of their favorite games:
The ball goes in — and then comes out! — Lionel
Duck Duck Goose
You make a circle. Someone starts first and goes “Duck, Duck, Goose.” They pick a goose. Then the goose chases the duck. The goose becomes the duck. Then the duck picks a goose. — Alice
The other person has to hide. People have to find them. — Amna. The seekers count. Then the seekers find the hiders. — Elizabeth
You jump in the numbers. If you’re on a one, use one foot. If you’re on a two, use two feet. — Maggie
Rules of Soccer
You can’t use your hands. — Hannah Z.
You need special shoes called cleats. — Maggie
They have bumps on them so you can run really fast. — Miller
Games inspire children to think creatively. Children inherently love playing games and often incorporate invented games naturally into their spontaneous play. In addition, the children in our classroom have enjoyed designing their own board games using spinners or dice and making up their own unique rules and goals for playing.
Games help children develop physical skills too. Children gain competency, a sense of accomplishment and mastery as they practice using large and small muscles effectively by hopping, jumping, running, skipping, aiming and hitting a target, throwing and catching.
Games are agents of socialization as children begin to feel included and learn to collaborate, cooperate and take turns; the children learn to cheer one another on, share in collective fun and work together as a team.
Games are largely non-verbal and therefore a great equalizer. Younger children, as well as children whose first language is not English, can participate successfully. Children in countries all around the world play variations of most games. The universality of games was recently demonstrated when one of our Center PM parents drew the Korean version of hopscotch alongside our American hopscotch!
Adapting Games to Young Children
Many traditional games are geared to older children and often include skills, rules, goals, strategies and a sense of competitiveness that can be quite challenging for younger children. As teachers, we have found ways to successfully adapt or modify games to include different developmental levels, interests, learning styles and physical skills.
For example, younger children can enjoy ball games such as baseball, basketball and soccer by practicing basic, beginning skills like hitting and kicking and throwing. Clipboards for turn-taking make the process of waiting a turn more organized and successful. Some games, like soccer, can be physically strenuous for three- to five-year- olds, so our focus has been on warm-up activities and stretching exercises, which the children take turns leading. They also like to practice stopping a ball rolled to them by a teacher and then kicking it back.
We know that young children like to dress-up and pretend, as they imitate what they see in the adult world. This need to role-play is evident in their games as well. Children enjoy making and using simple props to lend authenticity to their games. During sports-oriented games, they often like to choose a nickname, or write their name and number on their “uniform.” Several of the children even made their own baseball bats from rolled up paper to accompany a game of “imaginary baseball.” Without a ball, and using just their imaginations, the children batted, “hit the ball out of the park,” ran bases and also cheered one another on!
Sportsmanship is an acquired skill and can be difficult for three- to five-year- olds. We have found that children can be encouraged to “play by the rules” by inviting them to help make up the rules of a game. Writing them down validates the collaboration involved. If children have the opportunity to come up with rules they think are fair and appropriate for their stage of development, they will have a much easier time agreeing to them. As children become more familiar with a game, the rules can be renegotiated and adjusted accordingly.
Playing Games at Home
Games are a wonderful way for children and parents to spend valuable time together. Many games played at home are invented games that evolve naturally as part of the rhythm of the day: getting dressed in the morning games, games to play in the car on the way to school, and quieter bedtime games. Others are determined by place or circumstance such as waiting games at the doctor’s office or in a restaurant or on an airplane.
Children also enjoy learning traditional games their parents may have played as children: card games, charades, chess, classic board games, jacks, jump rope, marbles and tic tac toe. Most games, whether invented or traditional, can be easily adapted for different developmental or skill levels so that younger and older siblings can be included, bringing together all the members of the family.
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