I was not one of those parents who let their kids win at games. Whether it was a game of chance when they were preschoolers or a game of strategy as they got older, we all played by the rules.There was no crying, no cheating, and no patronizing the youngest in the family. The kids learned from an early age that sometimes they won and sometimes they lost, and both needed to be done graciously.
We play games in advisory and in my physical science and chemistry classes.
And in my classroom, as in my home, we all play by the rules; there is no cheating, and everyone learns to win and lose graciously. Games at home and at school are for fun and learning, and they are always time well spent.
In our advisory group, we play a game most days, and it has been amazing to watch students grow through game playing. I have a varied group of students who engage in game playing at various levels of intensity:
Tony only cares about winning, while Douglas mainly cares about not losing, and Seth doesn’t want to show that he cares about anything.
Timid Ming doesn’t want to draw attention to herself, while Talia wants everyone to look at her, and Jenna wants to make and enforce all the rules.
We establish a culture early in the year that lets everyone know that our classroom is a safe and supportive environment, and they are expected to actively and positively participate in our games.
So what have they learned through our games that validates taking time from our day for play?
They have learned that you can’t always win, and losing needn’t lead to frustration or quitting.
They have learned patience and the art of compromise.
They have learned to give directions, and they have practiced following their peers’ directions.
They have learned that taking risks is fun, and they have learned to reflect and to plan for the future.
Maybe best of all, they have learned that laughing together makes us a stronger community.
Their game-playing skills are transferring into other areas of their lives. For example, they are getting better at accepting constructive comments on a test or essay. I have seen increased confidence and risk-taking. They are learning the value of creating and following rules. And more students are stepping up to lead and speaking up in class. I could have lectured on the value of these life skills, but it has been much more meaningful for them to discover and internalize them through the fun of games.
Be sure to include game-playing in the last weeks of school, and watch your students thrive!
Ann Larson Ericson has been using the Developmental Designs approach in her classroom for more than eight years. She teaches high school chemistry and physical science at Community of Peace Academy, a public charter school on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Posted May 2014