In the following scenario, think about triplets playing games at different ages. Rosa, Dolly, and Norman are now fourth graders. When they were toddlers, their caregiver played social games with them, such as This Little Piggy and Hide the Keys. In their Head Start program, they played running and chasing games and simple spinning games of chance, such as Hi-Ho Cherry-O. In these games, rules did not matter. Now Rosa plays on the school soccer team and practices soccer skills wherever she can. Dolly actively seeks friends to play strategy games such as Rummy and Clue. And Norman thrives on memory and word games such as Twenty Questions and Scrabble.
The games Rosa, Dolly, and Norman played are typical. Although games broaden the curriculum for children of all ages, many teachers believe games with rules foster a competitive rather than a cooperative spirit, question their value, and view them as frivolous.
What Is a Game?
A game is a form of play in which children follow an agreed-upon set of rules, predetermine an outcome, assign players specific roles, and assign sanctions for violations (DeVries, 1998; Hughes, 1999; Kamii & DeVries, 1980). Dictionary definitions usually include the elements of rules, competition, and winning.
Most children’s games involve physical skill, chance, strategy, or some combination of these elements to determine the outcome. In games of physical skill such as jump rope or stickball, motor skill is essential. Games of chance, such as the simple board game Winnie the Pooh, rely on dice or a spinner. Games of strategy, such as checkers or Boggle, require decision-making skills and compel players to take turns, follow complex directions, and employ complicated strategies. Organized sports are often considered strategy games because they require a player to plan strategies and imagine oneself in the opponent’s role.
The Value of Games
Games are one material that contributes to children’s creative-thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. Games themselves are motivating for many children because the desire to play them comes from within. For many children, games provide a means to learn new skills and to practice known skills. Some educators believe that organized games for young children are developmentally inappropriate, thwart creativity, and encourage competition. Others believe that they can be appropriate if teachers positively confront the competitive element (DeVries, 1998; 1999; Kamii & DeVries, 1980). Games for school-age children should capitalize on their increased coordination, desire to challenge themselves individually, interest in facts and how things work and why things happen, and genuine love of group games. When group games match children’s developmental levels, children do the following:
- Develop cooperative behaviors and strategic thinking by experiencing others’ thinking and relating it to their own. One third grader, for instance, talked about setting up a “double jump” in checkers, indicating her thinking in relation to her actions.
- Practice autonomy by choosing whether to play the game and to follow its rules. To illustrate, when Carmella’s kindergarten friends wanted to play shadow tag, she chose another activity because she did not want to be “it.”
- Engage in problem solving by deciding how to follow rules and play fairly. In one scenario, a group of first graders was trying to start a game of Go Fish but could not begin their play until they solved the problem of who was to go first.
- Practice critical thinking by monitoring each other’s actions. In a game of dominoes, it is common to hear one child tell another, “That domino doesn’t have the same number of dots. You can’t use that one” (Johnson, Christie, et al., 1999).
Games suitable for young children have one or two simple rules, include all children who want to participate, encourage children to figure things out for themselves, and do not stress being first, winning, or losing. Young children like noncompetitive guessing games such as “I’m thinking of something in the room that is . . . ,” simple sorting and matching games, simple board games (if they can change the rules), and basic running and chasing games.
Children in first through fourth grades need strategy games that develop problem-solving and decision-making abilities while encouraging them to think about others’ thoughts and feelings. Board games and active outdoor group games are typical of this age for both boys and girls. With an emphasis on involvement, mutual enjoyment, and respect, group games can promote basic intellectual and social skills in children through fourth grade.
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