All games have rules and these enable everyone to participate and enjoy. Without rules, there are no clear expectations of how to play a game, what is or isn’t acceptable, and what constitutes as success (winning or losing). Rules provide a structure, framework and a common language for everyone to have an equal opportunity to participate. Being able to understand and follow the rules of a game is a key social skill that all children must learn. Children who have difficulties with this will often become socially isolated: they are the independent players in the yard; the ones who are continually excluded from games, and; the ones who are picked last. Being able to understand and follow the rules of a game is essential to building and maintaining friendships; no one wants to play with the child who keeps changing the rules to meet their own agenda.
Focusing on following the rules in games also provides children with the opportunity to practice a number of higher order thinking skills, such as problem solving, conflict resolution, and narrative language. What will they do if people want to play a different game, someone doesn’t follow the rules, or someone doesn’t know how to play the game? Although focusing on teaching a game and the rules of that game seems simple, it actually places them under significant cognitive load – there are so many things for them to think about and consider.
Of course, there are hundreds of different games that children can play! I have tried to choose a range of games, one that I feel vary in complexity, offer some much needed movement for the school day, and can be easily transferred to the yard at recess. Similar to my last blog on ‘Taking Turns and Sharing’, I will be using the structure of a Warm Up, Main Activity and a Cool Down.
In the warm up I define the aim of the lesson, define the key terminology, and introduce the expected language. This can be done through a brain storming activity, giving a verbal explanation or reading a social story. For example, you could use a script such as:
Today are we going to practice following the rules of a game. Rules are important because they allow everyone to know how to play. If you don’t know the rules, you can ask. If someone isn’t following the rules, you can remind them about the rules of that game. When we follow the rules of a game, everyone can have fun!
To finish off the warm up, I like to do a quick engagement activity such as singing a song or watching a short video clip about the topic. I find partner action songs such as ‘Row row row your boat’, ‘Wash the dishes, dry the dishes’ and ‘A sailor went to sea, sea, sea’ are a great introduction to following rules. Remember, the engagement activity should only be short and reinforce the skills of following the rules of a game.
The main activity should focus on practicing the skills of following the rules of a game. I like to divide the main activity into two sections. First, I like to play a game that they already know. I allow the students to collectively choose a game that they would like to play and then get them to explain how that game is played. I try to let the students do this independently, but will step in to help and model strategies are required. Second, I like to introduce and play a new game. Once I have explained the game, I try to allow the students to play independently, but will step in to model how to deal with difficulties that may arise.
The cool down provides an opportunity for reflection and consolidation. I ask students to tell me what skill they practiced (following the rules of a game) and ask them to talk about the experience; was it easy or hard, did they encounter any difficulties, what will they remember to do next time, etc. If I have time and access to the technology, I like to take pictures throughout the session and show them to the students as a tool to generate discussion; what was happening here, were you following the rules, etc. Finally, I would quickly recap the games that they had learned so far.
To further extend the concept of following the rules of games, I like to put some of the responsibility back on the students. I do this by getting them to have some input and ownership of the game. Once they are familiar with the game, I get them to think about some extra rules we could add that would make the game more interesting. We then try out these suggestions and decide if they work. This can be a lot of fun and better yet, the next time we come to play the game, the children have to discuss which rules they are going to include.
To further extend children’s concepts of following the rules of games, I like to get them to work in pairs or small groups and develop their own games. They have to develop the game, identify the rules, name it, trial it in their group, make any changes, and then teach it to the class. This can be difficult and may require some ‘in the moment’ rules to be added, deleted or modified, but is a great way for children to understand the importance of rules.
By working on following the rules, we are building students capacities to problem solve, resolve conflict, concentrate and attend, give explanations, and build and maintain friendships. And best of all, it’s fun; learning is best done when it’s fun!
By explicitly teaching students to follow the rules of games, we are setting them up to succeed.
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