Games provide fun and memorable learning opportunities. These games are like seeds. They contain clear learning objectives we desire our students to explore and achieve. Packed within the games are opportunities to practice skills which enrich our lives. What I love about our profession is that these “seeds” contain potential for lifelong learning which goes beyond the physical. We all know a moving child is a learning child. So let’s investigate how some games we already play can teach our students about relating to each other and understanding themselves as well.
I’m a storyteller at heart, so I gravitate toward imaginative activities containing characters who interact with one another as well as the game’s environment. During game play, each participant’s choices affect themselves, others, and the game environment. Sound like real life?
Yet for a time, I had been so focused on specific Physical Education learning objectives (i.e. throwing, personal space, locomotor
movements, fitness components), I wasn’t seeing other possible learning opportunities. I was aware of the social aspects of the activities (teamwork, sportsmanship, respect, and responsibility) and would touch on them. But one day, while the students were participating in a classic aerobic based warm up activity, a light came on.
The game was Builders and Blasters (aka Builders and Bulldozers & other
titles, the creator unknown to me). For those who might be unaware, the object of the original game is for one team to stand a cone up, while the other team lays them down. While there are various ways to play this game, I was using Speed Stacks the day the light came on for me. One team would up-stack a simple 3-3-3 while the other team was down-stacking.
For some reason, I started watching the students and how they
responded (positive or negative) to the actions of each other and the game environment. Questions began to form in my mind and I was curious to hear their answers. After providing all students an opportunity to up-stack and down-stack, I had them sit down in our center circle. I began with a simple question. “What was more fun? Up-stacking or Down-stacking?” There were varied responses to this question. Then I asked the following question, “Which was easier?” Ah, now the answers were more one-sided. The down-stacking was the easiest, according to a high percentage of students. “What makes it easier to down-stack than up-stack?” Many opinions were shared, but the common theme was it took less time, work, and thought. Tear them down and move on to the next.
Then I asked, “So what is easier to do, hurt someone’s feelings or say kind things to them?” Just a bit of silence followed as the students digested this unexpected question. One hand after another rose with an
all too similar answer. “It’s way easier to hurt someone’s feelings…” was the common answer. I followed up with “Why do you think it’s easier to hurt someone? Strikingly, their answers were similar to the reason down-stacking was easier. Hurtful words come out of us with little to no effort or thought. Some students even pride themselves on how easily they can “roast” or “burn” someone, tear someone down, get a few laughs and move on to the next victim.
I decided to follow up with questions I wasn’t sure would get answered. I asked if they’ve ever been hurt by other people’s words or actions. Quite a few raised their hands. Taking another chance, I asked if anyone would like to share what happened and how it made them feel. Several opened up and shared their experiences and hurts. I lauded their
honesty and felt ready to ask this next question: “Have you ever hurt someone with your words and actions?” Slowly, hand after hand raised. When I thanked them for their honesty, a few students wanted to confess what they had done. I was surprised and deeply moved by their humility. Their courage opened the door for others to admit their faults in front of the class.
We then discussed the power of our words and how we could actually build someone up with them instead of tear them down. Speaking kind, beneficial, and empowering words actually strengthen those who hear
them. It is also how we want people to treat us! A quote I found sums it up perfectly: “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” (from Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian poet) Our words have much power!
After this experience, I began to notice other possible learning opportunities in activities we already use. I would write down the name of the activity and the possible concept, saving it for when the activity was needed. It wasn’t long before the follow-up to Builders and Blasters was born.
Builders and Blasters showcased our need to build each other up with our words and actions. But what do you do when you realize you’ve hurt someone? What do you do if you’ve been hurt? What are the next steps?
Enter Halloween Tag by Joey Feith. Halloween Tag? Really? I know, it surprised me, too! We had played this fun game the year before as part of our chasing/fleeing/strategies unit. There are three main characters in this game (others can be added to increase strategies). Witches (taggers), Wizards (rescuers), and the poor hapless souls who get chased by the witch. The witch tags with a tap of a noodle, turning the students into stone. The Wizard comes along and heals the player with 3 taps of his/her noodle.
The students decided that the witch had the easiest job. All the witch had to do was indiscriminately mow through the students. The wizard’s job was a bit harder. It took actual decision making and time to accomplish its task. The wizard had to look for those in need, get to them and then take the time to heal them by tapping them three times while saying, “you are free!”
The lesson to be learned here is forgiveness. Once you hurt someone (tagged by the witch), you need forgiveness (healed by the wizard). And once you’ve been hurt, forgiveness can help you heal. Hurting is easy.
Forgiveness on both sides is hard and takes work. There are ways to make the learning go deeper here. I didn’t explore this with the students, but there are ghost characters in Joey’s game who also tag the players, albeit with different consequences. I gave the ghosts the ability to chase the wizard as well as the others, making it harder for the wizard to do his or her job. To me, the ghost could represent bitterness, an active adversary to forgiveness. Those who are bitter don’t want to forgive. They want to sabotage the process and hurt the offender instead.
Games like these have the potential to teach great skills or concepts and expose our students to new experiences. They also have the power to teach students how to reflect on their actions in daily life, not just during game play. Children learn best through play. It is how we all learn best. So let’s help them learn these valuable physical, mental, and social skills by providing them with a variety of creative experiences. These experiences can help them explore and reflect on their feelings, decisions, and actions.
As Physical Educators, we have many people seeking to tell us what our final “product” should look like. Regardless of what final outcome you work towards, all of them include people. Not every student we teach will master the skill of throwing and utilize it to a great degree later in life. However, that student will be in community with others and need to be able to relate to others in positive ways. The bulk of the experiences we offer our students take place in community. Home, school, work, and play are ways in which we all interact with each other. So let’s let them learn these valuable skills through play. It is our unique privilege and position to do so. No other classroom has this opportunity.
Cliff Roop has been teaching Physical Education for 23 years in Indiana at Blackhawk Christian School. He also spends time mentoring young men. He enjoys teaching, making movies, reading, journaling/blogging and spending time with his wife & two children. Cliff and his wife, Jean, are also foster parents.