Power of Play: Learning SEL Skills through Games

  1. Updates
  2. SEL

About Playworks

Playworks is a nonprofit that serves 3.5 million students in 7,000 schools nationwide by providing services that instill the power of play in schools. Playworks’ vision is to make sure every child gets to play, every day. We do this by introducing students to safe and engaging games during recess and classroom game time that reinforce valuable social-emotional learning (SEL), interpersonal skills, leadership skills, and more.

Play and SEL 

Through play, kids are able to build their sense of identity and self-esteem in school as well as gain helpful strategies for navigating peer conflict, solving problems, fostering relationships, and managing their own emotions. Playworks recognizes play as a basic human need and supports its partners in introducing and sustaining a culture of play in their school community. 

In the Home

In these difficult and uncertain times, play takes on a whole new level of importance as kids are experiencing changes in their own lives. ALL kids deserve help in managing the complex and rapidly changing emotions they feel on a day to day basis. Playworks plays a key role in building the SEL skills that allow kids to flourish and grow, both in and out of school. That said, sometimes the most powerful instances of disappointment, stress, or frustration happen outside of school, in our own homes and communities.

For example:

You see your bus picking people up but as you run to catch it, it pulls away leaving you behind. 

You’re in line at a cafe and want to treat yourself with a muffin, but someone just ahead of you gets the last one before you get a chance to buy it. 

You make plans with a friend, and after you take time getting ready they call and cancel the plans at the last minute. 

These types of situations can frustrate us, disappoint us, or even make us mad but how do you deal with these things? We encounter challenges every day, both big and small, and we often react to them without even thinking about it. This is a skill that we call self-regulation,  which is the act of managing disruptive emotions and responding with appropriate actions.

At Playworks, our dedicated coaches work hard to help students develop healthy coping mechanisms to help avoid conflicts at recess, often teaching these skills through play.

The Maze Game

“The Maze Game” is a great example of a game that helps kids practice self-regulation.

Maria and Lakari help Felix navigate through the maze at a Junior Coach field trip.

What’s great about The Maze Game is that it involves so much of the self-regulation that we’ve been talking about. Students can easily become more frustrated each time they mess up, but it is that constant trial and error that allows them to figure out their way through. In the video, even though Felix made a mistake, he wasn’t discouraged when he got out. Furthermore, Lakari and Maria who had already made mistakes didn’t quit either, but instead decided to stay on the side and help guide their teammates to success. Through coping mechanisms like persistence, teamwork, and flexibility the students were able to solve the puzzle and gain a sense of accomplishment.

“Even though the maze was hard to get through, we worked together and figured it out” – Felix, Age 9

Self-regulation is a difficult skill for many people to develop but it is even more difficult for children to learn. Often you may see a child cope with difficulty by shutting down, or becoming agitated. If left unchecked, these unhealthy coping strategies can follow children into adolescence and adulthood where consequences become much larger. 

This is a difficult and unprecedented time and is scary for kids and adults alike. Now more than ever, we need to work on developing our self-regulation in order to manage the increased stress that everyone is under. Playworks has provided a number of online resources, including a Playbook, live stream recess, pre-recorded videos. Our Playbook details a number of games and corresponding skills so you can help your children practice some of these important SEL skills at home.

This blog post was written by Playworks AmeriCorps Members, Leah Doherty & Henry Novak.

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