With over 25 years of experience working with kids in schools, our staff and coaches have learned many things about how to set up the most positive, inviting, engaging play experiences. The lessons they’ve learned can be applied on the playground, in the virtual classroom, and at home.
When you are setting up play environments and activities, try on these four strategies:
Encourage youth choice and voice.
– Allow kids to participate or pass, to modify games, to express their creativity, and to warm up to activities over time if they’re not excited right away.
– Ask for student input in designing a few group agreements for activities, such as “try it on,” “encouraging others to step up or step back,” “instead of high-fives today we play an air guitar when we are proud of someone,” and “if someone falls down, the nearest classmate asks ‘are you ok?’”
An extra tip: Once kids are used to group agreements, they can easily transition into the classroom and can be a great way kids can demonstrate choice, voice, influence, and leadership.
Support various learning styles.
Just like in the classroom during lessons, playing is a time when we need to think about how different students learn and engage. Write the rules or group agreements somewhere for students to see, verbally explain instructions and have students repeat, do a practice round to ensure every child has a chance to try it out.
An extra tip: encourage students to point to boundaries of the game as they repeat instructions verbally; utilizing more of their senses will help some students understand.
Transition kids into positions of agency quickly.
When introducing a game, share the rules, select an order or grouping strategy that ensures kids get to make new friends and get to know one another. Explain to kids how games will transition (from leader to leader or in positions) so that everyone has similar expectations. When you start each game, make the space for a kid to quickly transition into being the leader of the game.
An extra tip: When you are describing the rules, have a child demonstrate the rules so the first round can already start with a child leading. Then adults can participate and play, but kids can lead the games. Join in and have fun!
Ask kids to help innovate.
Modifying games is a great way to encourage youth voice, build cultural competency, and make the same games new and exciting. Here are some suggested ways you can ask students how they’d like to modify the games:
– If you were going to rename this game, what would you call it?
– If you were going to add one new action, movement, or rule, to the game, what would it be?
– What is a cheer that we can make up as a group that will encourage players who are successful and less successful?
– Can anyone who speaks another language give us a new magic word in that language which we can use to start and stop the activity?
– What would make this game more fun? What would you change about it?
An extra tip: Play is a strategy to help teachers build cultural competency. You incorporate aspects of the school’s culture and students’ cultures into various games to build trust, awareness, and communities of safety for students. Each time you have modified the game, have a pair of students lead it so the whole group can play again.
And remember, you aren’t in this alone.
Your local Playworker can help you develop strategies that work in your school, classroom, or with particular challenges. Your fellow educators can help brainstorm ways to implement these strategies with your particular school culture. And of course, your students will help you practice these strategies too.
Kids prioritize play, and with your support it will be consistently fun, encouraging, safe, and engaging.