Prevent bullying on the playground by creating teams through fun and inclusive games.

Guest blogger Ben Stein is a Playworks Program Director in San Francisco and trainer. He previously worked full-time as a national trainer and curriculum developer providing professional development workshops to schools and youth organizations across the country.

I flew home from leading a play workshop one afternoon last spring still in my Playworks t-shirt. The lady in the seat next to me, Elsie, struck up a friendly conversation, and soon I was telling her about the unique quality of Playworks games. Instead of having captains pick kickball teams, we count off by apples, oranges or play a fun grouping game.

This struck a chord for Elsie, and she shared a story from her childhood. The story was of being picked last for teams throughout elementary school recess, middle school and even high school PE. She remembered feeling like a loser and never making the effort to improve athletically. As she shared this story, I could see the hurt in her face. “I never really got over that. I still remember the pain,” Elsie told me.

I know that if I can spread Elsie’s story and help prevent more people from feeling that exclusion, I have done my job. So I want to share my all time favorite grouping game–Shipwreck.

In the game of Shipwreck, the leader (Captain) calls out commands and the players (the crew) must get into groups of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and complete an action. This game is fun AND once it has been played, the leader can then use the commands to create teams for other games. Here are my favorite Shipwreck commands:

  • Roll call. Crew members put their feet together, salute and say “aye-aye captain!”

  • Swab the deck. The crew must act like they are mopping the deck of the ship.

  • Lighthouse. The crew get into pairs, place their hands together over their heads, and turn in a circle making a “beep, beep, beep” sound.

  • Sailor overboard. The crew gets into groups of three. Two players join hands and the third gets in the middle holding their hand over their eyes as if looking for the person overboard.

  • Row to shore. Crew gets in lines of four; players act as if they are rowing to safety, while singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”.

  • Chow time. The crew gets into groups of five, forming a circle facing each other and act as they are eating quickly out of a bowl saying. “Nom. nom. nom. nom.”

If a player cannot find a team, that person can come stand by me until the next command. When creating two different kickball teams from a group of 30, I like to be one of two games. 1) Give a few different Shipwreck commands, ending with chow time then have three groups become one team and the other three become another team. 2) Give a few different Shipwreck commands, ending with lighthouse, then have each pair play a game of Rock Paper Scissors. The players who cut, smashed or covered the others’ paper, scissors or rocks join one team. The other players form the second team.

As the adults on the playground, we have the responsibility to make kids feel safe and have fun. Let’s honor Elsie and lead fun and inclusive play that prevents bullying on the playground!

Want to learn how to play Shipwreck and other group management techniques from a Playworks Trainer like Ben Stein? Find out more about our professional development workshops here!

What’s your favorite grouping technique?

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