Cooperative Games Children Love

Question: What’s one way you’ve refashioned a competitive game to make it more cooperative and still fun?

A: In pinball, my dodgeball replacement, players throw or roll balls to knock down small plastic bowling pins. We use two teams and several balls per team. To start, the teams face each other, their players on either side of a midline and their own pins in a horizontal line behind them. Some players begin as throwers and some as pin guards, but players may change positions freely. On a musical cue, the players try, without crossing the midline, to knock down each other’s pins. Because the pins are low targets, very few players get hit with the balls. If a child is throwing dangerously, we stop the game and remind everyone about safety and the fact that the targets are the pins, not the people. Players get to reset one of their teams’ knocked-down pins by catching a ball thrown by the opposing team or throwing a ball through a basketball hoop. Players who throw a ball caught by a member of the other team go to a holding place but are freed by throwing a ball to or catching a ball from a teammate. With these and other strategies for resetting pins and keeping players in the game, “winning” is virtually impossible. Plus, playing is a lot more fun than winning, so if all the pins on either side do go down, we just stand them up and keep on going!

Gina Forberg teaches physical education to kindergartners through fifth graders at the King’s Highway School in Westport, Connecticut.

A: A cooperative version of Musical Chairs generated lots of fun and laughter for kindergartners through second graders. As in the traditional Musical Chairs, there’s one less chair than there are players. But when the music stops, the goal is to try to fit everyone into the available chairs—for example, by sharing, sitting on laps, or touching chairs instead of sitting in them. First, the students and I would brainstorm these possible ways. Then we’d model and practice everything, from using each strategy safely and respectfully to moving safely to the chair. With fifteen to twenty students, we could complete the game in ten to fifteen minutes. I used this version of Musical Chairs for indoor recess and also as an activity for Morning Meeting.

Lauri Bousquet taught intermediate and middle school students and worked as a reading specialist and professional development specialist. She currently teaches at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, and is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.

A: In the competitive version of Pass the Chicken, a single player sits in the middle of a circle formed by all the other players and tries to answer a question before a beanbag chicken (or any small toy) makes its way around the circle. Knowing that being alone inside the circle might be scary for second graders, I restructured the game to put five children together in a small circle inside the larger one. As the game progresses, children take turns being in the inner circle. I start each round by posing a question that requires a list of answers, such as “Name ten vegetables,” and start the beanbag around the outer circle. The inner circle children take turns giving answers, with respectful help, if needed, from their inner circle teammates. We keep the game going until everyone has been part of the inside circle. No one gets out, and the game moves so fast that the focus stays on the fun and on helping teammates find answers. Pass the Chicken is just plain fun, but it’s also great for practicing rote facts in all areas of the curriculum. In math, for example, the question might be “What are some multiples of five?” I’ve also used it to review social skills, such as the five ways to respond when I signal for quiet: eyes on the speaker, mouth quiet, body still, ears listening, hands free.

Patricia Lawrence teaches second graders at the Hunnewell School in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.

Tags: Movement

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