Friday, October 12, 2012

The Board Game Huddle

One of the things I value most about teaching in a cooperative preschool is that the kids get to play a lot of board games together; classics like Hi-Ho Cherrio, Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, and Bingo as well as contemporary winners like Cariboo, Max, Blockus, and Round-Up. I almost feel like I'm cheating sometimes when I pull out a board game, knowing that I'll have a parent-teacher who can focus her full attention on helping the kids manage the play of the game, which is an essential part of helping to manage the turn-taking, which is, if nothing else, the reason we play.

We're not so much focused on the official rules, of course (although as the kids get older, they tend to), but more on the process of figuring out some rules, any rules, to which the huddle of children who want a turn can agree, allowing for children to leave or join the game as their interest ebbs and flows. 

Hi-Ho Cherrio, for instance, can be played according to the rules, but often it's enough to just take turns picking the cherries from our trees and putting them in our buckets, foregoing the spinner altogether. Or sometimes we modify the rules, allowing for teams or by making it a cooperative game in which all the kids are working together to harvest all the fruit from all the trees. Blockus is a game that we've, in fact, never managed to play in the competitive sense because even our oldest children have much more fun with our cooperative version of the "rules," which simply involves working together to cover the entire playing surface, treating it more like a puzzle than a game, cheering not for victory but for successful completion. Mouse Trap is the same way, with building the trap together being waaay more engaging than moving those little mice around on the squares.

Whenever there's a board game set up in the room, there's always a huddle of kids around it, heads together, concentrating on the spinner or dice or stack of cards in the middle of the table. Some worry about the competitive nature of most board games, the arbitrary designation of winners and losers (and indeed, most children's games do this arbitrarily), but playing those games the way we do, with the focus on turn-taking, sequencing, and agreement, every game turns into a cooperative endeavor with everyone working together to create a mutually satisfying experience. 

Notice how the adult has a hand on the centerpiece of this game of Bingo. This is a simple, but effective technique for helping young children with the sometimes challenging, but essential cooperative process of turn-taking.

I feel like I'm cheating because there's no set-up involved. I just put a box on the table and let the kids go with their parent-teacher, typically finding I need only check in once or twice, joining that huddle of heads around the table. The only downside, and it's one I always apologize for in advance, is that after an hour of non-stop board game play (and it's always non-stop), especially of the Candyland or Cariboo variety, the adults usually report feeling like they're about to go insane from the Sisyphusean repetition of the play. 

This repetition, this building it up only to knock it down, this urge to repeatedly fill it up only to dump it out, is fundamental to early childhood learning, even if it does leave us adults a little dazed. That's why I try to never assign board game duty to the same parent-teacher twice!

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1 comment:

Meagan said...

Do you have a favorite first board game? What age do kids start playing board games?

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