Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cheering Together

A few days ago, I was over in our block area, goofing around with some kids, when a cheer went up from across the room. Cheers are often going up around our place. Our "engineering team" tends to send up regular collective shouts when they've achieved one of their goals, like getting the water to flood the playhouse, and we hear them upon the completion of a large floor puzzle, which we almost always assemble in groups. In this case, the kids were cheering about a board game.

I don't often connect these sort of team cheers to board games. More often it's about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, with one child emerging the winner while the others are cajoled with bromides like "It's just a game" and "Better luck next time." We play all sorts of board games, including classics like Candyland, Hi-Ho Cherrio, and Chutes & Ladders, but easily the most popular board games at Woodland Park are a pair of games by a Canadian company, Family Pastimes, called Max and Round-Up. 

Upon opening the boxes, they're both unimpressive: a small board game, a few cardboard pieces. I think one of them may have a die, but the game play is outstanding. Of course, I've never played the games myself. I purchased Round-Up as a new teacher upon the recommendation of a parent whose daughter brought hers to school, engaging a large group of kids, without tears, for over an hour. I was skeptical at first, largely because these games promote themselves as "cooperative" games, which, as a man who is an avid board game player, I suspected was merely a gimmick to move merchandise to "losers." I fully anticipated that once in the classroom mix, the traditionally competitive games would win out against these "feel good" games.

I was wrong. The reason I've never learned to play the games is that there is usually such a crush of kids around the game table that there isn't room for me. These are games designed around children working together to accomplish common goals, which is why they cheer together at the end of the game. And after cheering, someone always says, "Let's play again!" In the case of Max, they are working together to help "little creatures," like birds and mice, make their way home before they are eaten by the cat. In Round-Up, they are working together to round up the horses running wild on the range, not competing, but cooperating.

Included in our version of Max, along with the instructions, is this:

In case you can't read it:


Alfie Kohn, NO CONTEST:
The Case Against Competition

MYTH 1: Competition is Inevitable
Competition is more a matter of social training and culture and not "human nature."

MYTH 2: Competition Keeps Productivity High & is Necessary for Excellence
Trying to do well and trying to beat others are two different things. Success is being confused with competition.

MYTH 3: Recreation Requires Competition
All games require overcoming some obstacle, but nowhere is it written that the obstacle must be other people.

MYTH 4: Competition Builds Character
Studies of 15,000 athletes found no support for the belief that sport builds character, but instead that cooperativeness is linked to emotional maturity and strong personal identity.

J. Krishnamarti, Think on These Things
What matters is to awaken in ourselves this spirit of co-operation, this feeling of joy in being and doing together, without any thought of reward or punishment. Most young people have it spontaneously, freely, if it is not corrupted by their elders

I grew up believing these myths of competition, carrying them well into my adulthood, but my years working with young children has lead me to see that what biologists are increasingly coming to understand about the nature human beings: it is not about "survival of the fittest," but rather "survival of the most cooperative." 

When we compete, we cheer alone: when we cooperate we cheer together.

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Holly said...

A South African story"

An anthropologist proposed a game to African tribe kids. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: "UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?"

UBUNTU in the Xhosa culture means: "I am because we are"

Jeff said...

Hi Tom, It is Jeff from New Zealand. As you know I enjoy your post, and today discovered I share another hobby with you. I too am a board game addict, with an extensive collection. There are a few cooperative board games for "big kids" that you might find interesting. One is called Castle Panic. In this game you are working together to protect your castle from Trolls, Goblins, and Orcs. My daughter was able to easily understand this game when she was four. The best cooperative game today, IMO, is Lord of the Rings the Card Game. You work together, using cards, to beat the quest deck. Recently I was surprised when I showed this game to a fiver year old, and he was able to understand and play the game.