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Games kids can play — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Games kids can play — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My 4-year-old daughter and I were at the children’s museum on a recent hot summer day and encountered three siblings enjoying a game of indoor hide-and-seek. “Lark” soon joined in and played happily with them for over an hour.

This reminded me of how much fun I had as a child playing such games with my siblings and neighbors. I don’t recall our parents actually directing us to do this; it just happened. But since Lark is an only child, and due to my work schedule and every-other-weekend visits with her dad, she hasn’t had an opportunity to connect with playmates near our home.

What is your opinion of the value of playing group games in childhood? I fear I have been neglecting an important part of my parenting duties.

Not “It”

Don’t miss last weeks column on Teaching Disapointment with a Promissory Note

Dear Not “It”

I agree, as would most children and child development experts, that group games are important. So make an effort to connect her with a steady group of children to play some good games. First of all, they’re fun. And fun promotes good mental health as well as good physical health. I interviewed children for their thoughts on good old-fashioned, not-from-the-store games. Here are their quotes, expert rationales, and some examples to play:

“You can play with new kids.”
The roles and rules of group games spell out what each person is supposed to do which helps a child who is new to the group fit in quickly and easily. Hide-and-Seek , as your daughter experienced, is a good example of a game that can easily accommodate a new child.

To play Hide-and-Seek: Declare the physical boundaries of the playing area. Choose “It.” (More on this later.) “It” closes her eyes and counts out loud — usually to 20, but it depends on how vast the playing area is — while the other players find hiding places. Then she declares, “Ready or not, here I come.” The first player found becomes the next “It.” When everyone has been found — or has snuck back to the starting point (better known as “base”), the game starts again.

“You have to think how to do things.”

Mental and physical challenges can keep an old game interesting for years. “Tangle” also known as “Dr. Fix-it” poses both. I learned it in elementary school and saw it again as a “team building exercise” for company events.

To play Dr. Fix-It: One or two people stand with their backs turned to the group who are all holding hands in a circle. Without letting go of their hands, the group gets tangled up – ducking under arms, climbing over arms, etc. When they are good and twisted, they call out, “Dr. Fix-it!” The doctor or doctors must untwist the players, without letting them let go of hands, to their original circle.

“You can learn new words.”

There’s no doubt that communication skills can be sharpened with group games. For example, to play “Huckle Buckle Beanstalk” you must first learn to say it. The ending of the game depends on the group coaxing the last players to find the partially hidden object.

To play Huckle Buckle Beanstalk: All the players but one sit on the floor or on chairs with their eyes closed. They can sing a song to block out any noises made by the remaining player who hides an agreed upon object (something unique such as a brightly colored small ball). A part of the object must be visible so that the players can see it without having to move anything. When the hider calls out, “Ready” all the players go hunting for the object. As each player spots the object he goes back to his seat and says, “Huckle Buckle Beanstalk.” The first to do so gets to be the next hider. Until then, everyone gets a chance to find the object, since they aren’t allowed to touch anything and the object remains tucked away until the last person has found it. If the last few people need help, those who have already spotted it can guide them saying, “Sally’s warmer” as she gets closer, and “Joey’s colder” if he is going away from it. This keeps everyone involved until the end.

“The rules make it fair.”

The basis of any game is an agreed upon set of roles, procedures, and rules such that everyone can work together, or compete, toward a common goal. Social structures such as families, clubs, communities, businesses, legal jurisdictions, and international organizations operate along the same lines. The game of SPUD lets the catcher of the ball take 3 steps before she tries to tag another player with it. Dare she take a fourth step and the other players will quickly set her straight. “Do over” is a legal maneuver in which the action starts over, usually after an argument about whether a procedure or rule was properly followed.

To play SPUD: Each player is assigned a number. “It” calls one of the numbers while throwing a ball high in the air. The player whose number was called becomes the new “It” and calls “Spud!” when his hands are on the ball which lets the others know to freeze. Meanwhile they have been running in all directions away from the ball. Now he chooses his target — a player close to him — and takes his allotted three steps before aiming the ball. If hit, the player gets a letter. If not, the new “It” gets a letter. He then throws the ball calling another number. When any one player gets four letters – “S” “P” “U” “D” – the game starts again.

“You get to run around.”

Today’s workout-avoidant children often need a reason to move, which a good game does without them noticing that muscles are being exercised. The age-old game of Tag has so many variations there’s bound to be one to spark your fancy. “Fox and Rabbit” is great for a large number of children – 11 or more.

To play Fox and Rabbit: All but two players (Fox and Rabbit) stand in evenly spaced rows and columns. Stretch your arms out to be sure you can just touch the fingertips of the nearest players in your row and in your column. One player is the caller who tells the grid whether to all face one direction, arms outstretched, as “trees,” or to turn 90 degrees to be “bushes.” The Fox and Rabbit are not allowed to break through the outstretched arms. The Rabbit gets a head start. Fox then chases Rabbit through the forest as “trees” change to “bushes” and back to “trees” until the Rabbit is caught or both children are exhausted. To start the next round, Fox picks a new Fox and takes her place in the grid. Rabbit picks a new Rabbit and the chase goes on.

A note on picking “It” and other key roles: it should be consistent. The youngest or oldest child might always start the game off. Or the duty might go to the one with the next birthday coming up. Fairness is very important to school-age children, so whatever the method of choosing “It” is, it should remain stable. A particular neighborhood might use “One Potato Two Potato” or another of the countless traditional rhymes used to eliminate all but one child. Visit cocojams  to see if your childhood “It” chooser is there.

“Other kids can teach you more games.”

This was my favorite quote about why children should play games together. If you agree, find more games from other children and former children here
http://www.gameskidsplay.net/, round up a group and start playing!

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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