bringing fun to children in need

Here’s the beginning of what I hope will turn out to be a not too long, but fun, and fruitful correspondence:

I am currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a Eastern European country 😀 Like you I believe in power of play! and will be creating a games seminar for teachers here in the near future. I have never done a seminar like this before and was hoping you could send me some tips on how to be a great fun coach! Our main goal is to get children interacting with each other since their is such a big divide between the Roma (gypsy) children and the local children. The teachers have not been raised with the basic games we were brought up with due to a soviet union upbringing so most of everything I will be teaching them will be new. My biggest challenge right now is finding games for younger children (1st grade) that promotes sportsmanship and team work. Could you help me out here? 😀

I reply:

My first impulse would be to try to learn from the teachers what games they know. Sports? Chasing games like hide and seek? Rock/Scissors/Paper? Jump rope? Paddy cake? Not what games the kids know, but the teachers, because they will need to connect with the playful part of their own persons before they can hope to nurture that in the children.

Just having them talk about the games they remember playing, and the games they still play, is a kind of healing, happy thing for them to be doing. And should be very informative for you. You might also talk to them about when these games are the most fun for them. What is it like when it’s fun. What do people do to help make it fun, to keep it fun? Again, these are evocative questions, and fun just to discuss. But also they pave the way for people to gain an awareness of the dynamics of leading games, which is just as important as the games themselves.

Next, I’d have them work together in teams to make up a variation of one of the games or sports they know. I’ve had a lot of luck with my Junkyard Sports approach (see for how this might work. Check out the “Hall of Games” for some more inspiration.)

Basically, the idea is to “adapt” the game so that it can be played with whatever materials are on hand, in what ever environment is most easily accessible (classroom, hallway, sidewalk, lawn). So, they might start with soccer, but use a paper wad instead, and find a way to play it on a table, using only, what, the backs of their hands?

After I hear from you again, maybe after you’ve had a chance to do this informally with a few teachers, I’ll be able to make some more specific suggestions. In general, my advice is, first of all, that you have fun with this, because your fun will be the best teacher.

As for you, you expert player you, consider yourself welcome to kibitz, especially if you know of games that Roma or East European kids play, or have any other culture-specific advice. This is an important opportunity. Our help is needed. It should be fun.


  1. FloraC on March 3, 2011 at 11:08 am

    There is a game that I believe is Russian, but it may be Rumanian called the Bear is Sleeping. One child is the bear and s/he is blindfolded and pretends to sleep. The other children take turns touching the bear in an attempt to wake it up. When the bear wakes, s/he has to guess which child has touched it, if the guess is successful, that child becomes the bear. (the bear decides when it will wake, or it can be announced by the adult “Uh oh the bear is waking up”

    I would also think of games that you played as a child and try them. Also ask the kids to teach you some games.

    Good luck.

    • Bernie DeKoven, FUNcoach on March 3, 2011 at 11:39 am

      Thanks, Flora. I found out that they do in fact play Soccer. Still haven’t found any Moldovan children’s games per se, though I’m confident they have something like that bear game you described.

      I’ve been in touch again with our Peace Corps friend. Here’s what I advised:

      Not to discourage you, but if you only have one session altogether, there is very little you are going to be able to accomplish. So you need to maybe focus on accomplishing fewer goals, playing fewer games.

      I agree that some presentation about the benefits of play would be of value. And agree even more that a brainstorm is the best approach. It brings them much more personally into the discussion. (I was very encouraged to discover that you were thinking like that).

      I also agree that Rock/Paper/Scissors Tag is a very good choice. Having the kids change sides as the game progresses is really all you need to do to encourage teamwork. This can be instituted in almost all the games that you recommend. There’s another game (one that you can play in doors) that is also based on Rock/Scissors/Paper – it’s called Panther Person Porcupine – see this – you can have the players make up any three animals, giving each a motion and sound. You can also see me in action as I lead the game. These two make for a nice sequence because they are variations of the same basic game. Also, Rock/Scissors/Paper is a great game to teach kids to help them resolve conflicts. After each game, you might want to consider having a conversation about what made the game fun, how people contributed to the fun of it, what social skills kids are practicing during the game, what benefits playing these games have, and what other games could benefit from the principle of changing sides or playing with three teams.

      By now, you’ve spent at least an hour.

      If you’re still outside this might be a good chance to play something like soccer, only challenging the teachers to adapt the game so that it incorporates the principles of Panther/Person/Porcupine – losing players join winning side, playing with three teams. This would also be a good time to have them make a ball out of plastic bags. They might find this presentation helpful –

      Exploring indoor games more, they can then try to adapt their soccer game to playing in a classroom or some other environment (like a table top as in bag flicking).

      You’ll find a really extensive collection of games here – – I would recommend that instead of cookie jar, you try playing Numbers – – it’s similar, but it is very flexible and again a game that people can change. When you teach it, make sure that players who make a mistake aren’t punished or made to go out of the game. Just laugh, and start over with the next player. This leads to a good opportunity to point out that there’s very little advantage to having kids not play. Better to change games and adapt them so that there’s always inclusion.

      By now, you’ll have used at least two hours of your session, you’ll have given teachers a positive, fun, playful experience, an opportunity to discover how they can change games, how to play more inclusively, how to involve kids in making up their own games.

      Now you can go over the teachers’ brainstorm re the benefits of play and have them check off which ones they experienced, and perhaps add to the list.

      If you can convince anyone, it would be wonderful if you could arrange a follow-up session, perhaps even videotape some of the teachers playing with their kids and show the tapes during the session – give the teachers a sense of accomplishment, effectiveness, and help them identify which teachers might become champions of more fun.

      I know you had a lot of other ideas for games, but the more successful you are, the more game ideas you’ll have coming from the teachers themselves. As long as you’re clear about inclusion and invention, all your goals should be met.

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