bringing fun to children in need

by Bernie DeKoven on March 3, 2011

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 :D 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? :D

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 http://www.junkyardsports.com/community/ 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.


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