Lesson Length : 30 minutes
There are many things adults or older kids can do to help all kids in a group feel excited and able to participate in group games and activities.
The following scenarios and stories highlight common situations that arise when playing group games and provide strategies and language for how to respond to them.
To help a child that wants to play but does know how to join the group, have an adult or support person such as a Junior Counselor go up to the child and say, “Want to play the game with me?” The child may respond, “no.” Instead of taking this response at face value, continue to investigate. Ask, “Can you tell me more about why you don’t want to play?” The child may be able to give you a verbal response back and they may not. They may also feel shy and hesitant to bring up a reason. This is a great opportunity for the adult to say something like, “Have you played this game before? Was it challenging for you?” Or, just start explaining how the game works. A child who was too shy to ask the rules now has them available, without having to come forth and ask for them to be explained.
To help a child who wanders off, start with the same strategy. Wandering could be a result of many things, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to play. Consider this scenario:
Meet Nicholas. He is a bright eight-year-old boy with autism who also is nonverbal. He enjoys exploring the garden at his own pace and has the mind of an engineer. He is always problem solving and testing things out to see what fits where and how fast he can make something go. He often spends most of his day alone wandering the garden. Because his default is to wander and spend time on his own it can be easy to assume that, “Nicholas doesn’t like groups, so he probably won’t want to participate in our game.” In fact, Nicholas does enjoy time in groups, he just needs a little more help to be successful in a group game.
This picture is taken during a different group experience, a rocket launch. Notice in this picture that Nicholas is participating in the group with the help of a camp counselor holding his hands. (He is the second kid from the left with a baseball hat on). Then later in the day getting 1-1 time with another counselor to learn more about the rockets.
Again, start by talking with the child and finding a way for them to participate in a meaningful way. Try to figure out what it is that they don’t like about the game. Do they not like to be tagged? Do they have a hard time running? Do they need to be in control of the game for it to be fun?
At the PlayGarden we have a camper who loves group games; his name is Langston. Once again, we were playing ‘What Time is It, Mr. Fox?’, a game nearly every child seems to love because it includes counting, slow progression, and then a sudden change in events. Langston loves to be the fox, as do most of the other kids. If he can’t be the fox, he often removes himself after the first round. However, the camp director knew that Langston liked telling stories and so she suggested that he be the narrator of the game. He quickly latched onto the idea and said, “Like David Attenborough!” and then got busy positioning himself so that he could narrate the ten rounds of the game. Not only did he love it, but the game grew and evolved and became more interesting for the rest of the kids as well.
Bring them over to the group and have them observe around first. While they are observing, explain the game to them and any rules the group has already established. Then be their “bridge” into the play. You don’t want to embarrass the child who is joining in by saying something like” Hey everyone, stop, _______ wants to join in.” Instead, join with the child at a natural point. You can say something like, “Oh you all look like you’re having so much fun! Lee and I are going to join you!” Again, kids want to share in the joy of playing a game. So long as the addition of a “player” is framed positively, kids will be willing to roll with the addition.