Debra Hasbrook, M.Ed.
I love playing games with children. Every developmental stage brings its own fun to the game.
When my grandson Kanen was an infant he loved any game that surprised him, like peek-a-boo, toys that would mysteriously appear, and “I’m going to get you,” a chase game. At this is the age games can be played that build trust and attachment.
As a toddler he loved balls of all shapes and sizes. Playing a game with the balls meant rolling him the ball, and then he would kick it, roll it, roll on it, pick it up and run with it. The game rarely included sending it back to me. This is the age of independent play, but children seek out their care giver for fun interaction and support.
Around the time that Kanen turned three we introduced him to chess. A great game for children and can be started when they are very young if you introduce it in small steps. However, very young children do not understand rules. Games for threes must only have one rule. If it is a matching game, the rule is the pictures match. Games where you must role dice, or spin a spinner, count spaces, follow a specific path are not appropriate for three’s. The three year old will be very sensitive to winner or loser. Play games where everyone wins, and there are no losers.
The four year old appears to have the language and maturity to handle games. Alas, no. Games for this age still follow the rules for three’s. You can play Candy Land, Uno, Chutes and Ladders and have a good time. As long as you understand that a four year old will create their own rules, they will cheat; they will get bored, and might not be able to handle the emotional trauma of losing.
By the time Kanen was five he was able to play simple 2 rule games. He understood that there were rules that must be followed, and he was aware of when he was making up his own rules. Just go with the flow you will have more fun. This was when his parents began putting him into organized sports.
There is nothing funnier than watching little one’s play t-ball. The softball is placed on a stationary stand, the batter wears a helmet that always seems to flop forward covering their eyes, and they always miss the ball when they swing. The child is allowed to swing until they hit the ball, this can take some time. Then there is always the question of which way they will run, to 1st or 3rd base. You may see children in the outfield sitting, or dancing. It is an opportunity to introduce teamwork and having fun doing something active. Often the parents will keep track of runs or who won even though at this young age it is not about who won, it’s about participation.
Caution and consideration should accompany any organized sport with children under six or seven. Their cognitive function and emotional development have not matured to the point where they can assimilate and replicate the rules and order of an organized sport. If you have ever watched five’s and six’s playing soccer you will understand. They move in a large pack, get upset when they get kicked, get tired and sit down in the field, leave the field without permission because they were offended by another player’s behavior, etc.
Play games with children, let the rules slide, it doesn't matter who wins, but it will matter who loses. Have fun, and be aware of a child’s development when designing and implementing games to play.
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