It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose, It’s How You Play the Game

Games are a wonderful way for families to play and learn together. Unfortunately, not all games are well suited for young children and even the “Junior” versions of some board games are not intended for toddlers or preschool aged children. Patience is a fine virtue, but if you can get young children involved earlier, it can be a wonderful opportunity for them to build motor, social, emotional and intellectual skills.

Your first consideration should be safety. A lot of games come with small pieces, and you want to think about what your options are before the pieces in question are swallowed. Can you switch out the pieces with something bigger that would work just as well? Can you switch up the rules or how the game is played so that the pieces aren’t even necessary? For example, you might be able to keep score with a pad and paper instead of moving placeholders.

In terms of motor skills, a lot of games have a hands-on element that is perfect for developing fine motor coordination. Playing Dominos or Jenga by the rules might work well for an older child, but a younger child can still use the blocks and tiles for building, stacking, and balancing. For older children with better motor control, Scrabble tiles and playing cards provide a more challenging building experience.

The very act of playing with the physical pieces helps children to make connections with a lot of abstract concepts. Dice can be a great way to practice counting. Playing cards can be sorted by colour, suit or face value. Recognizing the labels on game boards or building words with Scrabble tiles help children to learn and practice spelling. Learning to think abstractly comes with time, and it starts with concrete real world experiences.

Speaking of which, rules can be tricky, and ideas like sportsmanship and fair play take some time to learn. You can expect most children to go through a phase where they only want to win. They will either want to ignore rules or make up their own on the fly. That’s normal, and they are learning how rules work in the process. In a similar fashion, older children are often incredibly strict about the rules, which can be very frustrating for their younger siblings. Be patient, and try to emphasize the fun and excitement of the game. Being the first across the winning line is exciting, but if you’re just as excited about your “2nd winner” and “3rd winner” you can encourage them to keep trying. If the game is only fun when you win, then it can be hard to convince anyone to play again. On the flip side, if they are having fun they will be very engaged, want to keep playing and learn all kinds of skills and information in the process.

Success Stories from our Adult Tutor Program

Three months ago, I was privileged to become part of the Centre for Family Literacy team as Coordinator of the Volunteer Program. In my role, I have the pleasure of getting to know some of the most generous people I know – people who make space in their often busy lives to give of themselves to make a difference in someone else’s life. Many of our volunteers have committed to work with us as tutors, meeting weekly with an adult learner who is eager to improve their reading, writing or math skills.

In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve already encountered more success stories than I can recount here. For example, the learner from China who had made up her mind to return to her home country when her children got older. But through her work with one of our tutors, her love grew for English and for Canadians and she decided instead to stay. Or the learner who dropped out of high school to work, but was discouraged when he discovered he could not read and write well enough to get a good job. While he worked with his tutor he began to enjoy books, read the newspaper with comprehension, and believe in himself. Now he is studying at NAIT.

Many of our learners are no longer coming to the Centre because they have achieved their goals: entering the workforce, passing difficult exams, or reading with ease to their children and grandchildren. Thanks to their tutors, they have each grown not only in skill but also in confidence. Perhaps one of the most rewarding transitions I’ve observed is seeing adults who came to us as learners and are now volunteering as tutors themselves. What a beautiful picture of ‘giving back.’

Several of our tutors have nominated their students for a Lois Hole Award. These awards recognize an outstanding individual who has shown a commitment to his or her own learning. Here is how one of our nominated learners is described by her tutor:

“She is one of the bravest people I know. Her long-term goal is to go to NAIT to take banking and business to improve her employment prospects. In order to enhance her English skills, she is working in a Dollar Store as well as supervising grade five students on their lunch break. She often endures harassment from the customers in the Dollar Store when she cannot understand quickly enough or is unsure of how to handle a situation. Yet her determination to reach her goal is undiminished. She goes to the store for each of her shifts and does her best, hoping to improve her English sufficiently to be accepted at NAIT.

She is always smiling and she never hesitates to give me a warm welcome when I arrive. She is usually at the Centre before I am, and I will find her working on homework for either our class or another one that she is taking. She is willing to try new approaches to learning and often asks me to help with work she does not understand in other classes.

She has made a great deal of progress in speaking, reading, and writing English since our first lesson. Her determination to learn more, her high intelligence and her unflagging optimism should enable her to meet her goals.”

We recently published a collection of similar success stories from our Adult Tutor program.  If, like me, you can never hear too many of these stories, feel free to request your own copy of Life Changing Stories from the Centre for Family Literacy here:  volunteer_coordinator@famlit.ca

 

Planning for the New Year

January is a reflective time of year for most families. When we look back at last year, are we satisfied with our accomplishments? What do we hope for in the new year?

Some of our hopes often seem to be unattainable. Do we all dream of winning the lottery and retiring to live in the sunshine – or is that just me?

How can we make our hopes become a reality? Often the first step is to talk about them. It helps to write them down and break things into smaller, manageable pieces. My family used to sit and talk about our hopes for the year ahead and my daughter would “take the minutes”. She felt very important, and we got to talk as a family about some of the bigger issues that don’t often come up in our day to day lives. My daughter still loves to write and use calendars to plan!

One January we made plans for special family activities that we wanted to do over the year. As we talked it was surprising to find that we each had different ideas of what was special. My husband was focused on a one week driving vacation; I thought it would be fun to learn something like snowshoeing, as a family; and my daughter just thought it would be fun to go sledding together more often. With this in mind, we planned times to do all of it and we each got our special time.

Do you plan together as a family? How has it gone? Were you surprised by the richness of ideas that came forward and the fun you had, not only while you did the activities but also the planning?

Play! Have fun and learn

PLAY! A simple word with so much meaning. How unfortunate that as we get older we forget how important it is to stop and have fun. Play.

Play is how children learn. They learn movement through play; they build the core muscles and develop their large motor skills — essential before perfecting the small motor skills they will later need for holding a pencil and commanding it on paper.

Crawling, rolling, spinning, jumping, hopping and skipping are all part of big body play. Being messy while learning to feed yourself, creating with playdough (rolling, kneeding), finger painting, building with blocks and finger tapping to melodies are all part of small body play. For a child, all of these skills are critical to developing the muscle control needed for the rest of their lives. Children are not hardwired to sitting still. They need to be moving and using all of their senses to really learn from their environment and experiences. They need to touch, taste, smell, feel, hear and talk about what they are doing.

Play is fun! Play also encourages the brain’s creativity centre. Play promotes language skills. When we are playing we can be in deep thought as we are trying to build that tower or create that sculpture. We learn to keep trying when it doesn’t work out. We learn problem solving when we have to try again. We can be loud while pretending we are animals in the jungle or aliens in outer space, or race car drivers racing in our cardboard boxes. Whether your child likes playing aloud or quietly, you have the opportunity of using language with them. Get down on your child’s level and play alongside them. With very young children it is okay to narrate their play. You are building on their vocabulary as you comment on the colours, shapes, sizes or sounds around them. Don’t be afraid of making up stories and singing your own tunes. Your child adores the sound of your voice. Play encourages relationship building. Children won’t necessarily recall the meals they ate or the clothes they wore, but they will have memories of the days spent sitting on the floor singing, laughing, tickling, playing hide and seek, and being silly with their parents.

When children are playing together they are learning so much more than we can hope to teach them any other way. They are learning social awareness, emotional thinking, and more. They are learning to compromise, be in relationships, and to take turns. This all seems very simple on one level, but it really goes quite deep and is worth investing some time to ensure you promote play in your family life. With our busy schedules and hectic lives, we need to remember that playing is crucial and there is no substitute.