Smart Play - Excerpt
101 Fun, Easy Games That Enhance Intelligence
This is a no-fail game. I’ve played this game in so many countries with so many different kids that I can guarantee kids will jump for it. The game is also rich in variations. It can be easy; it can be challenging; and it can even help kids learn their shapes, numbers, letters, and colors.
At home, you can make the game a bit mysterious the first time you play it. For example, one day when the kids are running around and you want them to focus their energy, do this: start setting up the game. Add to the mystery by not saying, if you’re asked, what you are doing. Just murmur an enticing “You’ll see.”
By the time you’re done, the children will be gathered round and ready for whatever!
Pull out six to nine newspaper pages. Fold the pages in half and draw a shape on each with markers or crayon. Or, you can cut each page into a different shape. Start with the ordinary shapes—circle, square, rectangle, triangle, and star—and later, or if you have older children playing, add shapes such as pentagons, octagons, hexagons, and rhomboids.
Tape each newspaper page on the floor, one right above the other, forming a vertical line. (The more pages you use, the harder the game.) Start off simply by jumping forward from one shape to the next, inviting the children to follow you. Call out the shapes as you land on them. Do it a few times, always starting from the first shape and jumping on each shape until the last one.
Then call out different shape names for each child to jump to. For younger children, keep the instructions short (“Jump from the square to the circle”). For older children, make the instructions longer (“Jump from the circle to the triangle to the octagon”). If you want to increase a child’s ability to remember, or if you want to make the game more interesting for an older sibling or playmate, make the instructions increasingly complicated, such as “Walk on your heels to the star, tiptoe to the rectangle, and hop four times on the circle.” Or, “Jump sideways to the square and then backward to the triangle and then over the next three ones and land on the pentagon.” Or, “Hop on your left foot to the square, then twirl in the air and land on the hexagon.”
Instead of making shapes on the newspaper pages, draw different colors, numbers, or letters on each section.
What is being learned
There is so much to learn from these games. Children learn about shapes (or colors or numbers or letters), plus they improve their balance by jumping and hopping. They are also learning to move their bodies in a variety of ways.
When you ask players to follow a series of instructions, you’re also improving their memory skills—their ability to listen, remember, and do it.
But, most of all, playing Jump the Shapes gives you and the children the awareness of the rich variety of games that can be played with something as common as yesterday’s news.
On a rainy day, you can turn any room into a fun zone with this game. Set up the first course yourself, but once the kids get the idea of how to do it, let them come up with their own ideas. My agile children would come up with ways of moving through the obstacle course that I never would have thought of—and couldn’t do if I wanted to!
Optional: bell or tambourine, or drum, or some other noisemaker
Use the furniture to make an obstacle course.
Think prepositions. You want something to go under, something to go over, something to go around, something to go between, and something to go across.
Think directionally: something to climb up, something to go down, something to go into, and something to go out of.
Think action verbs: something to jump over; something to climb on; something to skip around; something to walk forward, backward, or sideways to; something to crawl to or under; and something to run to.
Mark the start of the obstacle course with a piece of paper, rug, or anything that defines that space as the beginning. This rule helps kids not cut in front of each other and gives some order to the game if many children are playing together. I like to add a bell or noisemaker of some kind atthe end to signal a successful completion; most children really like ringing a bell or shaking a tambourine to announce their triumph to the world. Children can go one after the other or they can take turns going through with everyone applauding each person’s success.
Some suggestions for obstacles:
Play the game outside using obstacles like:
What is being learned
Children learn about relating objects to one another by making a course. They learn about their relationship to these objects, e.g. some things are lower than they are and they have to adjust their body to wiggle under them. They’re also learning about prepositions, directions, and action verbs in a way that is meaningful to them, while enhancing their motor skills by using a variety of movements. And parents will be glad to see that their children can be inventive and find active ways to entertain themselves.
When children are jumping kangaroos who are either trying to bump or avoid getting bumped by other jumping kangaroos, they’ll get plenty of experience in spatial relationships! This game helps children notice where they are in space, what’s around them, and what’s coming at them.
Kangaroo Ball is also a wonderful outlet for excess energy, so it’s great for a birthday party when you want something that will burn off the sugar the children just ate.
“Gentle balls” (simple balls made out of newspaper or plastic bags scrunched up and taped closed) or store-bought foam balls
Each player starts with a ball on the floor in front of her. The players then squat down and, using their knees, pick up their balls. Then, holding the balls between their knees, they jump around like kangaroos. Call out different kinds of jumps for the players to do, such as:
Have the players count, if they want to, how many of each kind of jump they can do without dropping the ball.
In the regular game, children have to avoid bumping into each other so they don’t lose their ball. In this variation, you tell them that they can bump hips (gently) to see if they can get other players to drop their balls while not losing their own ball. Many children will find this variation the most fun of all. But you know your players best. It could invite trouble if the players tend to be raucous.
What is being learned
Besides developing their awareness of space so that they don’t (or do) bump into others, children are developing their lower body strength by jumping and gripping the balls with their legs. When they try different ways of moving, they are developing their ability to isolate and use different muscle groups.
There’s a lot to be learned from just being still. In this visualization game, stillness, imagination, and a belief in one’s inner wisdom rule. If done in the evening, this game can help children integrate the day’s experiences. In the morning, it’s a way to focus and fill their bodies with energy for the day ahead.
Ask the players to sit cross-legged with their spines straight and hands relaxed. Give these instructions: “First, let’s take four deep breaths. Take a big breath in through your nose and imagine that you are filling your belly up with air; let your stomach expand, then let that air fill up your lungs and let your chest expand. (Pause) Now empty the air out of your mouth and then out of your chest, letting your chest deflate; push the last of the air out of your belly by pulling in on your stomach muscles.”
After the four deep breaths, return to normal breathing pattern and add the following:
“Imagine that there is a shining star right above your head, the kind that radiates starshine from each of its points. One of those points is pouring energy to the top of your head. Take a breath and imagine that energy is coming down through the crown of your head and down your spine, and exhale it right out the base of your spine into the ground under you.
“This energy keeps going down into the earth, all the way down, until it reaches the center of the planet. Then inhale, and all this deep earth energy travels back up the same way and enters the base of your spine. It travels up until it goes back out the top of your head and right up to the star, making the star shine even brighter.
“Then exhale all that bright white energy that comes down from the star right into your head again. It travels down your spine and leaves your body to go back to the center of the earth.”
“Now inhale that earth energy up again, through your spine, and this time breathe out and let it spill out through the top of your head like a waterfall, showering and enveloping your body.
“Do this three more times, going at your own pace, starting with the star above your head and ending with a waterfall of star glitter.”
At the quiet end of this session, suggest to the players that this is a good time to pose a question to themselves, such as “What should I do about this problem I’m having?” Suggest that they can expect the answer to come—if not right away, then later in some form, such as an overheard remark, a phrase in a book or song, a friend’s advice that feels very right.
What is being learned
Children practice visualizing and seeing with their mind’s eye. They also develop an ability we all need in our lives, learning to be still and access the quiet intelligence within.
Office supply stores stock a lot of things that can entertain children. For one daughter’s fifth birthday, I bought a file box from an office supply store and filled it with interesting office things: stapler and staples, a variety of pens, index cards, colored tapes, glue sticks, and self-stick labels in a variety of shapes, among other things. You would have thought I had brought her the moon. She and her sister had great fun playing games such as Office with all the stuff. But it was the self-stick labels that really brought out the artists in them.
Let your child make designs or figures out of a variety of labels by sticking them on a piece of paper or card. For example, he can make a simple stick figure with a round label for a head, rectangles for the arms, and a square for the body. He could make one animal figure or a
whole zoo of animals. There’s also no end of abstract designs that can be made. Suggest to your artist that he use his art to make his own greeting cards, such as for Daddy’s birthday.
What is being learned
This is all about creativity. When there is no right or wrong way to do something, imagination is free to do whatever it wants. Because it is easy to do, young children can play and stick right alongside an older sibling and all can feel a sense of accomplishment.
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