Over the past six years, Play With Purpose has worked with thousands of students, teachers and parents to help build the cognitive abilities that will lead our students to a lifetime of successes. As we worked to develop those skills, we stumbled onto two remarkable discoveries.
First, screen-free games provide a platform to develop leadership skills. This was evident on the very first day of our first enrichment program in Chicago. That day, we discovered that games bring out the natural leadership abilities innate within many students, particularly those students who have not shown or been given the opportunity to demonstratethese abilities.
I will be writing on this topic later next month. Today, I want to focus on the second of these remarkable discoveries and that is that screen-free games are an amazing tool to prevent bullying! This was also evident in that very first program more than six years ago and has been consistently evident not only throughout our programs, but also within the classrooms of the teachers we have worked with over the years.
Shortly after our first Play With Purpose Conference in Chicago in 2009, I received an email from a teacher that attended the conference. In her words,
First of all, I wanted to thank you for a truly remarkable conference. It has given new life to my classroom and lessons. I wish you could experience the energy and excitement of my students as a result of your work. In using games in my classroom, I quickly discovered something beyond our discussions at the conference - GAMES PREVENT BULLYING!
The long-lasting cognitive benefits of students will be your legacy, but the immediate impact these games have had in preventing the tendencies and thoughts that lead to bullying behavior may equally be so. Our school and district have spent thousands of dollars and countless hours to combat the bullying epidemic in our schools. It is very clear to me that screen-free games may be the solution to our problem. Others who have experienced the change in my classroom and students agree.
The first thing that stands out to me is that games create a safe environment that allows students to take risks without feeling vulnerable. The games have also been a great tool for the students to learn about each other in a way they have not done before. Most of the kids have been in the same classes and known each other for five years, yet these games have let them discover things about each other they never knew. Both of these have led to a new understanding and acceptance among my students. Not only can you see the difference in my classroom, you can see it in the hallways and on the playground. There is a newfound respect and appreciation that has resulted from playing games.
Is that amazing or what?! I am not sure if you realize the power of these games in this regard, but my principal (cc’d on this email) would like to set up a meeting with you to explore this topic further.
Over the years, we have repeatedly heard similar stories and experienced this firsthand. We now cover this topic in our workshops. Recently, I sat down with some of our Contributing Teachers to discuss what it is about games that lends itself to these anti-bullying abilities.
First of all, it was clear that the nature of games themselves has a profound effect. Games have rules and structure. They are social instruments. They have a natural cadence, a rhythm to them. They capture students’ attention.
We then looked at why bullies bully and how games address each of these issues:
- Lack of attention. A common reason that a child is a bully is because he/she lacks attention from a parent at home and lashes out at others for attention. Games provide opportunities for students to be in the “limelight” while providing the boundaries necessary for students to successfully navigate the game
- Bullies lack of conflict resolution skills. Bullies often lack the skills to resolve conflicts, mostly due to their parents not being able to do so at home. Some of the social development benefits of games include developing conflict resolution skills and the control of impulses and aggressive behavior. Using the rights games, a teacher can nurture these skills and allow students ample opportunity to practice and master them in a setting that is safe and fun. Debriefing activities can connect these skills to real life in a way so that students can understand the ramifications of their actions.
- Bullies struggle with the release of energy, tension and anxiety. The emotional development benefits of games include tension reduction, release of energy and the opportunity of self expression. This leads to enjoyment, fun and love of life feelings.
- Bullies lack empathy and suffer from poor self-esteem. There are many of games, including enhanced self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth. Games also provide a platform for students to learn about each other in ways that are safe and inclusive. When students feel safe, they allow themselves to take risks, particularly in regard to sharing vulnerabilities. Again, with the right debriefing activities, a teacher can create an environment that establishes empathy, understanding and acceptance
- Bullies have not learned kindness, compassion and respect. As mentioned above, games have the amazing ability to create a safe, inclusive environment, as well as creating empathy, understanding and acceptance. There are many games that allow students to show kindness, to learn what it means to have compassion, to respect their peers and to explore and accept differences; cooperative games are particularly great for this!
If what a student learns (or doesn’t learn) at home sticks out to you here, it should. That is precisely why family engagement is critically important for us to find games that parents will enjoy playing with their kids. Gone are the days of Candyland and Chutes & Ladders! Games help families find new ways to connect, to communicate, to express themselves and to learn about their daily lives. They help parents strengthen their students’ academic weaknesses and help them address emotional and social issues.
We have received so many comments, feedback and testimonials following our Family Game Nights from parents who are thankful to discover games that can bring their families closer. This event was designed to show parents the power games can have not only on their child’s cognitive development, but also how they can positively affect their individual family.
Games are social instruments. They break the ice. They get kids talking. Students learn about other students and themselves with games in ways that they don’t elsewhere, or at least don’t take the time to, because their differences and insecurities prevent them from taking the risk.
It has become clear to me and those who work with us that we need to take significant steps forward to advance the idea of using games as an anti-bullying measure. With the encouragement and support of our contributing teachers and backed by countless experiences over the past six years, we are excited to announce the launch of our NO BULLY ZONE Program.