There is a reason we play games
“For a small child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’” – Penelope Leach
At the end of almost every class, students get the chance to participate in a game. Most parents view this as simply that…a game, when in reality it is so much more than that! The first thing a game at the end of class provides is a short-term goal for students. Students may set long-term goals of being a 6thdegree black belt or being an instructor while every student sets a short-term goal of earning their next belt. Two months until they can achieve their short-term goal can seem like an eternity for a child. We help students stay accountable to reach their goal by earning one stripe per week. Even one week can seem like a long time for a child (and adults), so we give them a goal for every class. Every single class we ask the students to have good behavior and to try their best for the 45 minutes they are there. If they can do those two things, they have achieved their short-term goal for the day – a game. Forty-five minutes is a short time frame that a child can understand with two goals that are easily obtainable. Think of it in adult-terms, if I go out the mow the grass now, then I will be able to come in and watch a movie with my family tonight. If I stick to my diet all week, I will be able to have a little ice cream on Saturday. As adults, we reward ourselves for our short-term goals on a daily basis, without even realizing we are doing it.
A game at the end of class is much more than short-term goal setting though. Playing a game helps students develop physically, mentally, and socially. Did you know that dodgeball works on gross motor skills of running and moving around the floor while also working on fine motor skills of grabbing and throwing a ball? The flag game has a lot of fine motor skills from putting the flags in the belt to reaching for one side of the flag without grabbing both sides or the other student’s belt. Ask any teen or adult who takes class and they will tell you that dodgeball is a killer cardio workout. The kids in class will run faster and harder during the few minutes of dodgeball than they will all day. To them, it is fun and is a game. To the instructors, it is developing their cardio and working on their breathing. It is improving their gross motor skills such as running, jumping and throwing/catching a ball that all help to improve balance and coordination. It is improving their fine motor skills such as grabbing a ball with one hand and using their fingers to pinch the flag out of their friend’s belt that help to improve the small muscles in their hands, wrists, and fingers.
“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” – Mr. Rogers
Dodgeball and other games at the end of class aren’t just about developing physically and learning how to reach short-term goals. Playing a game at the end of class gives students the chance to practice all of the social and emotional behaviors that they have been learning since they were a toddler. Since they were old enough to talk, children have learned how to cooperate with each other, how to share, how to follow directions, how to be polite, and how to be a good listener. Believe it or not, but a game at the end of class gives children the chance to practice all of these. As we give instructions, students must be actively listening to understand the rules of the game we are playing and any directions for what to do during the game. Taekwondo is an individual sport where students progress at their own pace and are responsible for their own learning. A quick game at the end of class allows students to work together on a team and cooperate with their classmates. I’m sure that you have heard us say “suck it up, buttercup” at some point during class, and probably during the game. By getting whacked with a dodgeball, students learn how to rub it off, suck in their tears and keep going. With our older students, we compare it to getting hit by a bully. If you curl into a ball and start crying, the bully knows that they have won. If you are able to suck it up and keep moving, you will be the stronger person.
This just skims the surface of the different things a game helps students to develop. As you’ve read, a game is so much more than just something fun to do at the end of class. I hope the next time that you watch us play a game, you will view it a little differently and see how much your child is developing.
“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” – Diane