By: Christy Clark-Weese M.A. Ed.
The importance of play in children’s social, emotional, and mental health development is critical to a child’s overall wellness. It is without question that children’s play habits were affected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most schools coming out of the pandemic years, we began looking at various ways in which to create community. My co-teacher and I were approached to think about creative ways to incorporate team-building games and activities into the week for all students during their advisory time. Gameplay as Smith and Waller wrote, “can foster joy, connections, and relationships where animosity, anger, and divisiveness exists. It can change everything in just a minute” (2020, p.102). And so our hunt began.
After visiting other middle schools and spending several hours researching, my team teacher and I began to develop first an idea and then a program for the 22-23 school year we call Challenge Days. Challenge Days aim to provide all students once a week, during their advisory class time, a chance to engage in highly interactive and energetic activities/games. The overarching idea of our challenge days is that the games/activities should bring students together for inclusion and acceptance - a critical piece of building and creating community.
The activities and or games that we choose must be able to be played by up to two hundred fifty students at a time, be completed in the 20 minutes of designated advisory time, not be about a student’s athletic ability, and be simple enough to play immediately after watching my co-teacher and I demonstrate the game. The following are some of the games that we have played: Kentucky Derby, Almost Impossible Ring Toss, Badminton Tic Tac Toe, Long Shot, Short Shot, LeapFrog, Grab it, Rock Paper Scissors Hula Hoop, Kickball Tournament, and many more.
Every week we try to strike a balance between novel and routine for Challenge Days. Students know what day of the week they report to the gym, understand where they are to play in the gym and know the rules of gameplay and expected team behavior. Yet, we are also asking students to often step outside of their comfort zone to participate in a new game/activity. We ask teachers to lead by example, modeling enthusiasm and sportsmanship. We sometimes include teachers in gameplay and rely on them to help us create an environment where students can trust and feel they belong. Challenge Days by themselves do not fix or build community but they are a way for students to learn to play again, laugh, and celebrate being together. And that is a start.
Smith, T., & Waller, J. (2020). Ridiculously amazing schools: Creating a culture where everyone thrives. Publish Your Purpose Press.
Christy has been a teacher for almost twenty years and is currently a health and physical education teacher at Coal Ridge Middle School in St Vrain Valley Schools.