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I spent one week this past summer watching a group of children completely consumed by The World Peace Game . And I got to watch the master teacher, John Hunter, at work challenging them to think creatively and flexibly, to negotiate wisely, to listen more completely to others around them. During our afternoon debriefing sessions with the other educators at the camp, John would repeat the phrase, “It is not really about the game!” We had lengthy discussions about all of the other things we saw going on. We saw some children take leadership roles. Others were stepping out of their comfort zones and taking risks. They were building resilience as they pushed through feelings of being overwhelmed or defeated. They began to see that they couldn’t solve the problems alone and began to seek the advice of their teammates with more fervor. They divided responsibilities and learned to trust and rely on their team members to carry out their roles. The game was just the catalyst for all of these other character traits and skills to develop. Winning the game depended on the children coming to these places.

Naturally, as I began this year, the things I had seen in The World Peace Game Camp stuck with me. I wanted to find some way to provide a similar opportunity for the children to be challenged in these same ways. The World Peace Game itself was too much for me to take on, and I felt like even if I did try to recreate it, I couldn’t facilitate it as masterfully as Mr. Hunter because it wasn’t mine (after all, he has spent the last thirty years refining and perfecting the game and it quickly becomes clear that he understands it inside and out). I also didn’t feel that I had it in me to try to create a game of my own from scratch — wasn’t going to happen. So, I decided to turn to a game I already knew, a game well known for strategy. I wanted something that would challenge the children and force them to rely far more on their own problem solving than on luck and allow them to work together on teams. And so, we’ve been playing Settlers of Catan to welcome the new school year.

I echo the assertion that it is not really about the game (there are plenty of others I could have chosen). In fact, I decided to start this year gaming as a way to build community, a way to examine how we want to be when we are together, a way to practice taking risks or being flexible and resilient when things don’t go our way. Rather than just talking about these ideas at the beginning of the school year, I wanted to get involved in an activity that would put these ideas to work immediately and provide quick feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

We often start our game sessions by thinking about how to help us play an even better game than we have been.

“How is your team functioning? What is going well? What might need to be changed to go more smoothly?”

“How might our class guidelines about clear communication improve your game? The golden rule? Taking care of resources?"

Then we head off to put these reflections immediately into practice. I’m surprised by how quickly I see behaviors change.

Here are just a few of things I was excited to see come out of our time with the game.

Applying Past Experience: As soon as we started the second game with new teams, the children put into practice what they learned from the past game. "What made the winning team so successful?" The children employed those ideas instantly in game two.

Inclusion: I overheard new teams asking, “Are you feeling included?” to their teammates as they tried to find their new rhythm as a team.

Flexibility: The children are in teams of three. Early on, all of the teams decided that having a unanimous decision was really going to slow their team down. They agreed that a majority 2 out of 3 votes would be enough to move a decision forward. The children have become increasingly comfortable with the idea that sometimes the team will do something they don’t individually agree with. They accept it and move on. One child even said, “If you ask your team and both of the other people don’t want to do it, it probably means that it is not the best idea.” I was impressed with her ability to look so far beyond not getting what she wanted.

Diplomacy: “You don’t want to be so friendly to the other teams, telling them when they missed collecting things or giving tons of advice, to the point that it hurts your own team. You also don’t want to be so mean that you make the other teams angry and against you.”

Persuasion: The children are learning to state why they think their plan is the best in order to help convince their teammates. At first there were more arguments as people just put in a yes or a no and got frustrated when people didn't do what they wanted. Today I overheard one child asking her teammates, "Can I just tell you WHY I don't think that will work?" It was fascinating to watch her win over her two teammates who thought they were so sure about what to do next. I could see in their eyes a look of shock as she brought up a downfall to their plan that they had never considered.

Considering Future Consequences: I'm starting to overhear more evidence of the children looking down the road. "If we put the robber on them, they will probably put it back on us next time they roll a seven!"

About the Author: 

Andrea was drawn to Sabot at Stony Point by the school’s respect for children’s interests and ideas, by the opportunities for students to make connections between subjects and disciplines, and by the ties to nature that the program fosters. She used to dream of starting her own school, but no longer needs to now that she’s found one that matches her own vision! Before joining our faculty in 2009, Andrea taught first and second grade for three years in Utah.

Andrea’s work was presented at the Journey of Possibilities Conference in Calgary, Canada in 2011 and in 2012 at Lesley University. Most recently, Andrea presented Shadow Thinking: Third Graders Explore the Physical World at the 2013 Sabot Institute and at William and Mary's SURN Leadership Academy. She holds a dual Bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education from Brigham Young University.