Games Build Bridges… A Universal Language

Games Build Bridges… A Universal Language

Group of children and adults playing games

This article described an on-going project in Beech Hill primary school in Halifax and demonstrates just some of the wide-ranging and powerful influences games can have in education when introduced in the ‘right’ way. Following an initial meeting with the Principal Officer for Primary Schools in Calderdale, Lawrence Killian, we were introduced to the Head and leadership team of a primary school that was looking for new initiatives to compliment both the curriculum and PSHE education from a fresh angle. One thing that stood out about this school was the sheer variety of nationalities that were present and the added hurdles such diversity can cause in school and the wider community. This is what had happened so far…

A Chance Meeting

At Imagination Gaming we are always talking about how games are a fantastic barrier breaker – an activity that can introduce and connect friends, colleagues and complete strangers. Usually it’s for the students or the games players and then their families and their friends. But this was different…

Whilst getting into the full flow of a school holiday activity day in Kirklees last summer, I was being watched. I was unaware that quietly and carefully, the activity I was delivering was being evaluated by one of the school governors. Her reaction to what she saw was fantastic. (Phew!).  And there it started. What followed was a really appreciative and emotional conversation about how clear the value of using board and card games was when you looked from a fresh perspective… and why on earth are they are not used more?!  I was invigorated by her enthusiasm and I think it is fair to say that she was inspired by what she had seen. Anyway, she left, the day went on to be a big success, and we kept in touch.

It turns out that this lady was also a very highly respected School Improvement Officer for Calderdale, and she encouraged me to meet her boss, the Principal Officer for all the primary schools in the area. What followed was an intriguing and enlightening conversation. It wasn’t just the obvious educational benefits of the language and mathematics evident in all these kind of games, but more so the engagement factor. After all, it’s incredibly hard to teach something if nobody is listening. And that is becoming more and more of a problem in lots of our schools. Yes the classroom may have become a more colourful, more challenging and more diverse place – but it seems so have the students.

Traditional style games, where participants sit face to face around a table not only encourage thought and strategy, based on say mathematical deduction and linguistic capability, but even more so develop basic interaction skills. Whether it is the etiquette of turn-taking, the discussion of strategy in a team or the appreciation of listening and watching to effectively respond, this kind of gameplay cultivates these social skills and begins to unite the participants.

But why does this work?

Simply put… because it is FUN! The excitement of gameplay, the intrigue of the puzzle and the anticipation of the outcome will further the interest. But it’s the realisation that anyone can take part and discover their own (or share other’s) path to success will keep them coming back for more. In addition, rather than learning a skill and then forgetting about it, there is endless opportunity to continue to put your talents into practice and continue to reinforce your skills over and over again. One game may present a raft of challenges in itself and captivate for a lifetime (more commonly seen in games such as chess), but beyond that there is always new opponents and believe me an encyclopaedic range of games, of all shapes and sizes, to try and master.

Everyone loves a challenge, even the most disinterested of people; it’s just a matter of knowing what the challenge is and how and where to pitch it. In our case which game to use… and how to use it.

OK – So let’s get to school!

The school itself is a typical primary school in most respects, with pupils aged 5 to 11. One of the main issues they have to cope with is the diversity of ethnic backgrounds that the children come from, especially in such a small area. This is increasingly becoming a factor in many of our schools and at quite a rate. The integration of cultures is an issue that affects us all at different levels, but it is in the primary schools where it has a massive impact, where the children’s ability to appreciate and cooperate can affect not only their personal social and educational development – but the future of our society as a whole.

When children arrive at primary school it can be quite a shock. If you think about it, the majority have spent most of their formative years in a very safe environment and community, probably of just family and friends. They have little experience of, and previously little need of, interaction with the “outside world”. All of a sudden they are left in a classroom full of new experiences and demands, and it can be very overwhelming. It’s of course natural instinct to stick with what you know and are comfortable with, and although reactions vary, it’s easy to see why divides appear and barriers are formed.

Plan of action

The underlying theme to the entire project is engagement, in and outside the classroom and encouragement of an appreciation for what school has to offer in terms of education, community, friendship and fun. We knew we could spend 10 full days in school as well as provide for some special events and of corse a library of games for the school to keep as an ongoing resource. The school would get a bumper selection of games specifically tailored to their needs that would be used throughout the project and then left at the school as a continuing resource for the years to come. There were some basic aims of course…

  • To involve at some level every child in the school
  • To help bridge communication and language barriers between students and the curriculum.
  • To encourage engagement and realisation from all students to the benefits of the basic understanding the core subjects offer.
  • To promote the appreciation of other cultures, the value of unity and the identity of the individual as equally important within society.
  • To inspire new activities within the school both within and outside of the curriculum.
  • To empower managers, teaching staff and assistants with the benefits of a brand new, easy to manage, sustainable and exciting teaching resource.
  • To extend interest and involvement to parents and families of students and to encourage participation within the activities.

As it happened

I needed to get a feel for the school, its staff and its pupils, so the on the first day I simply wanted to create a buzz. The school was able to provide a room to base in for the days I was there and I started with a more typical games day. We invited groups of 12 children at a time with a teacher or teaching assistant, one from each of the 6 year groups to come and “play games”. This description is important, I was not playing “Maths games” for instance, and these sessions were not to be perceived lessons – not yet anyway!

The response was fantastic. Wary students of all ages and, shall we say, quizzical staff were soon impressed by the games combination of fun and intrigue, as well as the educational benefits in their use.

Fun but at the same time educational. The children loved the session. The games can be used by TA’s working with groups of children. I was very impressed, particularly with Botswana, lots of strategies involved. I would recommend these Games 
Nicol Kaye

This created a buzz instantly around school, “I got to play games today!” and in every year group the children were aware of something new and interesting. Over the next few weeks we endeavoured to make sure everyone in school had a go and as they say… we were in!

The next step was to balance the remaining days between keeping the whole school involved, challenging some more focused groups of children and creating a lasting legacy that the children and staff could take forward with confidence.

Good fun. I think it will be very useful with the children in class. I played Bakers Dozen and think it will help the children learn to take turns and help them to use their minds. J. Collins

The mornings were devoted to particular groups from the different year groups throughout the school, continuing to show games that could be used in each year group and across the board. These groups consisted of a mix of abilities and cultures and the games were a fantastic leveller. No matter the perceived level of attainment in the classroom, these games served to involve and challenge everyone together, regardless of ability or language barriers, it was clear that progress could be and was being made.

The language barrier

The middle of the day was given to students with very little grasp of English. A high proportion of these students were eastern European and they were accompanied by a translator. The highly visual nature of the games can make explanation a lot easier, and the fun of the experience in turn would encourage the children’s confidence to participate and push their communicative and thinking skills in order to progress.

The difference between the start and the end of a session was immense. From a look of “here’s something else I don’t understand” to “wow, that’s amazing”, meant that a patient and deliberate start turned a quiet and dismissive classroom into a hive of activity, participation and enjoyment.

Watching the children and the teachers leave filled with energy and listening to the thanks and the cries of “when can I play again?!” (teacher too!), just went to show how valuable these sessions were to motivate and reaffirm the progress that can be made.

For Sale – Fantastic Game, using both your mind and negotiation skills – very addictive. I think most of the games were brilliant as they had an educational edge to them and 100% enjoyment! Afzal Hussain, Learning Mentor


Creating Game Champions

In order to make sure that the school were confident that they could carry on using the games once the project was over, we decided to invest time in a core group of year 5 students, with the aim of creating “Games Champions”. These would be the children who regardless of initial ability, had shown the most enthusiasm and desire to get involved, and more importantly, would continue to spread their knowledge of the games by mentoring children throughout the school. We would meet and learn new games each week, but also concentrate on the ability to teach on what they had learned. They soon learned this was not as easy as it seemed, the difference between knowing and teaching is massive, and I think they began to appreciate the job their teachers had in the process!

Where are we now?

As I type, the core of the work is done; it is now up to the children and teacher to carry on using the resources to their advantage. Imagination Gaming will of course always be available to help wherever necessary. The children continue to take part in regular voluntary Lunch Time Games clubs which I hosted on the days I was there. This was usually a full room (at least) and just went to prove that it is an activity that children love – even without the need for a mains socket! They simply come in, choose a game and a group of old and new friends to play with and get on with it.

I played Zeus on the Loose with some of the children and found this very enjoyable. The game will be very useful in Talking Maths and class to help the children. Brenda Mcmillan

Staff have asked for duplicate copies of some of the games that have a direct correlation to stages in the curriculum as once they have had a chance to play, evaluate and get confident with the games they can use them with entire classes or focus groups as need be. We will also be supplying the school with easier instructions to more games so that more people can pick up a game without the fear of the dreaded instructions and get straight to the game underneath!

Further to that the staff had further suggestions of how to incorporate the games into other project work. The idea of writing reviews and accounts of games, as well as examining how to describe on paper, game instructions and tactics so that others clearly understand is a key skill. They have also expressed an interest to do video based projects involving filming instructions to games.

Next Event – We will be back!

At the end of June we will be back. Beech Hill and Imagination Gaming will be hosting an event to showcase the games and he affect it has had with the children. The school hall will be crammed with children playing their favourite games along with teachers and the games champions. We will be inviting any interested parties from across the area to come and see them in action and find out exactly how this kind of activity could benefit their school and community.

I know that when I am in Beech Hill the next time, there will plenty of excitement and eagerness to show off their latest skills, and I expect to be repeatedly challenged, maybe beaten (!), but definitely impressed.

What does the future hold?

As Beech Hill School continues to evolve, so does Imagination Gaming. As we grow, so does the network of schools and organisations across the country. There are always new games to keep the sessions fresh and innovative, and we are constantly finding bigger and bolder uses for them, not just in the classroom, but in the libraries, youth clubs and wider community. Our range of Maths and Literacy Days, along with Holiday Activity days and Extended Services work, together with the new games, mean that we are always asked to meet with new challenges and regularly revisit our existing network. We continue to push the boundaries and provide engaging, exciting and educational resources across the board, and look forward to catching up with everyone year after year.

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