Game Theory 101: School revives the art of playground games

November 06, 2010 05:00 am

Students play game of red light, green light. The Pilot/Arwyn Rice
Students at Kalmiopsis Elementary School are learning something new this year — playground games.

Over the last few decades, as giant play structures were built in parks and on school playgrounds, children lost the art of the simple playground game. 

So when the massive play structure known as the “big toy” was removed from the Kalmiopsis playground last summer, students had to learn a new way to play. A generation that had relied mostly on chase games and play structures was given balls and jump ropes.

“It’s a whole different playground culture,” Kalmiopsis Dean of Students David Lee said.

To bring that culture to the students, Kalmiopsis brought in “Playworks,” a playground education program that guides teachers and children in how to organize and play games.

Some of the games are familiar to anyone who spent much time on playgrounds before the 1980s. The school installed a wall for wall-ball, and taught traditional games like sharks and minnows. Other games, such as “switch” and “who let the dogs out” are new to students and teachers alike.

Teachers spend a week on each game, instructing students in how to play, then organize playground games at recess.

“We’re trying to give kids a lot of positive adult contact,” Lee said.

Where once the students were simply sent out the door at recess to play, now they are accompanied by adults who interact and initiate games, he said.

Once the students learn the rules, many organize their own games independent of the adults.

Last year, eight students from Ken Olsen’s third grade class held plant sales to raise $400 for additional playground equipment, including balls and jump ropes. Staff and volunteers painted lines on the blacktop for classic playground games such as four square, basketball and hopscotch.

Many of the games are also painted inside the school’s covered shelters so students can play even when it’s raining.

“We want to give them a lot of choices of things to do outside,” Lee said.

While learning the concepts behind cooperative games with  rules and turn-taking, students also learn to love the new games.

“They’re buzzy about it,” Lee said.

As for the students, they were too busy playing games to stop and talk with a reporter.

“Hey, grab that ball,” one said as it bounced away from his four-square game.