So recently I wrapped up a playground games unit with my 3rd and 4th grade students. This unit started several years ago when my principal asked me if I could share some games with our students that they could play outside at recess. Apparently the students were having some difficulty playing appropriately at recess. Now, I am one who firmly believes that “recess” should be completely unstructured time for students, especially because the rest of their 7 hour day is totally structured.
I took this opportunity to introduce my students to some games that I loved playing as a kid. As I started to plan out these activities I quickly realized that they didn’t fit into the Physical Education setting because a majority of them had some components that were NOT acceptable practice: Eliminating Players, Using Human Targets, etc. So I had to modify the rules/directions to accommodate for these deficiencies. In most games I implemented a scoring system instead of elimination, modified the skills used in the game to meet specific standards/grade level outcomes.
Over the years this unit has transformed into one of my favorite units because I’ve seen the students take these games learned in class and begin to play them at recess! So the million $$$ question is: What games and how do you play? I introduce 4 games to my students as a means of developing various manipulative skills. Those games are 4 Square, Wall Ball, Pickle (Run Down) and Spud.
Once I introduced 4 Square to the students they immediately loved it. It’s a fast-paced game that requires skill, strategy, etc. We also had 4 courts painted on our blacktop area for students to use during recess. I introduce the basic rules/skills of the game. I only allow open, underhand strikes, no “trick” shots, and points are optional. I usually have “competitive and noncompetitive” courts and the students can choose and move freely between during our game sessions. After a great idea by the one and only Justin Schleider (@schleiderjustin) I made a court in which the squares were different sizes. The first square was the smallest, getting larger until you got to the King/Queen square (serving square). This server’s square was the largest making it harder because he/she has to cover more area. The kids really enjoyed it and it made sense to them. 4 square utilizes striking, timing, reaction time, hand-eye coordination, so it’s a great activity for students to develop these skills.
Next we move into Wall Ball and Pickle. Both games utilize the Overhand Throw and Catching as the main skills required to play. I did have to modify Wall Ball by adding a scoring system as opposed to actually having students throw the tennis ball at one another. This works out great! Unfortunately our students can’t play this at recess, although they would love to, because it disrupts the other classes when the tennis ball is thrown off the wall. Pickle or Run Down is another game that gets the kids very active and develops their throwing, catching, and tagging skills. I play with gatorskin balls as they are easier to catch and softer to tag with.
Lastly I introduce Spud, which was one of my favorite games as a kid. This game has required the most modification of all 4. First it is an elimination game, which I don’t play. Second, it requires students to be human targets EAGERLY waiting for someone to pelt them with a ball. The first modification that I made was to remove the elimination aspect of the game. I replaced it with a scoring system in which players can earn points in 2 ways. First, if their number is called they take 3 steps towards anyone they want. Then they roll the ball, not throw it, at someone’s feet. If they hit their target’s feet, the roller gets a point. If the roller misses their target, the “target” gets a point. This worked pretty well, but I wanted to completely eliminate students being the “targets”, so I placed bowling pins and cones out on the floor for players to stand behind. Now when the roller is trying to hit their target it is a pin or a cone. Students took to this really well, it also gave them a designated place to go. We then went even further, as we were accumulating points I quickly realized that this was a golden opportunity to incorporate numeracy. So we adjusted our cones/pins into 2 staggered rows on either side of the gym. The front row had a multiplier of 1 and second row had a multiplier of 2. We also added new skills and new scoring. For example, students could either roll, throw or kick the ball at their intended target. (rolling = 1 pt, throwing = 2 pts, kicking = 3 pts) Let’s say a player decides to kick the ball to the second row and they hit their target, that player would receive 6 points; 3 for kicking X 2 for the back row. If this player missed their target, the “target” would receive 6 points. The kids really liked the fact that they could choose the skill and target and that they could give or receive points. The last change we made to Spud was to make it a Team game. In this version players were on 2 teams based upon their numbers (odds v. evens). With this version odds could only call even numbers and vice versa. Players could only target the opposite team (odds went to 1 side, evens went to the other). The scoring was still the same, however, this time I had the students record their team score on the whiteboard by either filling in a bar graph or by using tally marks. This team aspect became a SUPER hit with the kids.
If you haven’t tried incorporating any “playground games” like the ones I’ve mentioned, I highly recommend it. They are great games that work on a ton of skills, the students can play them at recess, at home, etc and best yet they require little equipment and can be played by any number of people!