Just START.

As I settle into teaching in a primary classroom, I'm amazed to see the lessons these kiddos teach me every day.  Today, I'll be discussing one such lesson:  START already!

If you wait for the entire class to be ready to play the game, you may end up waiting all day.  Now, I don't mean to say that it's okay to let your class talk over you and disrespect you as a teacher.  If you're trying to get the words out of your mouth to actually describe how to play a game, but certain kids keep interrupting, they may not be ready to play at that moment.  However, you can also choose to reward focused behavior--showing the rest of the class that PLAYING is fun and worth it.  The others will likely join in as soon as they're ready.

Last week, I tried like the dickens to describe how to play some games to a small group of first-graders one afternoon--the day before a huge, exciting field trip.  However, at that very moment, it just wasn't going to happen.  Their focus and ability to listen was...not present.  It was a "run 'em around the track" sort of day.  I felt frustrated at the time, but have since been able to refer back to the moment in class: "The first-graders know that, in order to play a game, we have to be able to listen to the directions for the game."  It's nice to have that experience as an anchor.

Since then, I've been eager to squeeze in more stand-alone games...especially with my eleven first-graders in the afternoon.  Now, this is a wiley bunch of little ones.  Getting them to all be in one place, relatively still, and quiet is a challenge at any moment of the day.  At the end of their long day, it's darn near impossible.  SOOOOO, I tried a new strategy: Just start.

As some kids in the group were still doing their class jobs (sharpening pencils is awfully hard to stop doing, you know), or putting on shoes, or cuddling stuffed animals, those who were ready circled up with me in the middle of the room.  I invited the others to come and play as soon as they were ready.  Of course, as those kids saw the rest of us having fun together, they found a way to finish up their activities, join in, and figure out the rules by following others' examples.

Here are a couple of games I taught using this method.  Although I played these games at the end of the day with some amped-up, exhausted six-year-olds, I believe you could teach these activities in this fashion to any group of players.  Just start by explaining the rules to a few players, side-coaching and redirecting as necessary so that this core group really does understand the game and can model for the new players who join in.  "Just starting" allows you to coach rather than manage, to enjoy the act of playing and connecting rather than policing your players' every movement.

Pass the Face
Turn to the player next to you and show an exaggerated expression.  This person copies your facial expression, shows it to the group, and then adjusts that face to form a new (probably related) facial expression...and then turns to the next player in the circle.  And so on.  It's a quick, silly game which can illustrate focusing on your partner, basic mirroring elements, and Yes and.

Sound Ball
This game is (at first) easiest with younger players and more outgoing/experienced teen and adult players.  However, if you stick with it your group will open up and will begin to experiment with a wide variety of sounds.  First graders have no problem exploring a wide range of off-the-wall noises!
The first player throws a space-object ball to another player with an accompanying sound (and perhaps gesture).  The second player "catches" the ball and the sound, repeating the sound--closely mirroring the sound that was thrown.  The second player then sends a new sound to a third player.  And so on.

Not sure what to play?  How to begin.  Here's some advice: Just start.

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