Nothing involves/engages kids like games. Nothing. Kids are wired to play, not listen, not watch. Play. They want to be involved. They want to do stuff. You can show kids the latest cool movie but if I stand to the side and offer to play a fun game/exciting game with them, they will choose to play the game. Why? Because that’s the way kids are. They crave the opportunity to simply be a kid. That means “play.”
The world is wobbly. It is changing so fast it’s disruptive to everything. Kids feel it. They know there’s trouble. They hear us talk. They see glimpses on the news. They know something’s up. Nothing enrages me more than a kid having their childhood stolen from them. Kids shouldn’t have to worry about bullying, the economy, their parents splitting up, war, sickness, and on and on and on and on. But they do. Playing a simple game usually/always gets their mind off their fears for a few minutes. Why should we play games with kids? I just gave it to you.
Competition is a fact, Jack. Life is competitive. You better learn how to win and you better learn how to lose. Both will happen to everyone. Often. The world is not a cushy place. Everything, not just sports, has an element of competition: job hunting, dating, working, driving (sometimes), getting into the shortest checkout lane, school, etc. Is it crazy? Yes. Is it out-of-control? Yes. Is it just plain wrong? Probably. But you don’t deal with the world you want; you deal with the world you have. Competition is woven into the fabric of life. Games–done right–create an out-of-harm’s-way to learn that.
Make games a little competitive but a lot of fun. If you make them a lot competitive and a little fun, you destroy the benefit. Here’s the formula:
When you keep winning/losing in perspective, games offer a valuable lesson. They allow kids to push themselves in a safe environment. Life requires they learn how to win and do it with grace. Life requires they learn how to lose and do it with dignity. Games help train a child for living. Every one of them will win sometimes; every one of them will lose sometimes.
Competition is not evil. Even Paul, the apostle, used a little competition to motivate Christians.
I have been boasting to the churches in Macedonia that you in Greece were ready to send an offering a year ago. In fact, it was your enthusiasm that stirred up many of the Macedonian believers to begin giving. (2 Corinthians 9:2 NLT)
Paul was motivating the Macedonians to be givers based on what the Corinthians had done. He used one group to motivate the other. They did it so you know you can do it. Good competition does that. It motivates one group based on what another group has done…or is doing. Roger’s New Translation: “The Corinthian team did it! Let’s see what the Macedonian team can do!” (RNT).
In no particular order here are some tips for making games fun while keeping the competition in perspective:
1. Divide the room into two sides. Call one the side the Green Team (or whatever) and the other side the Blue Team. Dividing the room with a center aisle or rope down the middle is helpful/important/critical. It just works much better that way.
2. Don’t play games that take any real athletic ability. That way if/when you lose, nobody cares. Really, does anyone think it’s a big deal that you are last at shaking off a cotton ball stuck to your nose with Vaseline?
3. Make the game urgent. Time it. Make it seem frantic. Use a stopwatch, a clock, hourglass, something.
4. Explain it carefully. Nobody gets excited about a game they don’t understand. Explain the rules. Make it clear.
5. Choose kids wisely. If a small kid can play it, pick him. If a shy kid never raises her hand, ask her if she wants to play. Don’t choose the same kids over and over.
6. Give points to the winning team. Points are free so you can give away lots of them. “This next game is worth 25,000 points!”
7. Crank the music. Play something fast. Use upbeat Christian music or one of our parodies of classic rock.
8. Start the music first. Start the music BEFORE you start the game. Let the music draw you into the game. Hearing the music gets your heart pumping so you’re ready to start.
9. Don’t make a winning any bigger than it already is. It’s already a big deal so you can tamp it down a little by saying, “By a little bit I guess this one goes to the Blue team!” That’s better than, “Wow! It looks like the Blue team has smashed the Green team again!!!”
10. Announce by name the kids who are playing. Make a bigger deal out of playing than winning. “This is Bobbie! Bobbie is ten years old and has a dog named ‘Chewy.’ Let’s give it up for Bobbie!”