Setting the Stage for Play: The Introduction

Setting the Stage for Play: The Introduction
by Kay Emerson

Congratulations on adding games to your curriculum!

Games are one of the best ways to develop social skills, critical thinking and fluency in basic reading and/or math skills. But before the fun begins set the stage appropriately. Which games you pick and how you structure the activities will make a huge difference in how well the games meet your learning objectives.

In the upcoming issues we’ll examine each aspect of a successful gaming environment. Here is a brief overview of what we will be covering.

  1. Providing choice: Researchers have found that choices increase youngster buy-in and retention. Whether the choices are big (which game to play or whether to play at all) or little (which color the player’s marker is), you can make sure players can use this part of the day to set some of their own parameters.
  2. Pace: Often pace is more important that anything else in a gaming environment to maintain a child’s comfort level, enjoyment and learning. Nothing is more of a buzz kill for something that is supposed to be fun than to feel pressured to move too quickly or spend agonizing minutes idle between one play and the next. Learn how to evaluate and modify games to accommodate these needs.
  3. Learning in private vs learning in public: During games, players skills, strategy, and willing to take risks are laid bare for all to see. Not many of us seek the limelight until we are more confident of our ability to compete so head to head competition may not be the best way to introduce a game for the first time for any but the most bold personalities.
  4. Participate/collaborate/compete continuum. As adults we rarely enter a race to win after the ribbons have already been awarded.  When the winner of a game can be predicted as soon as players take a seat at the table, you don’t have a game, you have a performance with many relegated to playing supporting role. Learn how to adapt games to grow with youngsters’ readiness for competition.
  5. Learning Objectives: You are likely to want to use games to achieve different objectives for different students at the same time or over time. We’ll give you a simple rubric to help guide you in differentiating the play to meet the range of objectives you have in mind.
  6. Assessment: As with all investment of time and effort in learning, it is important to assessment how well the objectives have been met to fine-tune on-going activities. One of the wonderful things about games is that you can often see rapid growth in skills between start and finish.
  7. Play along: Some of the most rewarding time spent with children is when you take the opportunity to play along. You get a chance to demonstrate teamwork, strategy, skills and how to be a good winner and a good loser. It’ll also be easy to modify the pace, the challenge, and/or the end point as circumstances dictate.

I hope you’ll stay tuned in the upcoming weeks and even better – share your successes and challenges as we learn from each other.


Kay Emerson is the inventor of Zillio, an award-winning three-dimensional game system designed for grades Pre-K through 6+. With Zillio, educators get differentiated games and exercises that are not only instructional and encouraging, but tons of fun.

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