5 Steps to an After School Game Club
by Ryan Sturm
Do you love games? Want to share your love of games? Do you like working with kids? Maybe you should consider starting an after-school board game club at your local elementary, middle or high school. Over the last three years I have run a board game club at my local elementary school and it has grown to be one of the most popular after-school activities in town. Kids sign up session after session and new recruits keep signing up to the point that the club often has a waiting list.
School-age kids and parents are dying for a high-quality structured social activity afterschool that is an alternative to sports. In addition there are so few people out there who are aware of the THOUSANDS of great games that have come out for kids and families over the last ten years. Starting a game club at a local school is a powerful way to not only spread and share a hobby that you love but also to develop much needed social skills and to positively affect your community.
If you think you might like to start your own club, I would like to share my suggestions for tips on starting such a club in the hopes to motivate you to take on this valuable endeavor. It will include some of the basics to get started, some suggestions for good games to use and some basic management tips. It’s all here in my five easy steps to starting your own after school board game club.
Step 1 - Contact your local recreation department.
Though you could run the club on your own, it will be much easier to get assistance in registration, securing facilities and promotion that is available to you at a very low cost from your local rec department. Discuss with them the possibility of starting such a club and details such as facilities it could be located at, registration costs and times. I suggest a reasonable amount to charge for the club is $5 per session or $20 for a four week session. Also keep your club size small, especially to start. Having ten to fifteen students is plenty to work with for your first session. Hopefully you can also work out the possibility of using a space within a school, such as the school library, to hold the club.
Step 2 - Promote your club.
The best way to do this is to visit classrooms in the school the club will be located in (get prior permission from the school principal). If you know someone who works for the school or is involved in the school, contact them to make this connection. I will tell you from experience that the endless flyers given out in schools do not capture the attention of the kids; they usually just get shoved into a backpack. But walk into a class with a box full of cool looking games the kids have never seen before and they will rush to go sign up.
Step 3 - Gather games to use for the club.
Using games from your personal collection is a way to start, but be aware that any game you use for the club will probably get banged up and it’s likely you may lose some pieces; it just comes with the territory. If you are committed to this endeavor you should plan on investing 100-200 dollars in games to be used solely for this club. You should be able to cover this with the first session’s registration fees and use the games for years to come.
I recommend shopping at an online specialty game store for a wide selection of board games at discount prices. It is good to have some familiar “classic” games in the club but it is also important to introduce kids, and perhaps yourself, to what’s new in board games. Also consider asking local businesses, online game stores and game companies for donations for games to use for the club.
While shopping for games for your club, endlessly repeat this nine word motto in your brain; I am buying games for children, not for myself. It is critical to pick age-appropriate games for your club and err on the side of too simple rather than too complex, the students need to be able to play the games independently. Don’t let your own personal game biases decide the games you decide to get for the club.
My club is mainly made up of Fourth and Fifth graders. I have found that some of the most successful games that I have used fit into the following three categories;
- Party Games - Apples to Apples is the classic here but variations on it are popular as well. I recommend looking into the games Likewise, Last Word, The T-Shirt Game and Blurt. Also be sure to familiarize yourself with the new party game sensation, Werewolf.
- Adventure Games - Games that capture the imagination are always popular. Some games that fall into this category include Incan Gold, Forbidden Island, and if you can track down copies of the out of print games Dungeon, Heroquest, or Heroscape you will have simple but fun games kids will want to play again and again.
- Card Games – Card games have the advantage of being affordable and typically having simple rules. Some favorites in the group include; dexterity games Slamwich and Halli Galli, Zeus on the Loose, Sleeping Queens and Duck, Duck Bruce.
These suggestions are appropriate for upper age elementary students, if you are starting a club with older or younger students you may need to choose games that are more or less complex.
Step 4 – Establish and put into place two rules.
The two golden rules I use for my Board Game Club and discuss at the beginning and end of each session are;
- Play the games in a way so that everyone has fun – This involves knowing and following the rules, Staying focused on the game, playing at an appropriate volume level, showing good sportsmanship and making consensus decisions on the games that are played.
- Treat the game materials with the utmost respect – This means only using the game pieces for playing the game, treating materials carefully, making sure all players clean up and all pieces are put away the way that they are found.
Clearly go over these rules at the start of the first session and at the end of the session discuss concrete good and bad examples of play, behavior and taking care of the games that you and they observed.
Step 5 – Facilitate each session so all club members have fun.
Your job will be to constantly teach new games and circulate to make sure game rules and game club rules are being followed. Here are some strategies I have used to facilitate getting games started with large groups:
- Have games with multiple copies so that you can teach once and have all of the students “fishbowl” around watching one group play. Then all students can go play the game.
- Explain 3-4 games with simple rules at the beginning and have students rotate through.
- Use a “passport” system in which students earn “points” as they play different games with different players.
With time your job should get easier as the students should be able to be the “teachers” of the games. The kids will come to know more game rules and your expectations for how games are to be played.
But I have to be very honest with you. Starting and running a club like this is a lot of work and takes a lot of energy. It is so much more than just sitting around playing games with kids. It is not for someone who wants to just play games or make a little extra money. Running a game club requires someone with a lot of enthusiasm and energy, for it is ninety nonstop minutes of teaching game after game and constantly moving from table to table checking in to help students play the games correctly and play games using good social habits.
But when you do get a chance to step away and take a breath and see the environment you have created, you will see a large group of kids all engaged and caught up in the magic that only games can create. When the students leave the club with big smiles on their faces talking with their friends about that amazing or hilarious game they just played and some of them turn to you and look you straight in the eye and say, “Thank You!” You will know that you have succeeded in sharing something special with those kids and that your love of games has been instilled in them.
You will know that all your efforts were well worth it.
Ryan Sturm is an elementary educator of ten years and a game aficionado. For the last several years Ryan has run an afterschool boardgame club at his elementary school. Ryan is passionate about finding positive ways to use board games in the classroom as well as ways to use his background as an educator in promoting the hobby of board games. Ryan is also the host of the “How to Play Podcast”, cohost of “Ludology” and a regular contributor to “The Dice Tower.”