Assistant Professor in Physical Education Teaching
School of Physical Education and Sport Science, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
Developmentally appropriate games for preschool children should promote learning: (a) within movement (games that help children understand how, when, why and in what way we move), (b) about movement (games that promote those cognitive skills supporting the desired movement effect, such as decision making, response inhibition, selective attention, etc.) and (c) through movement (games that use movement as a means for teaching latent concepts e.g. fair play, responsibility, etc.). However, their effective integration within PE programs will depend on the teacher’s ability to use principles that are specific for this age group. Based on what has been mentioned so far, the principles and protocols outlined below can help PE teachers during the design of games for preschool children.
A. Principles for designing games for preschool children
- Create game challenges by integrating new concepts and skills with children’s previous experiences
- Integrate a variety of experiences within each game (i.e. visual, auditory, kinaesthetic)
- Use equipment and/or implements in a non-traditional/conventional way (i.e. in a striking fielding game, a tennis racket can be used as a “fishing stick” and tennis balls as “fish” that should be carried from one base to the other)
- Proceed from general skills and concepts to more specific ones (i.e. start with sending small balls to a target and then proceed to sending balls in relation to time/space/effort concepts)
- Use fantastic stories/scenarios to introduce youngsters to new content
- Use questions and group discussion to facilitate the learning of latent concepts (i.e. use adjectives such as “cold” and “hot” to explain taggers’ move in relation to others in a tag game)
- Plan sufficient time for each activity and differentiate instruction according to children’s reaction to game learning activities
- Set up challenging game play environments to trigger children’s interest and motivation to participate and stay focused
B. Lesson organization protocols for preschool children
- Rituals for every part of the lesson
- Entering or Leaving to the lesson: Use teacher greeting and parent/guardian farewell rituals (e.g. when entering the PE lesson children can “give five” to the PE teacher, gather in a circle, use equipment to play until the lesson starts, etc.)
- During the lesson: Use specific rules of conduct (e.g. “We help our classmates”, “We freeze when we hear the whistle”, “We have big ears when we listen to new instructions”, etc.)
- Strategies for conflict management and resolution:
- Explain that every child has the right to express their opinion without being interrupted
- Use student suggestions to problem solve
- Name undesired or dangerous behaviors and clearly explain their implications
- Use body language (e.g. one hand up = “everyone near me”, two hands up = “put equipment down and listen to new instructions”)
In line with relevant learning theories (Dewey, 1938; Piaget, 1953; Vygotsky, 1978; Bruner, 1986), I advocate for the use of game-based instruction within preschool PE. Since Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) is a beneficial approach for learners of all ages, it would be interesting to launch future TGfU initiatives aiming at providing PE practitioners with curriculum content and material especially designed for this age group.
Bruner, J. S. (1986) Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, M.A, Harvard University Press.
Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and education (New York, Macmillan).
Piaget, J. (1953). The origin of intelligence in the child (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul).
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in society. The development of higher level psychological processes (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press).