How You Play Is More Important Than What You Play

This week we are sharing another excerpt from our newest book: Adventure, Play, Peace: Insights and Activities for Social-Emotional Learning and Community Building With Young Children by Nancy MacPhee Bower.

Learning Through Play Excerpt Nancy Bower's New BookHow do we add peace to our lives through play? We can develop our skills for peacemaking. Peacemaking is the ability to find and create peace within yourself and within your relationships. This is an important building block for success in life—success in school, play, friendships, families, and work.

Peacemaking and compassion work are more important than the games. How you play matters more than what you play (safety concerns aside). The games are the means to learning skills for life, the avenue to the expression of creativity. When I starting doing this work, I spent more time on what to play. Over time, I began to realize that the peacemaking aspect of my work was absolutely vital. The children showed me just how much they wanted, needed and welcomed the time we spent working on interpersonal skills and conflict resolution… how to play.

What happens when peace is the primary intention in a family, school or classroom? Peace becomes an underlying guide for the way we deal with decisions, challenges and education. Since embarking on this mission, I have found that there are many schools and programs in which peace is the core of their objective. The concepts of peace have gradually seeped into my work and my personal life. Ever so slowly peace became central in its importance, in every part of my life. Play is the tool, one very effective tool, which facilitates the discovery of our power to be peacemakers.

Back and Forth
This game is really a hundred games in one. You can play back and forth with all kinds of objects. Play in teams of two, three or four—mix it up. It will be new every time you introduce a different tool. For fun and excitement, give it a new name with each variation.

Space: medium to large

Props: scarves, balls, trash balls, foam paddles, noodles, etc.

How to Play
• Demonstrate the back and forth action with a buddy. While you’re at it, talk about how to be safe when playing:
The way to be safe in this game is to make sure you and your buddy have your own space to play. Sometimes people get distracted when trying to catch the scarf (ball, etc.) and forget to look out for others. So, keep an eye out for friends.
• Talk about creating new ideas for tossing and catching (i.e., under the leg, spin and catch, backwards toss over their heads). Invite the children to come up with their own challenges.
• Create random pairings.
• Send the pairs off to an open space to play.

Facilitation Note
If you are using paddles, or noodles, show the children how to make an imaginary circle around their bodies to judge the safe space needed to swing their paddle. I only use foam paddles with preschoolers and kindergartners.


Choose from a variety of props: trash balls, vinyl balls, beach balls, and different tools for hitting balls such as noodles (cut them in half for preschoolers), foam short-handled paddles, etc.

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