Posts Tagged ‘childcare’

Shark Tank, Treasure Hunt

This game is a bigger and better version of the playground classic “Sharks and Minnows”.

I was subbing as the P.E. Teacher at Lin Howe Elementary the other day. The game “Shark Tank” was planned by the regular teacher and a nice diagram was drawn to illustrate it. I had never heard of the game Shark Tank before but the diagram showed a large circle in the middle of the playing field that served as the tank. I asked Coach Doug what the purpose of the tank was and figured out that there was no real purpose for it. In other words, this was about to be a big field game of Sharks and Minnows. I thought about adding something to the tank area that gave it a reason for being there. We spread out a bucketful of bean bags within the tank boundary and told the minnows that in addition to getting safely to the other side they needed to pick up one, and only one, tresaure from the tank. That day, we had 100% participation from the students which is a rare occurrence.

Special thanks to Coach Doug and Coach “G” for helping make this game come to life and for working out the bugs in the game until the rules made sense. 

Area: Soccer field or half football field

Number of Participants: 50 – 100 participants; 3 referees.

Materials: Three long ropes tied together to make one large circle; about 15 large pylons (two colors) to delineate the playing boundary and the shark tank; about 50 bean bags; field whistle.

Set-up: Tie three ropes together and lay it in a circle out in the middle of the field that is desginated as the shark tank. Stretch the rope with 4 – 6 cones of one color (we used blue) so there is a clear boundary. Arrange other cones around field boundary. Choose 3 – 7 participants to be “sharks” who will do the chasing and have them stand in the tank area at the beginning of each round. All other participants go to one end of the field to start off as a group of “minnows”. Designate one referee in the center to organize the sharks; one referee stays on one end of the field and the third referee goes to the other end of the field fo start the minnows during each round. All referees watch for fair play.

How To Play: When the referee blows the whistle, the round begins. Minnows try to get to the other end of the field without being tagged by the sharks. If they get tagged, they must freeze where they are, even if they have a bean bag treasure. Minnows may choose to go into the shark tank and steal one of the bean bags (treasures) and make it to the other side. They may only steal one treasure each round. If more than one treasure is taken by any one minnow during a round, all minnows forfeit their treasures for that round and they are re-dispersed in the shark tank area.

Minnows who successfully make it to the other side without being tagged, whether or not they’ve picked up a bean bag treasure, are safe for that round and live to see another round. All the minnows who were tagged during the round are called in to the shark tank (I like to call out “Shark Swarm! Shark Swarm! and clap whie motioning all sharks and tagged minnows to the center for a huddle). That’s where the shark swarm gets a chance to plan their strategy for the next round. At this time also the minnows can plan their strategy to outwit the sharks. When referees see that both the sharks and minnows are ready to begin again, they blow the whistle to signal the start of the next round.

Play continues, round after round until either all the treasures are taken (minnows win) or five minnows are left (sharks win). Once a winning team is determined, the last five minnows can choose to be the next sharks or they can choose a person to replace them.


ReST Method, abbreviated

The ReST Method of Conflict Resolution is a great and thorough resolution process. But when you’re supervising a busy playground, how can we be assured that we are doing as good a job when we don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time on the issue?

I’ve had the luxury of having a nice quiet office where kids in conflict can workd through their issues using the ReST Method. The problem is, when you’re on the playground with a busy group of kids and a conflict breaks out, how do you handle the conflict thoroughly? Lately, I’ve been doing an abbreviated version of the ReST Method which has been just as effective in getting over the conflict. The jury is out on whether it has the same lasting effects as the longer version, where the same conflict won’t break out again. This abbreviated method is like meatball surgery– it gets the kids off the bench and back on the field.

Here’s what I’m doing:

Two students come to me who have a problem with each other. Their stories about who started it or who is to blame are different. The big picture is that they need to air their grievances. I need them to know that I’m not taking either side and that sitting down and trying to figure out who did what and who is to blame is going to take a lot of time and may produce some hard feelings. Rather than that, I tell them to go to the bench or to the table or some other quiet spot where they can talk. I tell them that I want them to come to me with the same story as well as a resolution. I tell them that until they have a solution to their issue they must stay and work it out together until both are completely satisfied with the outcome. Before they go, I ask if this is something that can be solved by playing Ro-Sham-Bo (Rock, Paper, Scissors), best out of three.

In most of the times I’ve done this, not every, students have solved their own issues and it takes less than one minute. They really want to get back on the playing field so they try and rush it. The solution isn’t always perfect. Perfect is when they forget about it and play the rest of the game without incident. But the solution is mostly effective.

Many times, kids choose to play Ro-Sham-Bo to solve their issue. I use the word “choose” because there is sometimes the case where they Ro-Sham-Bo for the resolution but the loser doesn’t like it. That’s when I need to step in and remind them that they chose to solve their issue in a way that really wasn’t going to satisfy them. They were going for the quick fix and it didn’t go their way. In these rare cases, I have to spend more time with the one child and talk about “choices”.


Like the action-packed video game from the 80s, this playground game is sure to make you just as anxious when you get trapped by the Pac-Men coming at you. I learned this game while substitute teaching for a PE coach. I worked with groups of 30-35 kids, all in grades K – 2nd. I taught this game in steps, introducing the “options” at the bottom later once the kids mastered the game and could handle opening it up more.


Object: Pac-Men try to tag all other players while all non-Pac-Men try not to get tagged.

Number of Players: 10 – 50, depending on size of court and number of “outlets” you draw.

Area: small size = volleyball court, large size = basketball court

Materials: chalk to draw “outlet” lines if you choose this option. 4 vests or jerseys to distinguish Pac-Men from “food”.

Set-up: Show players the boundaries. Choose 4 Pac-Men to be it.

How To Play: Pac-Men stay at center court until “go”. Other participants (the “food”) must stay on the lines of the court they are on. No jumping lines. And no running, ever. Both Pac-Men and “food” must walk the entire game. “Food” participants use the lines as their highways to roam around on. When they are tagged by a Pac-Man, they must sit down. As a first option, I have them sitting off the lines so all players can continue to roam freely. Once all “food” has been tagged, all players return to the center to restart the game, picking new Pac-Men.

Options: To make the game much more interesting and to accommodate more people, try these options. First, use chalk to connect playground lines. For example, if the basketball court you are playing on is next to the four-square or volleyball courts, draw a line using chalk to connect the lines, providing a new outlet for the “food”. Second, to make it harder on the “food” and easier on the Pac-Men, instead of sitting down off the lines when you get tagged, sit down on the line to create a roadblock that no one may pass.

Blind Man’s Bombardment

Junkyard games are games that are made out of the materials and area you have at hand. When kids at the YMCA in the late 1800’s had a bouncy ball and a peach basket nailed up high to a post, they began the first basketball game. Blind Man’s Bombardment was invented on the spot at Camp Sunshine at Lindberg Park in Culver City. We had a soccer ball and a volleyball and used a handball court with a high backboard wall (20 ft.). It kept some older, sports-minded campers very busy for a good hour or so.


Objective: Land the ball in the other team’s court before they catch it. First team to lose 16 points loses the game.

Area: A double-sided handball wall or practice tennis court wall.

Equipment: Two balls that participants can successfully throw over the wall.

Number of Participants: 8 – 12

Set-up: Divide up teams evenly. Send each team to opposite sides of the wall. Give each team one of the balls.

How To Play: Each team starts with 16 points. On “go”, teams throw their ball over the wall, trying to land it in the other team’s boundary area. When a ball hits the court inside the boundary area, that team loses a point. If a ball is thrown out of bounds, there is no penalty and there is no score; it is a non-issue. When a team has been unable to catch 16 balls that land on their court, they lose.

Adaptation: For younger players who don’t have the strength to throw the ball that high, use a tennis court. The rules need to be adapted to the ability of the players involved. Kindergarteners through 2nd graders, for example, are allowed to let the ball touch their court but they lose their point if the ball goes off their court. 3rd – 5th graders on a tennis court might have the rule that only one bounce is allowed.



Here’s a fast-paced card game for two players that will draw a crowd. It’s simple to play and fun to watch. I forgot about this game until I saw some campers playing it at Camp Sunshine in Culver City.


Objective: Be the first to use all your cards.

Equipment: One complete deck of cards, minus the jokers.

Number of Participants: 2

Set-up: Players sit opposite each other at a table. Shuffle cards and deal as follows: Count out six cards to the left pile, face-down. Count out the next six cards to the right pick-up pile, face-down. Deal out 20 cards to each player. Players place their 20 personal cards in a pile directly in front of them, face-down. This is their personal draw pile. Each player then picks up the first five cards of their personal draw pile and arranges them fanned out in their hand. Players must always have 5 cards in their hand – no more, no less. When they don’t have 5 cards in their hand, they need to pick up from their personal draw pile until that is exhausted. When one player has exhausted all the cards in their personal draw pile and their hand, they win.

How To Play: On “go”,  players turn over the top card from the draw pile on their left and put it just to the right of that draw pile, face-up. There should now be 4 card piles in the middle of the table as follows: 5 cards in the left draw pile, one card face up next to it, one other card to the right of that, and 5 more cards in the right draw pile. There should also still be one personal draw pile in front of each player with 15 cards in each.

Once the first cards are simultaneously flipped and placed in the middle, the game begins. Players must put a consecutive card from their hand on top of one of the face up cards. Players can build up or down but must never skip a number or place the same card on top of another. For example, if a face-up pile has a “6”, a player can place a “5” or a “7” on top of it, regardless of the suit or color of the card. The only thing that matters is the number or face card value. Players place their cards as quickly as possible on the face-up piles, trying to exhaust their personal draw pile and the cards in their hand before the other player. Play happens quickly. When neither player is able to play a card, they must flip a “starter” card from one of the side piles to get unstuck.


When I was growing up, one of the consequences for losing in Duck, Duck, Goose was going to the Mushpot. Nobody likes to lose. But nobody ever died from going to the Mushpot. I always come across one extra-sensitive camper who gets overly-emotional about losing– even if the game was non-competitve or there were no real prizes. I thought about how to desensitize kids like this to give them a thicker skin and show them it’s OK to lose. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, right? 

Play this game early on in the camp season to show campers that losing a game can actually be OK. 

In a culture where everybody gets a trophy just for participating we may have created a generation of entitled kids who won’t try too hard to get the payoff. Enough said. No more preaching. On with the game!


Object: To learn how to deal with the feelings associated with losing.

Materials: None.

Area: Half-volleyball court.

Set-up: Gather participants around in a circle. Choose one person to be in the middle (the “Mushpot”).

How To Play: On “go”, all campers on the circle look at the person in the middle and shout “mush! mush! mush!” while squashing the air in front of them, pretending to mash the camper in the middle into a fine pulp. The camper in the mushpot can pretend to feel the pain and do his/her best impression of a dying cockroach (“AAAAAaaaaaagggghhhhhEEEEEEEEeeeeeee!!!”).

After all campers have gotten mushed, sit them down in their circle and talk to them about how they felt being in the mushpot. Did they die? No. Was it uncomfortable? Maybe. Did they want to cry? Probably not. Focus on the fun they had when they were in the mushpot. Later, when camp is in full swing and you’re playing games in which people get out, you can send them out via the mushpot so they can leave with a smile on their face.

Variation: Use this game when you have to get your campers to group-up or line-up. Whoever is last to the group has to be in the mushpot.

Wind In the Willows

Ever trust a group of people to have your back? It’s a rare real-world experience that everyone should have. I read about this in a book called “Games”. That’s all I remember about it. At the time, I didn’t give this game much thought but now I see it’s value as a group-building and trust exercise with lots of potential. 


Object: To support the person in the middle without letting them fall. To trust that your group will support you and will be gentle about it.

Materials: None.

Area: Small. 7′ x 7′

Number of Participants: 8-12

Set-up: Choose one person to be the “willow”, standing in the middle of the circle. Have all other campers circle around in a very close and tight circle so that they are less than one arm’s length away from that person.

How To Play: Have the person in the middle (the “willow”) close their eyes, fold their arms across their chest and keep their legs stiff. Huddle everyone else around the willow within an arm’s length of them, making sure there are no gaps in their huddle. On “go”, the willow will fall in any direction while the circle catches them and pushes them gently around the circle or back and forth. Think of it as a reed swaying in a gentle wind. Pushes must be gentle and on pre-approved or “safe” body areas such as shoulders, back and arms only. Nobody should be touching the willow on their stomach or waist or head or chest. Take turns so that everyone gets to be a “willow”.