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December 2, 2016

Fun Games for Kids to Practice Focus and Self Control

Editor’s Note: In this series, Mind in the Making facilitators share their experiences guiding workshops for parents, educators, caregivers and healthcare professionals throughout the Suncoast. In May, The Patterson Foundation funded training for 31 people through the Mind in the Making Facilitator Institute, which breaks down executive functions into seven essential life skills that help children achieve their goals.

A reoccurring question that we encountered while leading the Mind in the Making workshops was, “Where can we find more ideas to help children work on the seven essential life skills?” Our group decided to get together outside of the meetings to brainstorm games and activities. Then we tried them out with the children to evaluate the effectiveness.

We started with focus and self-control, the first of seven essential life skills.  We took a cue from one of the videos in the session when coming up with the first set of games.  In the video, the researcher showed a child a card with a sun and one with the moon.  When shown the sun, the child should respond with ‘day,’ and when shown the moon, the child should respond with ‘night.’  After a few times playing, the researcher changed the rule and the child was asked to say ‘night’ when shown the sun, and ‘day’ when shown the moon.  This was done to demonstrate inhibiting thought and working memory which are a part of the executive function skills.

We made cards with a happy face and sad face, and then we asked a child to name the cards.  After we did this a few times, we changed the rule and asked them to say ‘happy’ when they saw the sad face and ‘sad’ when they saw the happy face. The children enjoyed the game and wanted to continue to play.

If an activity is engaging and captures the attention of a child, they will spend more time attending, which translates to more time spent strengthening the skill.

Our goal was to find activities that would practice focus and self-control, so we brainstormed ideas to change the game and make it fun.  For example, we created Christmas themed lessons. We made cards and two gift boxes, one opened and one closed. We then added bells and buzzers to increase the impulse response and the fun factor.

Additionally, we created games for Thanksgiving themed lessons.  We had three containers and a little plastic turkey.  We began by showing a child the turkey and covering it with the container. Next, we showed them a container that was empty.  We would move the containers around like a shell game.  Then we would ask the child to point to the container that had the turkey under it.  Eventually, we added a third container to make it more difficult.

Children who struggle with focus have a difficult time with this task because when their eyes leave the activity, they lose track of the turkey.  But because this game was fun, the child attended longer and worked hard to keep their eyes and focus on the container with the turkey.  It was an excellent way to help them see an immediate consequence for losing focus and provided feedback to help them strengthen their skill in maintaining focus.

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