Fun Games That Teach Life Skills
Children learn by playing, and youth groups can aid children’s learning by introducing them to a world of fun, educational games that teach them how to better get along with others, respect other people’s differences, and understand the importance of teamwork.
Games that are designed for certain age groups can also help kids learn basic life skills they might not already know, or help them to improve upon and reinforce those skills they are just learning, or have recently learned. These can include everything from cooking simple meals to gardening to carpentry and sewing work.
Blogger Sheri Kruger writes that it’s important to teach children life skills, no matter what their age. In fact, it's one of the best ways to prepare them for life, she believes. “Teaching practical life skills and philosophies are important parts of developing our children into well rounded and happy adults,” she writes.
Skills Kruger thinks every child should know before they leave home include everything from meal planning and food shopping to typing with two hands to knowing the consequences of drink driving. They should also know how to change a car wheel, read food labels, and how to build fun things from scratch, such as making a simple kite and a putting together a basic go-kart.
Junior GamesYounger children are still making sense of the world, and learning the basics of getting along with others independently, without parental supervision. Here are some great games for children aged 8 – 11:
1. Nutrition MissionMany kids think they know about healthy eating – but do they really? Ask children to make a healthy eating lunchbox or dinner plate, using a combination of different foods you present on a poster, white board or chalkboard. Discuss the pros and cons of different foods, and explain the food groups. Fun facts can help bring the message home: did you know, for example, that a can of Coca-Cola contains the equivalent of ten sugar cubes, or that the strawberry flavouring used in fast food restaurants to flavour ice cream and shakes contains more than 50 different chemicals?
2. Empathy CentralBreak children up in pairs, write down different situations on cards, and give them ten minutes before they have to act out the scenario before the group. Situations can include a grandparent who has died, a child who has failed an exam, the parents of a best friend who are getting divorced. Teaching about empathy is one of the most important life skills a child should learn. “Once they have this understanding and a genuine desire to relieve other’s pain it will make them better people,” Kruger writes.
3. No Man is an IslandBreak up into small groups, then tell the children their task is to research an island they know nothing about. Is it receptive to them, or hostile? Should they build a bridge to reach it, or a wall to protect themselves? Make a list of the pros and cons, then construct the model from paper or clay, or do junk modelling. Later, discuss their rationale. If there is someone we know little – or nothing – about, how do we treat them?
Early Teen Games
Children this age are going through enormous changes, both physical and emotional, and often their feelings are all over the place. Help the 12-15-year-olds in your youth group learn more about this stage in their lives with these fun games, which should help put at least a few things into perspective.
1. What Makes Me AngryEveryone gets angry, but learning what triggers your anger – and why – can help. Have the youth group members write down a list of ten things that annoy them, from minor irritants such as someone clipping their fingernails in class to major disruptions. Then ask them how they react to the triggers, and whether their solution is a good one. Then, discuss. For example, is physically lashing out ever a practical solution? What about screaming or yelling? “Anger is a normal human emotion that can stimulate people to engage in constructive acts, or lead to destructive behaviours,” writes John R. Charlesworth Ph.D. in Helping Adolescents Manage Anger. “Frequently anger problems first become apparent during an adolescent’s school years.”
2. Shhhh!Kids break up into peers and have to find out three things that are new and interesting about the other person – but without speaking. They then have to tell the group what three things they have discovered - or think they have. Great way to teach both teamwork, and the importance of body language. Often, we tell others a lot more about ourselves than we might think…
Kids today are pressurised from a myriad of different sources, and often saying “no” is definitely the way to go. How can this be done firmly and effectively? Ask the kids to volunteer different scenarios where they might feel pushed into something – trying drugs, drinking alcohol, cheating on an exam, lying to parents (this will depend on the nature of your own youth group). Then have them act out the right way – and the wrong way – to say no to peer pressure. Having fun with serious topics can often be an effective way to get your message across.
Games for Older MembersYouth group members of this age are about to embark on an entirely new adventure in life. Many are finishing their education and will move on to supporting themselves and living independently. These games for 16 – 18-year-olds will help them think about what will eventually be expected of them in the big, brave world.
1. Getting that JobJob-hunting has a vocabulary that can be unfamiliar to a coddled teen, so set up a mock job market where the best applicant wins. Teens will learn to scour newspapers and websites to see what jobs are on offer, put together CVs and have fake interviews. Get together an interview panel to see who is the most convincing applicant – and to help others improve their employment chances next time.
2. Brilliant BudgetingHave each youth group member make a list of expenses they think they’d have if they lived on their own. You’d be surprised how many think rent and food are their only expenses! Talk about what they’d really need – food, rent, gas, electricity, water, incidentals, transport etc. Best budget – the most realistic one - wins a prize.
3. A Moral DilemmaMany teens have yet to come across a real moral dilemma in their lives, and are unsure about how they’d react when push comes to shove. Break up into two groups and plan a debate that will really question their ethics and morals, with half an hour to prepare. Sample questions could be: “Should parents have control over their teens’ sex lives” and “Is euthanasia ever justified?” Tailor questions to your own youth group for best effect.
Why Learn Life Skills?Helping children and teenagers develop into responsible, caring adults should be the goal of everyone who educates children, be they youth group leaders, teachers or even parents. Learning how to manage money and work, knowing how to do mundane daily chores and being able to communicate effectively with bosses, colleagues and friends are all skills every adult should have already mastered long ago. That’s why learning them as children is so important.
Clever youth group leaders realise the importance of teaching life skills, and therefore incorporate them into their members' weekly activities as something fun that is eagerly anticipated. Everyone has their own definition of adult success, whether it means making tonnes of money or just being happy. But one thing we all have in common is this: without mastering the right life skills, success is a long way off.