by Jim Therrell, M.S.P., alias "Mr. Play"

Are the kids bad-mouthing, dissin' you, acting out, bullying other kids, or ignoring you, not participating, not listening, not following directions, mopin' around? Would they rather be playing Nintendo or watching TV/Video? Do you encourage them to explore interest centers and try their hand at arts & crafts, and they refuse or rebel?

Maybe your kids are saying through their behavior: "Hey, you're not as fun as Nintendo, movies, CD's or TV -- why should I pay attention to you?!" What do you do?

After 25 years of playing with children from 6 weeks to 16 years old, the following tools may help you on the road to initiating fun, especially with school-agers.

I. BUILD RAPPORT. Nothing works if you don't have rapport! Try these two RB's (Rapport Builders):

  1. Exchange Body Tricks, like "nose-cracking." Place your index fingers on the bridge of your nose, hands facing in as if praying, insert thumbnails under front teeth, and flick teeth outward as you twist hands on nose. It sounds like you cracked your nose, plus a little play-acting is helpful to enhance the effect. The kids love it and will want you to teach them how -- then encourage them to show you one of their tricks.

  2. Two-Person Activities, like the "Great Detective." You're going to guess three changes the other person makes in the way they look. First, look at each other for 5-10 seconds, then turn around facing away (back to back). Each of you change three things (like turn your watch around, roll up shirt sleeves, slide belt over, etc. -- nothing so easy or too hard), then turn back around and take turns guessing the three changes. Give creative hints (warm/cold clues, etc.), to facilitate a successful detective.

II. EXCITE! Starting with you genuine enthusiasm -- otherwise, if you're not excited, why should the kids be?! Then:

  1. Fantasy. Add an age-appropriate fantasy to provide the motivating pictures to the brain which then moves the body, and also opens the ear-brain connection. Kids really do know how to listen when the scene looks like it's worth playing. (Would you rather play "Duck, Duck, Goose" or a game called "The Lion King"?)

  2. Maximum Activity Play. A M.A.P., so that every child is highly involved and mentally absorbed almost all the time -- no elimination or standing/sitting around. Add, modify, or completely change the rules, objectives, boundaries, locomotion, number of "Its"/balls/guessers/teams/hoops/ropes, divide into several smaller groups (especially for relays), and empower the kids to help out at every opportunity, especially with demonstrations and modifications.

Finally, really listen to your kids -- from their shoes. Validate and say yes to their feelings; share their laughter as well as their pain; empower them in their own solutions. Follow their lead as much as possible. Good leadership with children includes genuine followership. And plan to fail (I still have activities go bust often!), so that you can learn to plan and execute better the next time.

Even the best activities from the best books only come alive when good leadership is at play. So remember, you're competing with powerful electronic media. Your challenge is to be as good and better. By taking a risk and utilizing the above tools, you'll have the clear advantage. Have FUN!

Recognized as a world-class presenter and international authority on play (author of How To Play With Kids; videos on "The Essentials of Play Leadership" and the just released "Fun, Fast & Easy Activities"), Mr. Therrell is available for highly motivating, informative, interactive trainings at 1-800-359-7331 (also for books and videos).

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