Parkrose students playfully learn to resolve problems

How does playing an archaic game help feuding kids get along better? Here’s what happened when Rochambeau was reintroduced at Sacramento Elementary School …

Brett Davidson, fifth grade teacher at Sacramento Elementary School, coaches his students as they play a “Rochambeau Relay” during recess.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The term Rochambeau* may seem unfamiliar, but the game – thought to have been invented in Japan in the late 19th century, based on a 17th century Chinese pastime – has been played by kids here in the United States for decades – and is more commonly known as “Rock! Paper! Scissors!”.

As we walked out to the playground at Sacramento Elementary School with the school’s Principal, Stevie Blakely, she said the school was invited by the PlayWorks organization to participate in a free trial of their teaching program. “PlayWorks is a nonprofit organization that comes and teaches them how to play together, and resolve conflict at the same time.”

Blakely introduced to Matt Ferro of PlayWorks, who was overseeing Brett Davidson’s fifth grade class as it participated in a “Rochambeau Relay” during recess.

PlayWorks instructor Matt Ferro says techniques like Rochambeau increase playtime and reduce playground conflict.

Teaching kids ‘real-life group play’
“We’re seeing kids are coming to school these days who do not necessarily know how to play with one another,” Ferro explained. “What we do see is what we call ‘parallel play’. That is, kids are used to playing a videogame side by side with one another – but not knowing how to play games as a group in real life.”

Additionally, Ferro said, the process he was teaching during his week at the school last month, “helps them learn how resolve conflict in a way that is not physical. But it is more than just ‘talking it out to work it out’.”

The PlayWorks system, Ferro noted, was started in Oakland, California, by a teacher working in inner city schools to resolve playground conflict.

“Playing together well is a learned thing,” Ferro pointed out. “Here, we’re using a rock-scissors-paper approach to resolve minor conflicts and impasses. Instead of yelling each other or hitting each other, they use Rochambeau to resolve the situation instantly.”

Benefits beyond playground peace
In addition to helping kids be more active and healthy by playing active group games, Ferro said there are other benefits that PlayWorks techniques bring. “We’re also teaching good sports behavior and educational skills like problem-solving, conflict resolution, and teamwork.

“I’ve had teachers tell me that they can spend 30 minutes or 40 minutes dealing with problems that happened on the playground – time that children could be learning. If we can help resolve these problems, and that maximizes their learning time in the classroom.”

On each turn, these students play “Rock! Paper! Scissors!” to determine which player advances, and which player drops out.

Rochambeau in action
Pointing out the game Davidson’s class was playing, Ferro showed how the students were learning both teamwork and cooperation. “If there is a minor fight about whether or not the ball went out of bounds, one tagged another, or one hit the safe zone – we do a Rochambeau. They quickly go back to playing and focus on the game. This means more game time and more activity.”

We asked Davidson the value he saw in the training. “It helps the students who are sitting their desks all day to come out and get a release of all that pent-up energy.  It’s good for them. And, it’s good for me, as a teacher, because when they come back in the classroom they’ve had physical activity with little conflict.”

Davidson said he thought that learning conflict resolution in the context of a game was a good idea. “I don’t think this is the final solution for conflict resolution, but if we build on this over time, it will be beneficial.”

For more information about PlayWorks, see their website: CLICK HERE.

* Rochambeau: Two or more players agree to play. On the count of three, each person displays one of three hand poses: 1. Hand is held out flat, fingers together (Paper); 2. Hand is held in a fist (Rock); or, 3. The index and second fingers are extended from the fist, open – like a sideways Peace Sign (Scissors).

Who wins: Paper covers Rock; Rock smashes Scissors; Scissors cut Paper. If both or all players make the same sign, the game is considered a draw. Often, the game is played as best two out of three rounds.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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