Games are a important part of learning at any age, but especially with kids they are the most natural and effective method of learning all sorts of skills from physical to mental to social.
We use games in our classes to teach behaviours, as well as skills and I want to take a minute to look at a couple examples of how this works.
First up: "The Ball Game" as the preschoolers call it.
One of our 5-7 year olds helping out with a game of ball tag in the preschool class
The game is pretty simple, we use some big exercise balls and throw them at the kids, the kids have to run away and dodge the balls. If a ball touches them they freeze until rescued by another child. This can be through use of a technique (generally a takedown) shooting under the legs, helping them up from a seated position, etc.
The balls are big, bouncy, and while they can occasionally knock the kid off their feet don't really hurt at all. Making it fun and safe.
But what are they learning?
There is the more obvious, they are running and exercising. They are learning basic tactics to run and zig zag, to predict collisions as they try to avoid the ball without running into it. Awareness of their surroundings, etc. They are also learning to fall (especially when they are using takedowns), get bumped and keep playing because... well... they are having fun doing so.
But the more important lessons of the game for young kids aren't as obvious because we often take them for granted as adults.
Being able to resist the urge to run around when everyone else is running around and remain frozen is a skill that for a preschooler takes some practice. They are natural copy-cats who like to run... so when everyone else is running and they are to remain frozen their is a strong lesson in self-control going on.
The second really important lesson is learning to notice the other kids and when they need help, and then helping them. Preschoolers naturally love to help... but at the same time tend to view the world in a very self-centred sort of way for those years.
For the second example: Shield Sumo!
Shield Sumo at Summer Camp
This one gets used with all ages, and is a safe way to teach some really fundamental principles when it comes to wrestling. The basic idea is two opponents get a shield each, they win if the other person steps out of the ring or falls down. This is a game that goes great at all sorts of events and we often use in birthday parties as it is really easy to get started and a lot of fun to do.
But apart from simply smashing each other with shields it isolates some really important strategy and tactics.
When a stronger / bigger child is pushing into them they learn to snap back out of the way, making the pushing child fall / lunge forward. When someone attempts to smash them they learn to pivot. Pushing, pulling, pivoting & shoving are the keys to off balancing when it comes to takedowns and throws, and the game represents a simplified way to isolate and practice those elements in a very safe and very beginner friendly way.