Educators told value of games in teaching life skills

Playing fun but thought-provoking games such as I Spy, Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Mother May I? are among ways young children can develop crucial life skills that may mean the difference between failure and success in adult life.

Ellen Galinsky, a child development specialist and author of 45 books, stressed the important of these life skills — she’s identified seven of them — in a talk in Baton Rouge on Monday to an audience of educators.

Children’s games are effective, but overlooked, ways of developing life skills, she said.

“All the games that have been handed down through the generations, they can really help children,” Galinsky said.

She was in Baton Rouge as part of a speaker series organized by the nonprofit group, the Academic Distinction Fund. ExxonMobil is the lead sponsor of the series.

Galinsky’s talk Monday at the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel drew largely from her 2010 book, “Mind In The Making,” a work she said was 12 years in the making. There’s also a DVD, a series of children’s books, as well as a series of teaching “modules” that allow parents and educators to improve children’s life skills.

“These are everyday things you can do,” she said. “They don’t cost you any money.”

Galinsky interspersed her talk with videos illustrating her points.

The video that generated the strongest reaction showed children engaging in a game known as “The Marshmallow Test.”

The test, which gauges delayed gratification, was developed in the late 1960s by psychologist Walter Mischel.

Children are placed in a room with two marshmallows and a bell, and left with a choice. If they want to eat both marshmallows, they have to wait several minutes until the researchers return to the room.

Alternately, they can ring the bill and eat right away, but can consume only one marshmallow.

The children’s struggle was fun to watch. Children grimace, pace, some pick the marshmallow up longingly only to put it back down. One girl even starts chewing her sweater.

“The longer they are able to wait at age of 4, the better the ratings of their ability to control their behavior and do well in school,” Galinsky said.

Drawing from the latest brain research, Galinsky singled out seven life skills essential to adult success: focus and self control; perspective taking; communicating; making connections; critical thinking; taking on challenges; and self-directed engaged learning

At one point, Galinsky had the audience play their own game.

“Take your right foot and move it around in a circle,” Galinsky said.

“Now take your right hand and draw a ‘6,’” she said.

Trying to do the similar, but slightly different tasks was not as easy as it looked, vexing many in the audience.

Galinsky said children are natural learners, but most don’t identify school with learning, especially by the time they reach high school. That’s a problem, she said, because what the working world needs is people who can make unusual connections between seemingly unlike things.

“You don’t just have simple answers to simple questions,” she said. “You need creative thinking.”