Expressive arts and design: A game plan

Game-building activities are a great way to stimulate children’s imagination and develop their creative skills. Karen Hart provides step-by-step guide to making a memory game and building a board game.

DIY Board Game – Make your own game board kit (Amazon)
Cardboard from an old box, thick felt tipped pens or markers, dice, little play figures, cut-outs, stickers, colouring pens, glitter,
sandpaper, foil, scissors, glue sticks

How To Turn A Favorite Book Into A Board Game:

There is so much children can learn from making their own games, from using their imagination, developing their drawing and making skills, and turn-taking, to counting and number recognition.

Try these simple game-making activities with your group, they have all been tried and tested with pre-schoolers, and are all suitable for children from 2 years old with a bit of adult help.

Key vocabulary: Texture, dies, matching, pair, memory game

  • Playing and exploring
    Children use a range of sensory materials to create their game and practise their ‘finding out and exploring’.
    They learn how to make their own game from familiar scrap objects .
    Children learn the rules of a new game and are willing to ‘have a go’.

Make a memory game
Memory games are not only easy to make, they’re easy for children to make themselves. We made a sensory matching pairs game by making cards with both matching pictures and textures.

You will need coloured card, scrap box craft materials (e.g. stickers, glitter, sandpaper and foil), colouring pens, scissors and glue sticks. You can make your game cards any shape you like, we made circles by drawing round the bottom of a small mug and cutting out.

Next, children can either draw matching pictures on pairs of cards, use matching pictures from magazines, print-outs, or decorate pairs of cards with materials such as; glitter, sequins, tissue paper, stickers, sand paper etc. We used a mixture of materials. Remember that pictures don’t need to be exact matches of one another, they can simply be two faces, two owers, two cars etc. We prepared lots of suitable pictures both printed and cut from magazines ready for children to hunt through and match up before using for their playing cards. We let children make their own games, giving each child ten cards to decorate.

Once all cards are decorated in their pairs, show children how to play the matching pairs game. Place all cards face down on a table. Take turns to ip over two cards. If you reveal a matching pair, you get to keep them. If they don’t match, you place them back, face down. Keep playing until all matching pairs have been found. If you want to have a winner, it will be whoever ends up with the most matching pairs when all cards have been turned over.

For younger children, try turning all cards the right way up and just seeing how quickly children can pair up all the matching cards.

  • Active learning
    Children stay focused by ‘being involved and concentrating’.
    They ‘keep trying’ to find matching cards.
    They ‘enjoy achieving what they set out to do’ by completing their game.

Using the same game, extend the craft further by having children add an extra matching card to each pair. This time children turn over just one card on their rst turn, then have to nd the matching cards on subsequent turns, keeping those that match. The winner is the rst person to nd three matching cards and make a complete group. You can go on to add more matching cards to each group as you wish.

Another idea that works well is to make cards that match
in one way but differ in another – great for encouraging concentration and reasoning skills. For example, let children make three cards all showing the same shape, such as a heart, but use different coloured cards so the shape stays the same but the background colour differs. Children still need to match the shapes but it becomes quite a bit more dif
cult when the background colour changes, requiring children to stay focused and involved throughout.

Extension idea
Try making a game that ties in with a particular theme you are looking at, such as springtime. Your matching cards can show pictures of spring related birds, animals and plant life. This is a great way to introduce colourful vocabulary and teach the names of some creatures and plants that may be new to your children.

  • Creating and thinking critically
    Children make a game around their chosen theme.
    They build on knowledge of board games they have previously seen and played.
    They use their imagination to create by ‘choosing ways to do things’.

Make a simple board game
This activity is suitable for small groups (4–5 children). You will need cardboard from an old box, a thick felt-tipped pen or marker, dice, little play gures, cut-outs, stickers or colouring pens to decorate.

The purpose of the game is to get from point A to point B by rolling the dice and counting each space on the game board path. A person wins by moving their gure from the starting square to the nishing point rst.

The first thing to do is draw your game board in the form of a simple spiral or curvy path. Ask children what theme they would like to use for their game. Decorate around the edges of your board in keeping with your theme, keeping the pathway clear. Finish by drawing lines to divide your pathway into playing squares.

Now all you need is a playing piece each and a dice. Playing pieces can be any little toys you have laying around, but it is good if they t in with your theme a bit.

Play the game in the usual way; choose a player to go first (this can be the rst player to throw a 6), with each player taking a turn to roll the dice then moving their piece the corresponding number of spaces along the path. Each player takes their turn in the same way until someone lands on the last square. It is up to you if you want players to roll the exact number to land on the last square or not.

Go on to extend play by adding some commands along the path such as: ‘miss a turn’, ‘take another turn’, or ‘jump 2 places forward’. Commands like these are not only good for getting children to follow instructions but are also good practice for taking turns, and accepting that sometimes, you just have to miss a turn, which is all part of the game.

Playground or PE game
I have played these games with pre-school drama groups many times and once again it shows that simple games are often the most fun. There is a surprising amount of thinking skills at work here too.

Tell children to stand in their own space. Next, ask all children to make two groups; for example, all children wearing socks with pictures in one group and children with plain socks in another group. The idea is that children make groups as quickly as they can. Start again, this time grouping children in a different way, such as all children wearing trousers, or with short hair. Sometimes it can be tricky to decide if you belong in a group or not, if for instance, you make groups for short socks and long socks, as this requires reasoning skills.

A variation of the game is to divide children into four groups – red, blue, green and yellow. Give children simple instructions to carry out such as: reds and greens jump up and down, or yellow and blues stretch as high as you can. These require children to not only carry out instructions, but to remember their colour name too.

Early Learning Goals
The making a board game activity is great for covering ‘numbers’ and ‘shape, space and measure’ (Mathematics). It involves plenty of counting and number recognition practice: ‘Children count reliably with numbers from one to 20, place them in order and say which number is one more or one less than a given number. Using quantities and objects, they add and subtract two single- digit numbers and count on or back to find the answer. They solve problems, including doubling, halving and sharing.’

The matching pairs activities here encourage shape, size and pattern recognition, and encourage the use of mathematical language to describe these, covering much of the following criteria: ‘Children use everyday language to talk about size, weight, capacity, position, distance, time and money to compare quantities and objects and to solve problems. They recognise, create and describe patterns. They explore characteristics of everyday objects and shapes and use mathematical language to describe them.



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