Civil Negotiation and Mediation Blog

Playworks! Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills to Children

Posted by Nancy Hudgins on Fri, Jan 25, 2013

playworks conflict resolution

Playworks, a non-profit that contracts with schools to bring organization, socialization and conflict resolution skills to school playgrounds, has incorporated rock-paper-scissors in its curriculum.   (Disclosure:  my daughter works for Playworks.)  Playworks partners with schools whose children come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

I had the opportunity to see the program in action at a New Orleans K-8 school just as the school year was beginning.

My daughter was teaching kindergarteners a game new to them called “Switch.”  It’s like a musical-chairs, odd-person-out game for 5 players, in which a child stands in each of the four corners of a square with the 5th child in the middle.  There’s usually a line of kids waiting to get in to the game.  The child in the middle shouts “Switch,” and then each child runs to a different corner.  The child who is the last to find a  corner is the odd person out, and goes to the end of the waiting  line to wait to play again.  The head of the line then goes into the game in the middle and yells “Switch,” etc.

What happens when two children arrive at the same corner at the same time?  Conflict!

To resolve that conflict, Playworks teaches the kids rock-paper-scissors, the age old conflict resolution tool which seemed to be new to most of the children.  When arguing or shoving broke out at a contested corner, my daughter would remind them to use rock-paper-scissors.

And here’s the most amazing part:  the kids readily accepted the outcome.  The “loser” would shrug and run to the end of the waiting line.  Conflict resolved!I was astounded!  I don’t know if it’s because kids have such short attention spans that they forgot the conflict immediately, or if the rock-paper-scissors construct is just random enough to be accepted, or if the kids just readily accepted the new social norm.  All I can report is that it worked.  And it worked every time.  (I may have to use this technique in my next mediation.)

Playworks hopes that this and other conflict resolution skills taught on the playground will be carried over by the students into the many conflicts they face each day. 

To which I say:  Kudos to you, Playworks!