Early on in my training, a colleague told me about a Montessori game with bells, but it got tucked, unused, in my "teacher toolbox." Years later, I read about it again in Ellen Galinsky's Mind in the Making, a book that has become a go-to guide on early childhood learning to both the parent and educator in me. Here’s the gist: Each kid gets her own bell to hold as she moves around. Once the game starts, she needs to keep moving and make sure the bell does not ring, helping to build self control. If her bell sounds, she is out or has to restart the round. Kids adjust the level challenge for themselves based on where, how fast, and how wildly they move.
It sounded good to us, so we experimented with this game as a family and in our local classes. We found that kids liked it well enough, but were never lost in the fun the way we had hoped. Then, we decided to tinker with it, and that made all the difference. What were the missing secret ingredients? A storyline, and equal doses of quiet and crazy. It quickly became intoxicating to both the kids and we adults.
This seemingly simple game is a powerful way for kids to develop critical skills. In this game, learning to actively suppress the urge to ring that bell is a challenge that should not be underestimated. Kids, especially kids ages 3 to 5, really respond to the animal hunt scenario, far better able to restrain themselves in the name of a hunt than just to win a game. This variant still helps kids build self control, even though it also honors their propensity and desire to be loud, excited, and lively. Letting loose is something kids are rarely encouraged to do, particularly when most of their day is structured, surrounded by adults for so many of whom loud and lively have lost their charm.
The bell game also requires one to pay attention not only to what is going on around him, but also what is going on with his own body. To play this game, a child must act and move mindfully, and he gets immediate feedback to correct his movement, enhancing the learning. Keeping the bell quiet requires balance, responsive foot placement, pretty careful control of trunk, hands and arms, plus a good grasp of the bell itself. No matter how coordinated your child, he or she can benefit from this work out of both gross motor and fine motor skills. All kids can find the appropriate level of physical challenge by taking on more or less challenging terrain at faster or slower speeds.