Games and Sports

What are Games and Sports?

The final stage of play is Cooperative Play, where children start to truly play with each other. This is an exciting time to explore Games and Sports as a way of solidifying those skills and strengthening friendships.


A game is any form of structured play, where there are usually rules to the game. There are some games that are competitive, but some games that need cooperation to win. 








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More ‘classic’ preschool-type games include hide and seek and duck-duck-goose.  









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More ‘sit-down’ type of games include card or board games, like Uno, Monopoly and checkers.


There are also computer games and online games. For example, games like Chess Online where one can place against someone halfway across the globe, or with the computer. 








Image Source (left to right): The Conversation, The Indian Express


A sport usually has much more established rules, often governed by international bodies. Most of us are familiar with sports and can name at least two or three that come to mind, such as football, badminton or basketball.

Why are Games and Sports important?

Games in particular, can build a wide range of cognitive skills. A simple memory card game where one must find two identical matches of cards in a face down deck trains working memory. Some games require planning strategies ahead of time like Battleship.


Sports, on the other hand, is more movement-based and a great source of exercise for helping children burn off excess energy and reduce self-stimulatory behaviours. 


Both games and sports strengthen gross and fine motor skills in some way. A sport like Football gets a lot of healthy running into kids, while a game like Operation requires the laser eye focus and muscle control of a surgeon.


And finally, games and sports teach children how to be gracious winners and losers!

When do we teach Games and Sports?

Games and Sports start to become important as children enter the associative and cooperative stages of play.


Children may start with much simpler versions of games and sports before the rules get more complex. For example, working together to build a jigsaw puzzle is simpler than playing a sport like basketball together where a child must remember all the rules, pass the ball, play to their team’s strengths and work under a common game plan.


Hence, the best age to start teaching games and sports depends on the complexity of the game. In other words, how many skills the child needs to learn and how many rules there are. Children as young as 2 years old are already able to start playing games, if those games are simple like treasure hunts or ‘Simon Says’. 


For more formalised sports, it may be more appropriate to start at ages like 6 or 7 years old. This is because by then, a child would have developed both the physical skills and attention span necessary to begin learning. 


This does not mean children cannot play sports before then – it can be introduced in a simple, fun manner at home.

Examples of Games

For purposes of simplicity, there are two main categories of games that a child can learn. First, are preschool-like games, and second card or board games. 


Below is a non-exhaustive list of preschool games, ranked in level of difficulty:

  • Ring around the Rosie
  • Hokey Pokey 
  • London Bridge 
  • I Spy
  • Pass the parcel
  • Red Light, Green Light
  • Musical Statues
  • Musical Chairs
  • Mr Wolf 
  • AEIOU 
  • Hide & Seek
  • Duck, Duck, Goose 


Below is a non-exhaustive list of card and board games, ranked by general age level:

Ages 3 and up

  • Beware of the Dog/Shark 
  • Penguin Trap 
  • Candy Land


Ages 4 and up

  • Pop-up Pirate 
  • Tumblin’ Monkeys
  • Zingo 
  • Happy Family
  • Checkers


Ages 5 and up

  • Snakes and Ladders 
  • Scrabble 
  • UNO Cards 
  • Twister 
  • Connect Four 
  • UNO Stacko/Jenga

Age Recommendations

Board games typically come with age recommendations, so it is important to check these before playing them with a child, matched to their developmental age, instead of chronological age. Games come with age recommendations because they typically require pre-requisite skills the child needs before they can play successfully. For example, a game like Snakes and Ladders requires skills like


Games of any kind typically have pre-requisite skills a child must have before they can play it successfully. In order to play Snakes and Ladders, a child requires skills like sequencing numbers, taking turns and understanding opposing rules of going up ladders and going down snakes.

Breaking Skills Down: Games

Once a child has the pre-requisite skill, it is important to still break the skill of the particular game we seek to teach down into component steps. Below is an example of how to do this using the popular card game, ‘UNO’.


Example Game: UNO

There are many rules a child must remember while playing a game of UNO. Here are just a few rules that need to be taught one by one:

  1. In a game of Uno, the cards come in four colours, and each colour can have a number from 0 to 9. 
  2. A card of the same colour or number can be matched to the card on the deck.
  3. Additional cards can be added together if they are the same number, like a blue, red and yellow 9.
  4. However, this cannot be done with cards of the same colour, e.g., a blue 7, 8 and 9.
  5. The power card ‘Skip’ involves skipping the next player’s turn.
  6. The reverse card switches playing directions.
  7. Add a ‘Draw 2’ card only if it matches the colour on the deck.
  8. Multiple ‘Draw 2’ cards can be put out at once, even if they are different colours.


These are just a handful of rules from the game, which indicate show complex a ‘simple’ child’s game can be. 


Hence, when teaching a child for the first time, try removing the power cards first. Start by matching based on colour first, then on numbers, and then both together. After that, power cards can be introduced one by one.

Breaking Skills Down: Sports

Sports also come with many rules, and one does not need to wait for the opportunity to sign their child up for Football Club before exposing them to sports. The same principle of Breaking Skills Down should be applied.


When exploring what sport a child might be interested in, begin with plays they already like. For example, a child who likes water play may enjoy swimming. A child who enjoys climbing may like rock climbing.


Example Sport: Swimming

A common sport that also doubles as a useful survival skill is swimming. There are many factors to think about when breaking the skill of swimming down:

  • How deep is the pool? 
  • How far do they need to swim? 
  • Which style should they learn? 
  • Are they able to hold their breath underwater, and for how long?
  • Can they tolerate wearing a swimsuit, goggles and swimming cap before they can even get in the water? 


It is not uncommon for a child with autism to need weeks to desensitise to swimming attire before they even set foot in the water.


Below is a general order of skills a child needs to learn when beginning swimming:

  • Desensitising to swimming attire
  • Tolerating entering the water
  • Holding one’s head below water
  • Inhaling above water
  • Exhaling underwater 
  • Being able to float
  • Beginner strokes
  • Intermediate strokes
  • Advanced strokes


If you would really like to teach your child a sport, it is recommended to consult with a professional or even work with them to break the skill down for your child.

Reinforcement and Practice

Reinforcement and practice, the other Key Strategies of ABA, must continue to be incorporated when teaching new games and sports. Keep in mind that learning a new game or sport can take weeks, months or in some cases even years to master.

Your Turn

  1. Select an age-appropriate game or sport.
  2. Break the game or sport into steps.
  3. Teach using the Three Key Strategies of ABA:
    – Break Skills Down
    – Practice
    – Reinforcement