I’m not fan of the game tug of war for preschoolers. I think it’s challenging for three, four and five year-olds to feel connected to one another while they are actively working against each other– even in a game. So I avoid competitive games with young children and re-frame activities in ways that we can work together and be on the same side.
Still, there are many compelling things about the classic game of tug of war. Only a rope is needed and it’s an easy game to explain or join. It can be thrilling to get to fully use one’s strength while feeling the resistance of another’s weight and heaving. So a few years ago I experimented with a group of children and we invented a fantasy game, I have come to call “Rescue Rope.” It utilizes many of the desirable aspects of tug of war without having winners or losers. This simple game has become a staple of our outdoor play alongside Chase and Hide and Seek.
How To Play: Each child holds a rope and tosses the open end to an adult. The adult pretends to need help in a dire situation. Recently the script has involved an adult who has fallen off a boat. To intensify matters, the adult does not know how to swim and there’s a fierce, hungry shark threatening them. The children have the upper hand flipping the real-life power dynamic. Children are safe on the boat, teaming up to rescue the vulnerable adult from serious danger. The stakes are high and so is the joy and satisfaction.