Teach Through Games: Obstacles

Teach Through Games: Obstacles

Age level: Early Elementary, Upper Elementary

Description: Would a spacesuit help you get through a traffic jam? Maybe if it has a rocket attached. Could boots help you get past an ogre? Possibly, if they’re magic boots that make you invisible. Can an ice cream sundae help you get across a swamp? Hmmm…. Obstacles is a unique, cooperative game that allows players to create imaginative solutions to challenges. These solutions can be serious or silly, and the game makes it possible for players with very different approaches to work together in a productive way. 

In this game, all players are dealt Tool Cards and are working together to pass obstacles on their way home. When an obstacle, or Path Card, is presented, each player looks at his/her Tool Cards, chooses the one that would be best for addressing that obstacle, and describes to players how it could be used. Then all players decide which is the best Tool Card to use. Once all obstacles have been passed and players arrive home, the game is won!

Skills & Modifications: I make very few modifications to this game. However, prerequisite skills required for the game include mastery of hundreds of tacts (labels) as well as clear mastery of the function for different items. For example, a child may see the Tool Card pictured below and tact it as “trampoline.” They must also be able to identify it’s function as “something you can jump on” or “something that makes you jump higher.” In order to play the game, they must be able to take that a step further to come up with a solution for moving past the obstacle of the “River” (also pictured below.) For example, a player could offer the solution of “jumping on the trampoline ten times until you’re jumping high enough to get all the way across the river in one leap.” 

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This skill set can be very challenging for many learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders. One thing I appreciate about the game is that it allows for conversation that explicitly shows the thought-process of each player, allowing learners to hear examples of problem solving and reasoning from their peers.

Finally, the game instructions suggest using 10 Path Cards for a short game, 15 for a moderate game, or 20 for a longer game. When first introducing the game, I may modify this quite a bit by starting with just 3-5 Path Cards. I’ll increase it over time as the learner gains mastery of the concepts of the game. I want to avoid a situation in which the learner has lost all interest, or worse, is misbehaving as a means of escaping gameplay.

Problem Solving – At it’s root, this is a problem-solving game. I love that it gets kids thinking creatively and it has so many cards included that’s it’s rare to have the same scenario multiple times no matter how many times you play it. 

Cause and Effect – After the game is over, I like retelling the story with my learners. The instructions to the game state that when a player’s Tool Card is chosen to address an obstacle, they get to keep the Path Card. For many learners, I do not use this rule. Instead, our Path Cards stay on the table, and the Tool Card used is placed next to it (as pictured below.) This way, once we get home, we can look back at the cards and talk about what we did. I can ask cause and effect questions, such as “What was the effect of using the kite?”

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Peer Play/Teamwork – It can be challenging to find cooperative games that are appealing for learners who struggle with language or social interaction. For learners with autism who are strong with language (and a bit of silliness) this is a great option for working on peer play. 

Expressive Language – Obstacles requires a high level of expressive language skill. You may want to include sample sentence starters to support learners who struggle but are capable of completing the tasks required by the game. 

Function – As aforementioned, it’s important that learners clearly understand the function of different objects. When I am first introducing the game, I will put in the cards with the clearest functions for addressing obstacles, such as Trampoline, Saw, Balloon, or Catapult. I will place in my own hand some of the more abstract cards, such as Sundae, Vacuum Cleaner, and Trumpet. I can then model for the learner unusual ways these tools could be used to address obstacles (such as using the vacuum to suck up the swamp or playing a lullaby on the trumpet until the ogre falls asleep.) Over time I will introduce more challenging cards to the learner. 

Flexibility – All players decide together which Tool Card is the best fit for addressing an obstacle. For some learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders, it may be difficult to accept when other players have a different opinion than their own. You may want to assign an adult as the “Mayor” or “Judge” to make final decisions. The game also encourages flexibility by creating scenarios in which rigid thinking about an object is reinforced. 

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Pros: You can easily differentiate the game by choosing Tool Cards specific to each learner prior to playing. If you have a learner who struggles with thinking abstractly about the Tool Cards, then you can provide some cards with more obvious choices for him/her. It’s easy to provide cards for each learner that increases the motivation to play. Over time, I randomize which cards each player receives, but in the beginning I find that it’s very easy to “stack the deck” to promote interest as players are learning how to problem solve.

I also love that the game changes based on who you’re playing it with. It is well-suited to matching the mood or personality of your learner. If your learner is particularly silly, you’re going to get some fun and silly solutions. If your learner is more serious or a repository for factoids, you may get more scientific solutions and even learn a thing or two along the way!

Cons: This can prove to be a very challenging game for learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Be prepared in advance to provide support as needed, but also recognize if your learner isn’t quite ready for a game that requires this level of complexity with expressive language and abstract thought.

Cost: $16.95  You should invest in this game if: you are seeking games to increase conversation between peers and/or siblings, you have a learner who enjoys wordplay and silliness, or you are looking for unique ways to practice problem-solving skills.

ABLLS: A19, H44, H48, H49, L26

VB-MAPP: Intraverbal 14

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