There are a number of classic games to develop theory of mind.
Have you ever picked up a student and had them launch into the middle of a story, usually a movie or show they’ve watched, but you can’t follow it because you have no frame of reference?
Theory of mind is the understanding of another person’s perspective, emotions, knowledge or beliefs and that they may not match your own. This includes the ability to recognize that our experience gives us unique information and we need to accommodate this difference in our communication. Sometimes this means filling in information a listener doesn’t have, for instance, filling in a friend who was out sick on what happened on the day they were absent. Sometimes it means skipping a re-cap when you both watched the latest episode (separately or together) and want to dish on the action.
These skills allow us to be effective social communicators, but also play a role in keeping confidences—an expected ability in a close relationship—and conflict resolution. It also allows us to play jokes/pranks on others. Empathy and compassion rely on this skill as well. We expect children to have some competency with this by 4-5 years of age.
I Know Something You Don’t Know (Yet)
Games that rely on a “secret” are ones that help develop this understanding and are easy to incorporate into your session even if just for a short portion of time.
- Head Bandz: One player wears a band that holds a card only visible to the others. They then ask questions to allow them to figure out who they “are.” In addition to theory of mind skills, this game addresses asking question, categories and other attributes. I typically skip the time option.
- Guess Who: Though meant to play battle style, I more often play with one player holding a “secret” person card and the other as the guesser. This game also targets answering or asking yes/no questions, describing/recognizing facial features (classic version).
- Shell games: Set out a few cups upside down, have the child cover their eyes then hide something under one cup. Let them guess where the object is, then switch roles. I like to have the child say, “Is it that one?” and point, so I can answer “yes” or “no” before I pick up the cup.
- Guess in 10: Available in classic and junior editions these games come in common categories (animals, community helpers, household) and walk you through specific clues to guess the answer.
- I Spy: This game is more advanced because it allows for such a wide range of choices and the visual “clutter” can confuse some kiddos. One player chooses an object in the room and the other asks questions (your choice as to how many, but usually no more than 20) in an attempt to “find” it. This game can also be used to work on joint attention/thinking with your eyes by encouraging the one choosing the item to keep their gaze on it to provide a hint to the guessers.
- Hide and Seek: If you have a larger space to play in, consider adding a game that allows for more movement. This is also a chance for seekers to consider what hiding places are possible based on the size of the hiders/space.
- Hot-Cold scavenger hunt: Have your students cover their eyes while you hide an object in the room. As they search for it, give them clues such as “getting colder” when they move away from it and “getting warmer” as they get closer. This helps to remind them that you do know where the hidden object is even if they don’t.
Other advanced games like charades and Pictionary rely on one person or team working to identify information another person has. If you allow the students to come up with the possible “answers” on their own, it provides an additional opportunity to consider another person’s perspective. Will all of your friends be familiar enough with an obscure dinosaur or cartoon character to guess it?
Have other game ideas you like to use? Please share them in the comments below!