Round and Round the Garden and other such games (e.g. ‘I’m Gonna Get You’ or ‘Row Your Boat’ – see YouTube link below for the words and tune to the rhyme) commonly and generally occur throughout western societies’ child nurturing practices. They have been called ‘tension-expectancy’ or ‘tension-anticipation’ activities and have a simple structure that is easy to remember, follow and anticipate. The child or adult can be a knowing expert within these uncomplicated, predictable routines, relaxed and at ease within a simple situation of huge enjoyment and stimulation. The person will therefore enter into these extended sequences of face-to-face activity with us frequently, joyfully, willingly and confidently.
Round and Round the Garden is actually a face-to-face communication activity, a social interaction. Within this activity, the person has the opportunity to practice and learn and use sophisticated and complicated communication stuff and the deep stuff. Such as a sense of shared joy with another person; routines for relating effectively with other people and the knowledge of the ability to relate successfully; the emotional and psychological well-being that develops from this; the inner sense of ‘I am okay’.
What you need
Happily, not much. Everything you need you already have. Just you and some time with the person.
Row Your Boat rhyme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rafox-9P3r8
Guidance and instructions
To be a good at playing tension anticipation games, and maximise the emotional wellbeing and developmental outcomes of this simple game, there are some tips you can take from Intensive Interaction principles. This example refers to Round and Round the Garden, but can be used for any of these kinds of interactive games, with children and adults.
- Use a slow, stop-start build-up to create and heighten the excitement and tension, and the gathering expectation that something big and delightful is about to happen.
- Use your face, eyes, body-language and voice with playful drama. Let yourself enjoy the situation just as much as the other person.
- Build anticipation by playfully ‘threatening’, with hands and fingers. Gradually slow down your actions and voice until:
- “One step…………….two step……….. and a…..” (pause, pause, hands gradually raised with tickly fingers threatening) then a laughing explosion: “Tickly under there!!!!”
- Avoid rushing to build the pleasurable tension and keep the person balanced on a knife-edge of anticipation. The build-up, is a great opportunity for sharing facial expressions and eye contact, and therefore for fundamental communication facilities to be rehearsed and developed.
- Throughout the game, pause to allow the person to process, enjoy their emotional response and give them the opportunity to be an active partner in the game by learning to give you signals to continue. Let yourself be led by the feedback from the other person. Look for how they may be able to tell you ‘stop’ or ‘more’.
- Use your observational ability, perceptions, your ‘tuning-in’ to the other person and base everything that you do on moment-by-moment feedback from that person.
- Look for the other person going ‘too high’, too excited. Excitement is good to the point that the person can handle it. Observe for this and adjust accordingly. Stop when, or before, the other person has had enough.
- At the end of a ‘round’ – allow a pause for enjoying and processing the escalation of arousal and time for de-escalating from the peak of excitement. This can be beneficial for rehearsing the ability to regulate emotional arousal.
- Do it all again! People at early levels of development clearly love repetition. Repetition provides familiarity, predictability, a sense of known structure.
- Remember that, the objective of the game is the build-up, the journey and the shared experience, not to get to the end pay-off as quickly as possible.
If you or your service is in any way troubled by notions of age-appropriateness and play with adult people, I recommend reading the considerable humane review and discussion of this in the Intensive Interaction literature. See below for link. Consider also, from the point of view of your service users, which is more significant to them in their daily life? Their chronological age, or their experience of their actual developmental levels.
What to observe, assess and record
- Does this activity allow the person to experience the best thing in life for all of us – the ability to be social and to take, and give, psychological and emotional wellbeing with the people around us by participating in social exchange.
- How does the person react to the activity?
- What pace works best for them?
- How is their emotional state before, during and after the activity?
- Over time, with repeated experience of this and other reciprocal playful social interactions – what emotional, social, communicative developments do you observe?
© Dr. Dave Hewett OBE, Director of the Intensive Interaction Institute
Created October 2020