Life Happens Board Game

Bullying. Family. Friendships. School. Whether we realise it or not, they are all issues that impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of young children.

Now, primary school students will have the opportunity to share their concerns in a fun, interactive way, with a new board game developed by researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW).

Life Happens Junior, an educational game released this month, enables young children to share their anxieties, work through the changes that may be happening in their lives, and conquer their fears in a safe, supportive environment.  The game follows on from the release two years ago of Life Happens, a board game aimed at encouraging conversations around sexual health in adolescents. Both the adult and junior versions of the game use life-size bodies, or body maps, to guide their characters through relationships and issues.

Associate Professor Kate Senior, from UOW’s School of Health and Society, said the idea for a junior version of Life Happens Junior was inspired by a moment at a conference in Norway. “I was discussing the original Life Happens at a workshop, and Lily, my nine-year-old daughter, was with me at the time. She stood up in the middle of the workshop and said, ‘I want to make my own body map!’ And she started to create her own,” Professor Senior said. “It was a really profound moment because it allowed Lily to talk about experiences she had had with being bullied. It was interesting because she really responded to the method of the game, in which they discuss issues in a hypothetical way.”

Professor Senior, working with PhD student Laura Grozdanovski, enlisted the help of her Lily, and a team of children to create a version of Life Happens that would encapsulate the concerns and worries of their peers.

Thus, Life Happens Junior was born. It was a revealing experience for Professor Senior, an anthropologist, and Ms Grozdanovski, a researcher – both of whom developed the original board game. “It was fascinating working with the children to create the issue cards, because we didn’t realise they felt such pressure. They felt pressure from their parents’ and their teacher’s expectations, but also they were also worried about failing in front of their classmates. “Bullying was an important topic, but the kids were also keen to share the bully’s perspective, because they said no-one ever asks the bullies how they feel. But they also wanted to talk about their parents, their siblings, what it feels like to fight with a friend. “We realised that kids really have so few spaces where they can work through their concerns in a fun, collaborative way.”

The game’s topics include dealing with divorce, fighting with siblings, how to cope with eating lunch alone or being left out of friendship groups, the death of a pet, and overcoming the pressure of a spelling test. The researchers worked with UOW third-year design students to create the fun, vibrant look of the game, with the young audience being their toughest critics. Life Happens Junior is aimed at students in grades three to seven, from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

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