Elementary and Middle School health teachers are awesome and I can only imagine the challenges involved in teaching content to to the youngest of inquiring minds. With that in mind, this blog post is primarily for you and comes from Daniela Gilsanz. Daniela is a designer, menstrual activist, and co-creator of The Period Game – a board game designed to teach menstruation in a fun, engaging way. What I like about this game is that it provides younger students with the opportunity to learn about periods in an engaging and safe way, providing them with the information that they need, or can pass on to peers when appropriate.
My 6th grade health teacher wrote “VAGINA” in caps across the white board and wouldn’t start our menstruation lesson until the whole class was chanting it out loud together. I think it’s safe to say that changed the way I thought about periods forever.
What I wouldn’t realize until many years later was just how lucky this experience was. Sixth-grade-me couldn’t have imagined how many people I would meet who had never had periods explained to them, friends who thought something was really wrong the first time they menstruated, or those who just assumed they would bleed everyday from that point on.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Period Game started about five years ago as a college project at the Rhode Island School. My good friend Ryan Murphy and I were in a “Design and Play” class, taught by the amazing Cas Holman, and everyone was tasked with making a game about the body. Immediately, we jumped to a game about periods because we knew that redesigning an often uncomfortable educational experience through play would help create a safe space for young people to learn, ask questions, and develop a positive association with menstruation, all before the taboo could be instilled.
So we made the first version of our game, and it taught practical period information including types of period protection (from pads to menstrual cups), possible PMS symptoms, how to handle them and more. The gameplay had ovaries you can spin, mini player piece tampons, and we made it impossible to play without saying the words “period” and “pad.” We developed a card that made players ask other participants for an extra pad or tampon, modeling behavior that they might come across later to make it easier when the time came.
Initially our classmates were a little uncomfortable, which surprised us, as we were all in our 20s at art-school, but proved that there was still a long way to go in how we talk about periods. Watching our peers get more comfortable with the subject while playing the game clued us in that we were onto something.
After graduating, we began testing the game with hundreds of students of different backgrounds, as well as gynecologists, sex educators and puberty experts to great results. We saw young people of all genders loudly exclaim, “I got my period!” We watched as one student made up a period dance to celebrate each flow, while another finally understood PMS and what had been happening to her body. We had a nine-year-old try and buy it on the spot, and watched as students engaged in honest and open conversations about menstruation.
We continued to improve the game play and got it down to 20-30 minutes to fit perfectly into a lesson plan—allowing for set up time and discussion after. We finalized the design to make it mass-producible and got great press on sites like HuffPost, Boston Globe, ScaryMommy, and Teen Vogue all eventually leading to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
And after months of late night emails to China and tons of community support…we have a game! The Period Game! It’s available on our site, on Amazon, and can already be found in classrooms across the country. Trust me, it would look great in your classroom too.
As you know, I am constantly advocating for health teachers to teach in ways that are inclusive and skills-based, and let parents know that the ways in which we teach have changed. In a recent interview Daniela said that she remembered how menstruation was taught in school – “everyone was so afraid of it, so afraid to ask questions”. The Period Game is yet one further way in which we can educate our students in ways that don’t seek to judge, or shock.
This book would go well with my two favorite puberty books:
Celebrate Your Body (and it’s Changes Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls by Sonya Renee Taylor