”Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.” – Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood)

Today is “Fun Friday” the day we officially pull out the games for school.  We get excited about this day – for there is nothing more fun in school than playing together!  Now the kids are at the  great single digit age in which they can understand and enjoy playing most games.

Ah, but the challenge is giving myself permission to play…because there always seems to be so much more to do.  I think this overwhelming sense of relentless responsibility developed when I was in my early teens, surviving the loss of my family through divorce and of my father.  In all the crisis, there was always so much work to do and seldom time to play.  Thankfully my brother and I had two sets of healthy, retired, and wonderful grandparents within 30-minutes of our home who were willing on most visits to play games.  I attribute my passion to playing games greatly to our fine grandparents. Gosh, I only wish I would have learned bridge from them, too.

Playing fun games together seems to have a way of stopping time and creating a uninterrupted space to be simply be present to one another – in laughter, in challenges, and in sheer delight.  Our children are as motivated by the promise to play a game together as they are to eat ice cream – they just love it!  So “Fun Friday” provokes motivation to complete school work – and reinforces the joy of learning together, too.

Our school games today have been “Math Bingo”, “Vowel Zoo” and a computer game called “Magic School Bus – science”  “Math Bingo” is fun to do with food as markers at snack time. Today we used square Cheezits.  The kids showed progress in their ability to compute varying math problems – which proves that this game helps!

During the games I’m often struck by how much more willing our students are to work for the right answers – especially when there is a prize involved.  Of course, as my son said today, “Don’t I get a chocolate, too, since everyone wins in this house?”  At least my response is predictable – yes, he got a chocolate, also.  I like to point out that we all are winners for different reasons. During the “Vowel Zoo” game, our son was honest about an incorrect play – that would have otherwise won him the game.  It was more important to reward this correct behavior, than to have him feel left out because his sister won the game according to the printed game rules.

“Vowel Zoo” is a file folder game I’ve had this entire school year – 21 weeks into it, and we just played it for the first time . As the children asked to play again (even though it was too easy for one and just right for another), I thought to myself, “why did you wait so long to play this one?” 

What I know for sure is – playing requires time….time to be free from external obligations of coming, going, and have-to’s, time to read the directions and figure it out, or time to just do it (and believe/trust) that everything else is secondary at that moment.  Ironically, although it’s in the playing that I feel some of the greatest connections to true, uncomplicated joy, some how in my brain (maybe the Scottish work ethic genetics playing out here) seems to think that I need to/want to justify my time with concrete engagements and tasks.  It certainly feels like a message we get from our American culture – the sense of needing to push onwards for one more goal, one more accomplishment, one more task.  And we’re passing this down to our kids as a culture – by over scheduling our children, minimizing face to face family time, and allowing their “down time” to simply be electronically entertained.  So when is it real play time?

We’re in computer lab class now – with permission simply to play the learning computer game of choice.  The kids have discovered “Magic School Bus” on-line – and love it!  This is a medium for play and learning I sure didn’t have as a child and still don’t utilize enough for our family.

The real lesson is for me today is in gaining greater clarity on the true value of play time and the need to make it a daily priority – right up there with daily exercise and praying.  Thank you, kiddos, for reminding me of what matters most! “Play is the highest form of research.” Albert Einstein (scientist)