Including Everyone

As you can imagine, our 2-year-old is very interested in being included in all the games we play. If it’s a Treasure Hunt, she’s right there with the pack, trying to follow the map. If S. and his friends are ninjas, then she is too. And if it’s a game like checkers or chess, she wants to be involved, using the real game pieces and game board. It can be challenging to figure out ways for her to participate in a meaningful way, without ruining the game for her older brother.

Sometimes I’ll take extra game pieces or cards, and let her play on the side, while S. and I are playing. Another strategy that’s working pretty well is to give her lots of time to mess around with the game pieces when we’re not playing an official game. Right now she’s especially interested in putting checkers on the board and in putting the little pegs in the  Battleship board, of course.

Logistically, it’s not that hard to include everyone who wants to be included. The difficult part is convincing S. that it’s okay for his sister to play in a different way. He’s just beginning to appreciate rules and taking turns, so her way of playing can truly offend him. But we work through it, again and again. And it’s worth it, again and again.

How do you include your whole family (or classroom, if you’re a teacher) in the games you play?



Another simple game we’ve been enjoying lately is tic-tac-toe. Sometimes we play on paper, but we’re also using a wooden board (from Celine), that I painted with chalkboard paint. The bonus is that you can design and play with the dividing lines on the board too. The board can also work for a 3-letter-word crossword challenge!

What simple games do you enjoy?

You better run, run, run…



We can’t wrap up this month without a few more active games. We usually revert to made-up, on-the-spot games that are all derived from that old classic, “I’m gonna get you!” (also known as “Gonna getchoo!” at our house). Here are some of our latest variations…

1. Dragon slayers chasing dragons

2. Children being chased by ghosts

3. Runners who go so fast, they can’t even be seen by people standing in the kitchen

4. Ice skaters sliding and gliding by

5. Tickle monsters chasing tickle monsters, of course!

As long as people take their socks off, it usually doesn’t end in collisions or crying. So, lots of laughing, no money spent, and you get a mini-workout at the same time – that’s a win, win, win type of game, right up there with the Five Best Toys of All Time.

Are you ready? Set… Go!

Battleship Blues

How do you make peace with a game that you really dislike? Ironically, Battleship, a game of war, is what I’m trying to make peace with. I know that I could make it ‘disappear’ when the kids are sleeping, but that doesn’t seem like the right solution. S. loves playing, even though it’s pretty slow and we’ve never completed a game yet.

I’ve been listening to Follow Your North Star  by Martha Beck, and she suggests applying the three ‘B’s to any activity that you dislike:

1. Bag it – find a way to remove the activity from your life

2. Barter it – convince someone else to do the activity for you, in exchange for some thing or service they value

3. Better it – get creative and figure out ways to make the activity more enjoyable

I’m focused on bartering Battleship play time (anybody want to come over to play today?) and bettering it. That’s still a work in progress.


Do you have any games that you want to get rid of, trade out, or improve? 

From Fun to FLOW – What’s the Difference?

I posted earlier this week about keeping game-playing fun. I’m sticking with that overarching sentiment, but I think the word ‘fun’ deserves a little more thought. The boy in the photo above is having a whole lotta fun – he’s rolling dice, counting and comparing the two numbers, making tally marks, and counting by 5s. I had to pry him away from the game, in order to eat dinner that night.

His dice game includes many of the elements that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi includes in his theory of flow:

  • It’s a game with clear goals – roll the higher number and win more points
  • He gets immediate feedback with each roll – he can see which number is higher
  • He is in a state of balance between challenges to his math abilities (counting by 5s) and the skills he’s already gained (automatically identifying the number of dots)
  • He is so immersed in the process that he doesn’t notice distractions
  • He has no worry of failing – the process of playing is what he’s enjoying
  • His sense of time has become distortedDinnertime? What are you talking about?

So the games we love the most are probably fun for us because they can take us into a state of flow. There is a huge connection between Csikszentmihlyi’s work and video games. Instead of either dismissing or demonizing video games, many scholars are investigating the value that engaging games bring to the lives of those who play them –  Jenova Chen’s web-site is a great resource for anyone who’d like to learn more about flow in relation to video games.
That said, we’re trying to wait a little longer before investing in video games at our house. S. plays some games on the iPad, and definitely loses track of time and everything around him. I started playing Where’s My Water (Swampy the Alligator) with him the other night, and couldn’t tear myself away, so I guess I’m a little worried about the addictive powers of video games on all of us. Then again, if spending more time in a state of flow potentially leads to greater creativity and fulfillment, maybe more video games would do me good…
What are your thoughts on flow? What games or activities get you into that state of mind?


Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Super Speedy

The game of the night was simple and moved at the speed of light. You can’t go wrong with paper airplane contests. Longest flight, highest flight, spinniest flight, coolest flight.


B. was happy to be involved, and she wasn’t worried about winning any of the contests. She created her own rule and decided that airplanes should only be thrown by people sitting on the big rectangle ottoman. She followed her rule, but had trouble enforcing others to comply.

Thanks Lucy D. for the fun airplane Valentine cards – it made our night!


The Important Thing about Games

For me, the most important thing about this month of game exploration, is to keep it fun. I know that people can learn all sorts of skills and facts through game-playing. Sometimes we parents and teachers even strategically choose games, in order to teach some concept. But that’s sort of like hiding pureed veggies in the ice cream. Isn’t it all right to just eat ice cream?

Yes! It’s fine to scoop up a big bowl and enjoy it, just as it is. Of course, it’s metaphorical, so if you’re lactose-intolerant, no worries – just insert something else you find incredibly delicious or enjoyable into the analogy. And then, go have some fun!

What games bring you and your family the most joy? The most laughter?