Play matters. It doesn't matter how old your child is or even how old you are, play is important. Play reduces stress, allows us to form connections, to be in the moment, to share a laugh. It stimulates creativity and imagination. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it's especially hard to take the time out to play. We get caught up in our daily routines and social obligations.
As a child, some of my happiest memories are playing board games or card games with my cousins during the long vacations. I started playing Scrabble as an eight year old with my mom who was an English teacher. Back then, I remember the thrill of making a big word or scoring those triple word scores. 30 years later, we still ritually play Scrabble on holidays. It's time spent together, sipping on chai, talking of everything and nothing, moaning about our luck over the scrabble tiles while secretly plotting a huge score.
On a recent mini vacation, I played Scrabble and Monopoly with my boys and it took me straight back to my childhood. The excitement of winning, the thrill of almost beating another player, the animated, vociferous discussion of rules of the game, the learning to wait patiently for your turn, the grace of accepting a loss, the shared camaraderie captured in that moment, the ability to be wholly present and interact in real time with out gadgets, the ability to connect across generations.. all brought about by a simple game.
Playing games helps build essential social and communication skills, increases self-esteem and confidence. Children develop cognitive thinking skills. They learn to be part of a team but also, learn to develop and rely on their natural instincts. They learn to strategise and form connections. All essential life skills that will be put to use in later years. Playing games as a family creates a fun, safe environment for children to take risks, push their boundaries and challenge themselves.
Go ahead, make Family Game nights a priority. Mark one evening a month to play games together. Involve the whole family. No exceptions allowed. Play a game. Start by playing games that they are familiar with and then slowly, introduce new games to them. Choose games that are fun for you as well. Play is not play unless all parties are having fun. If a sense of obligation or duty sets in, if you're not enjoying the game, stop. Try another game or another day. Choose games that are age appropriate, that are challenging but not so hard that they lose interest in the game. The youngest player in the group should be able to pick up the rules within a few times of playing the game. Play fun, silly games where age is not a factor in winning.
As Charles Schaeffer said, "We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing”