It’s time to play

father and daughter playing togetherYesterday, I took a first day of leave in what felt like a rather long time. It was, despite the present crisis that seems to pervade every aspect of our lives, a lovely and lively day, and in ruminating on the day’s events this morning, I realised this was because of one four-letter-word: play.

For me, as a Dad to two girls (one, a ten-year old tween, the other a sweet six-soon-to-be-seven-year-old), play is often inevitable. And yesterday was no different! It began with a miniature dog photo shoot (the competition, to take ten snaps of a miniature dog, was judged by my youngest daughter – I lost, it seems, following what I considered an entirely biased and arbitrary process); this progressed to crazy football – in a garden not well suited to the fine game – with plenty of embarrassing show-off Dad moments, and culminated in the evening – after some very intense grovelling, I can tell you – in a bizarre and extravagant game of seal palace land (I was not, much to my chagrin, considered worthy of role-playing a seal – rather, I was designated controller of a somewhat irritating beanie boo dog called Chocolate).

Anyhow, this got me to thinking about play. With kids, especially young kids, play is, as I say, inevitable, and at the current time, it can be a welcome distraction. And it is undoubtedly worth making the time for if you’re able to. Play is central to human socialisation, fosters deep and meaningful learning, and helps us build connections and memories. Blah-de-blah, this is not a lecture!

But the imaginative and creative play of childhood is not the only play there is. At a time of social distancing, many of us will find ourselves back with families, perhaps back to the family home. And in most family homes, generally lurking silently at the back of a dark cupboard, or perched high atop a dusty shelf, there can be found a stash of board games: Monopoly (the favourite of wannabe tycoons everywhere), Cluedo (the favourite of wannabe….detectives), Ludo (the most mind-numbing, excruciatingly boring game in existence – please leave this where you find it, or better still – bury it deeper!)…and Scrabble (for wordsmiths and families that enjoy a good argument). Just thinking about the games is fun in itself, imagine dusting them off and playing them…

With further hunting around, you may unearth other treasures: a chess set (is it time now to learn the French defence?), backgammon (perfect for both meat lovers and ruthless tacticians), jenga (not for the faint-hearted or hand-….shaked), or perhaps a treasured old box of Subbuteo (go on – take on your mum!). Not to mention cards, one of the greatest inventions in social history. Or Twister…(put on a bit of Ed Sheeran and you’re away).

Besides these, there are family favourites such as charades, which require nothing more than time, switching off the TV, and perhaps a glass of wine to loosen up those inhibitions. Or maybe an after dinner game of Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? Anyone? Anyone?

Offline games abound and with a bit of time and effort can bring fun, laughter and merriment into our lives, giving us a much-needed break from the news, work and study.

My advocating of offline play and games is not to discourage use of tech. On the contrary, whether it’s endless rounds of Candy Crush, blood-thirsty killing in GTA (why, I ask you!), or levels and levels of saving lemmings from certain doom (ahem, guilty confession), there is something for everyone online. And at a time when people are needing to socially isolate, or find themselves in isolation, these games are great, help pass time, break up the day, and also sharpen thinking skills.

To get back to my earlier point, though, let’s play. When you can, switch off the TV, close the laptop, and stick your phone in a pocket, or even (live dangerously!) put it in another room. And take up your child’s offer to play trains, Lego or even seal palace land. Or perhaps ask your mum if she fancies a cup of tea and a few games of pontoon, or your little brother (if you can encourage him off his XBox) to take you on at Monopoly. And why not have a pint with a friend via Zoom and see if you can perform the charade for Dr Zhivargo? Or perhaps, less highbrow, with a different audience, The Twits?

We all need some lightness in our lives right now and I, for one, will be making sure there is some time for play every day.

Thank you to Miles Smith, Education Lecturer, for writing this.

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