Playing Games

I have come to a startling revelation:  children today do not play, or at least they do not play like we did when we were kids.  At a recent curriculum night, my youngest son’s teacher informed the gathered parents that their children’s fourth-grade class will be participating in a weekly program that will teach how to play well at recess and how to follow the rules of recreation.  At our church’s yard sale, my middle son’s friend brought home a number of board games that we had for sale because he had no games at home.  Certainly, children today are engaged in sports and video games, they do not know how to play.  They know how to compete, whether it is tracked on scoreboards or screens, but are ignorant of play.

What did we do to our children when we were encouraging them to win (e.g. on the field) or finish the task the fastest (with Legos, for example) while at the same downplaying the joys of simply ‘having fun’?    Somewhere along the way we forgot the fun of recreation and substituted it with competition and amusement.  We neglected to pass on the benefits of being renewed, or recreated, when engaging with others in play and began to emphasize the goals of skill acquisition, winning and superiority when engaging against others on the ballfield or the playground.  Sadly, the question we ask our kids at the end of these endeavors is no longer, “Did you have fun?” but rather, “Did we win?”

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.   Hebrews 4:9-10

This is not God’s purpose for us – to compete with each other until one stands victorious and the also-rans fall to defeat.  God’s plan and purpose is for our lives to have periods of rest.  He worked into His creation a break from work (toil, labor and struggle) every seven days.  God’s understanding of rest is not for us to sleep for an entire day (as there is time for sleep every day), but to fill one day a week with recreational (what will recreate us) activities.  We all need to take time to be creative and be recreated.  We all are designed to take time to read for pleasure, cook for fun, exercise our minds and bodies for refreshment and play for the sake of enjoyment.

Our children work hard; they are engaging in toil, labor and struggle at school and with extracurriculars for hours at a time.  We, as parents and as a society, must encourage them to engage in play, not to win but to recreate.  Kids need to build things ‘without the directions’, ride bikes ‘without a destination’, and enjoy board games ‘without a decision’.   Kids need to see these things modeled as well – to see us reading, riding or rolling just for the mere pleasure of being together and growing together.

I wonder what would happen if we began playing games with our children for only an hour – playing for a time and not a triumph.  We could break out the Monopoly board and set the timer.  There would be no winner and no loser, just an hour of interaction and conversation.  Would we be frustrated by the lack of closure?  Perhaps, but I think it would pass.  Would we benefit from the process of recreation instead of competition?  Probably.  Let me know what happens if you try.


One response

  1. One of your best blogs, Mike. A concise realistic appraisal of our current society. Marie and I discuss this topic weekly it seems, especially when we see children actually playing … it doesn’t seem to happen often. We’re young friends whose children were exposed (forced?) into taking lessons for instruments (guitar and violin) at 5-6 years of age, then sports (soccer and hockey for the boy; cannot recall the girl’s assignment but possibly lacrosse or field hockey). The children have little/no free time since practicing their sports, instruments, et al, seems to take all of their spare time by design.

    I saw this “living vicariously through one’s children’s accomplishments” movement take hold about 30 years ago. Board games, that I used to love to play, disappeared: not intellectual. Girls playing with dolls was looked down upon – “gender role playing”. Roller skates died long before that: “kids are always getting hurt …” “Cowboys-and-Indians” died because of the fear that toy pistols would lead to real guns, that then morphed into Gun Control, and a movement to glorify the Indian – but it in no way helped the Indian’s subsistence-level life – shamed those who played the game. Playing soldiers was shamed by the growing anti-war, gun control “culture”. Dodge ball was banned because it caused injury and “bent little minds to cause a lack of accomplishment, breeding poor self image and lack of confidence”. PI/PT was banned from grammar school to minimize the chance that kids would develop feelings of inferiority because others achieved. Neighborhoods started dying because families became evermore insular. Children were now guided, more directed by their parents, and could not leave the house at 0900 to play with other kids, return for lunch and a rest, then return to the yards or streets for more group playing, even after dinner.

    One wonders what would happen should hop-scotch, tag, Red Light/green Light, Simon says, Hide and Seek, jump rope, et al were again ascendant.

    Then mass movement toward awarding “trophies for showing up or participating” supposedly nurtured the children and made them feel accomplished, privileged. The children evermore were not mere children but pawns who lived by the dicta of their parents; there was no “play”, only “accomplishments” … for the parents.

    While passing time with some people while waiting for a restaurant reservation, there were a few visibly shocked (shocked!) to discover that I had started shooting a rifle (.22) at 12 and in a NRA-sponsored rifle club at 13.

    My childhood was not the easiest but in many ways far better than what seems to be the norm today.

    You surely understand.

    Best wishes,



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