Playing Games with Children
July 26, 2017

“But when children play the right games from the beginning… it follows them in everything…”
Socrates, in Plato’s Republic

The question broke through the pleasant fog of dozing off on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. “Daddy, do you want to play statue?”

“Uh. Well. What’s ‘statue’?” I was buying time; though indeed I did not know what statue was. The response was something of a blur, the way children quickly explain the rules of a game that they find clear and obviously fun.

I was facing one of those classic hard decisions. What exactly would it mean to say: “Sorry, I don’t have time right now.” On Sunday afternoon. Sure, I could be honest: “I don’t really feel like playing a game right now.” And sometimes that will be the answer if I am simply too tired or really need some space.

But I think that right priorities would dictate that I say yes more often than I do. Especially on Sunday. And especially in summer.

Well in this instance the next thing I knew I was in the basement, and we were playing statue. When you’re ‘it’ the others try to move toward base whenever you’re not looking. When you look at them, they stand still like a statue. If you look away, they can move. If you see them moving, they have to go back to where they were and take one giant step backwards.

Peals of laughter. And I mean peals. I thought to myself: I almost missed this opportunity.

Is there any more clear way to say to our children “I simply love being with you” than to play their own games with them?

And how good it is for children to have adults give them a pattern of how to play well: everything from being a good winner and a good loser to offering gentle and kind correction. “Raphie, are you quite sure you really saw me move?” (It’s up to the person who is ‘it’ to say whether he turned in time to see you move or not.) Yes, children need to learn to play without adults. But playing with adults is a great way to do so. What a joy it is (when it actually happens) to hear them playing among themselves, and correcting one another, or praising one another, as they have heard an adult do to them.

Recently the children have been on a Hide and Seek kick. What most strikes me in this perennial classic, especially with younger children, is the tension between not wanting to be found and wanting to be found. There is something primordial at work here, in all of us. And everyone knows that it’s most fun when Mama or Daddy are playing, right?

~ ~ ~
This is the fifth in a series: What To Do This Summer.

Image: Hide and Seek, by James Tissot (1836-1902)

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  1. Love the beautiful painting above (and the peels of laughter!) — and your comment at the end re. hide and seek and the tension therein really struck home. I was recently with the children of some friends, and they begged me to play with them. What game? That old classic — “Hide and Sneak”! Yes, it was the traditional game with only the name changed to protect the innocent…and I don’t remember having so much fun in a very long time…Although I wish I could have seen their game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” with my husband! Ah, children. Jesus said to the Vietnamese Servant of God, Marcel Van (little spiritual brother of St. Therese), “Children please me in everything,” and I can see why!

    Thanks for your blog, John! It’s wonderful to have access to your mind and heart each week!
    much love,
    Suzie Andres

    1. You are so very kind, Suzie. Thanks so much for sharing this. I would have loved to see that Duck, Duck, Goose game too. I can’t remember when I’ve played that one…

  2. Fr. Joseph Bittle

    I am an Eastern Orthodox priest with 6 children, 5 of whom are home-schooled (ages 11, 10, 10, 7, 3). When not working on academics, they are usually to be found with their noses buried in books or engaged in some type of free form role play. That is all well and good, but it occurs to me that they haven’t benefited from the combination of fun and character formation from playing simple games with rules such as I played when I was a child (1970s) and which were common in earlier generations. I have been pondering this for the last few days, and decided to try to find a book on Amazon with such classic games to help me get them started. I didn’t have much luck. Any thoughts?

    1. Dear Fr. Bittle, I sure wish I had a good book to recommend. I must admit, somehow it just seems that my children have been exposed to the kind of games we played–everything from flashlight tag to ghost in the graveyard, freeze tag, and beyond (in the 1970’s for me too!), and I’m not sure how, so I haven’t had to worry about that aspect. Maybe I’ve been fortunate because they have many aunts and uncles, and thus cousins, who can pass on and practice such things. As you well know, having some other children who can engage in these things with your children–even just a few–can make a very big difference. I know this is stating the obvious, but surely the children will love learning a few games from you. And dare I say it: I’m sure a web search of the names of any of the old games will be able to fill in what your memory does not retain about the rules. My hope for you is that your good desires and efforts in this area will be richly blessed.

      1. Fr. Joseph Bittle

        Yes, I do intend to play with them. Unfortunately, as I am about to turn 50, my memory of those childhood games has grown dim; and, of course, I tend to be one of the ones who believe that there is nothing a good book can’t solve – thus Amazon as resource of first resort.

  3. Always absolutely love the art work you find! Thank you!