Five Ways to Embrace and Improve Your Play Skills

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Five Ways to Embrace and Improve Your Play Skills


Somehow, I’ve managed to wangle my way into a career that comprises collecting, creating and playing games. Regularly, parents tell me, ‘Oh, I don’t like games,’ or ‘I’m not really a playful person’. I’ve spoken to plenty of people who worry that they’ve forgotten how to play, or children whose concept of a game doesn’t extend beyond a screen. It’s time to change that. Play is a very human thing: we spend our infancy learning through it, our childhood longing for it, then our adult life pretending it doesn’t exist. But when shared between parents and children, play is communication, it’s education, it’s discovery.  Here are five ways to bring play back into your family’s life and keep it there:


1. Winning is good. Losing is good.

When playing games with children, we’ve been taught to worry about the impact of a loss on their confidence and self-esteem. However, the sooner that young people experience defeat in a safe environment, the better prepared they’ll be for it when it occurs for real. I like to play quickfire competitive games such as Don’t Finish The Word with my pupils, because while both wins and losses come regularly, each loss provides some value. Every time I win, I’ve most likely employed a new piece of vocabulary that they can learn.


2. Play doesn’t have to be competitive.

If video games have fooled us into thinking one thing, it’s that competition is key. At some point, we’ve forgotten that in plenty of games, you don’t need to compete against the other players. Take Would You Rather or One Word Story. One is a game of opinions and discussion; the other’s a collaborative story game. Both are fun, dynamic, playful, but you can’t lose them.


3. Play everywhere!

Games don’t have to be played around a table or in front of a screen. There are brilliant games for long walks, traffic jams, family parties and waiting rooms. In fact, some of the best games I’ve ever played have emerged from the strangest situations. 1-2-3-Spy, a game whose objective is to spot the numbers from 1 to a million, in order, without creating them yourself, was created on a night bus. It’s now kind of taken over my life. On a related note, If you can see the number 389 anywhere (but not on a page, screen, etc) let me know!


4. Games cross boundaries that conversations can’t

There’s something about a good set of rules that’s ceaselessly appealing and totally disarming. The right game at the right time can smash inhibitions. I’m talking boozy after-dinner treats like First Lines or something with cross-generational appeal such as Chappy Tomato. If your tolerance for small talk is as low as mine, crack out a game and discover how genuine a connection you’ll make with your opponent.


5. There’s nothing childish about playing

Among the many things that society tells us we’re not supposed to do past the age of sixteen, let’s ignore the naysayers and keep on playing. The right kind of play forges firm connections, helps us as well as young people learn, grow and develop, and most of all it’s fun. We need a little of that right now.


If you want to see some of my games in action, you can subscribe to my podcast, The Floor is Lava, on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and so on. Better yet, you can find an easy-to-use collection of my 100 favourite games in my latest book, The Floor is Lava, on Amazon. And here’s my podcast episode with Sarah Ockwell-Smith, with parenting and games-related chat that led directly into this article.

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