“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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