Life’s a Game

We don’t always ask Elena to clean up her toys before bedtime, but tonight we wanted her to pick up at least the alphabet magnets that she had removed from the refrigerator door. We didn’t have to rush, so as she and I picked them up she worked on recognizing the letters (she does–especially B and Q) and placing them in neat rows. Jenny was also in the kitchen cleaning up from dinner and observed that the cleanup was taking longer than usual.

It seems to me that Elena has just started to appreciate games, and that’s how I justified to myself the extra time of our cleaning up. We got the job done, worked on letters and pronunciation, and reinforced the positive association we’d like her to feel towards chores and similar obligations. In a similar vein, she eats a wider variety of food with fewer complaints when she helps to make it, including the omelets we had for dinner tonight.

Elena has other favorites in addition to Duck, Duck, Goose. It may not quite count as a game, but she frequently wants to sing Ring Around the Rosies. A few weeks ago I hid behind the her bedroom door and surprised her, and we played a few rounds of hide and seek afterwards. Since then she often wants to go a few rounds of hide and seek before bedtime, taking turns hiding and seeking. It’s usually pretty easy to find her, because she usually starts laughing when I get close. The one notable exception was at grandma’s house, when she and grandma hid together and suppressed their giggles until I found them.

Elena’s not the only one who gets something out of games. Leisa and Sam visited us earlier this week and brought along a board game; they explained the rules as we went along. At the end of the second game we weren’t sure about who had won, and a lengthy discussion ensued about the outcome. Games are nice because they give us a sandbox in which all the rules are (or should be) clear, and there’s never any ambiguity or permanence in the results, even though there are plenty of opportunities to make choices and take risks while playing. Does Elena also enjoy games because of the constraints, that is because they’re simpler to understand and decipher than regular life?

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