Playtime — that almost forgotten activity for too many of us before the pandemic — is getting a reboot.
With more time inside away from friends and colleagues, kids and adults are turning to old-fashioned games to relieve stress and spend quality time together. Google searches for “board game” between February and March doubled. Anecdotally, we can share that specialty craft and puzzle shops in small towns across the Empire State have been selling out of the kind of simple and fun games — puzzles, beads, bubbles, hula hoops — that can generate laughter for hours and create the kind of bonding moments that families need now more than ever.
It’s about time. As school districts across the country had been shaving off time spent at recess, gym, art and music class, experts had been warning for years that children need time to play just as much as they need to focus on science, reading, math, and tech. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that play is “not frivolous: it enhances structure and function and promotes executive function (i.e., the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions.”
Adults need to play too, said Stuart Brown, MD, psychiatrist, and author of the book Play, in which he reviewed 6,000 case studies that explored the role of play in each individual’s childhood and adulthood. Lack of play, he found, could predict criminal behavior; and forms of play between adults could strengthen emotional intimacy and cultivate healing.
Here are our new favorite old-fashioned ways to blow off steam.
GO FLY A KITE
Flying a kite is fantastic fun, even better if you build it yourself. Making one from scratch can also teach much about design, math, eye-hand coordination, and physics. Here is a collection of 27 kite-design guides, from the classic American diamond-shaped kite, to the German roller, to Japan’s Rokkaru and Sode. The most basic designs require scissors, rulers, bamboo skewers, tape, a few odds and ends -- and especially lots of string! Or you can go with the newspaper option. After the kite is built and decorated, wait for a breeze that rustles leaves but not big branches. Too much wind is often just that. Then let a gentle breeze lift your kite, feeding out line until it is high in the sky. Hold on as your creation swoops and soars. Your heart will follow.
Photo: Buggy and Buddy
Blowing bubbles, believe it or not, can be an opportunity for learning and growth too. Studies have shown that bubble-blowing toddler develop language skills faster, thanks to the complex mouth movements required to blow bubbles. The act of blowing itself teaches cause and effect. Also, chasing bubbles strengthens motor skills and helps younger kids develop muscles. For the rest of us, bubble blowing is an end in itself, or can be turned into a game. Launch biggest bubble blowing competitions, longest lasting bubbles contests, or have players try to blow bubbles over a finishing line. Here’s a guide to making your own bubbles.
SLIP N’ SLIDE
We could make an argument about why slip n’ slides are a stealth lesson in physics, but honestly, who cares? They’re so much fun. While store-bought slides are available, homemade versions can be tailored to the size of your yard, and often last longer than the fancier versions available for purchase. Here is a fantastic guide with a simple shopping list that includes plastic sheeting, a 2 x 4, tent stakes, baby shampoo and of course, a hose. One note of caution, be thoughtful about how long you leave the water running. If you are on a well system, you could run it dry! And if your area needs rain, perhaps better to wait to use this option.
Press play to watch "Giant Slip and Slide | DIY Dad | Millennial Dads"
Give the game of dress-up a makeover with a face-painting session. There are some amazing kits for sale online, but lipstick and eye and lip liner also work wonders in a pinch. If you’re in full DIY mode, here’s a guide to making your own with pantry items. The best part of face painting though is letting your fantasies and creativity run wild. Here is a guide to painting yourself or a family member into a unicorn, a tiger, a butterfly, Spider-Man...plus cute small-scale accents to put on cheeks.
Photo: Personal Creations
Playing with puppets can be a useful exercise for kids and adults, allowing them to stretch their vocabulary and communication skills, but perhaps more importantly, engage in exercises in empathy. During this era of social distance, kids and teens who are separated from their peers are unable to engage in “natural” emotional development, and psychologists are concerned. While puppets can be made with potatoes and toothpicks, or brown paper bags and crayon, there are also equally simple models to follow online that result in extraordinarily complex final designs. Challenge your family to make puppets, and then stage a play.
Photo: Crafts by Amanda
Paper dolls are also fantastic ways for children and adults to play-act different scenarios and flex their psychosocial muscles. It’s also a good solo activity, and for younger kids, it allows them to practice fine motor skills during the process of creation. Here is a simple guide requiring paper, scissors, and pencil.
Graphic: Origami Resource Center
Playing with dice is a great math-building skill that people can play solo or together. It also helps younger players begin to grasp concepts like probability, while helping them work on fine and gross motor skills. Here is a collection of simple dice games for kids preschool and up.
Press play to watch "Knock Out Dice Game"
If you need more kids ideas, we recommend the Children’s Museum of Manhattan website, which is chock full of at home games and activities, along with its free at home newsletter that brings you new ideas each week.
For older kids and adults, New York Makers offers a number of puzzles and DIY kits (the cocktail kits only for adults looking for a different kind of old-fashioned fun!) that can teach new skills or foster ones you already have!
We’re pretty busy playing, but we’re always looking for new games! How are you sharpening your recreational skills?