Friday, May 4, 2012

Do Not Pass Go

On a rainy day, when playing outside is not an option, kids today hardly notice because even on sunny days, they rarely play outside. They have TV, computers, video games, Kindles, i-Pods, Wii and a dozen other electronic marvels to occupy them. When I was growing up in the Pony Express days, we raced into the house after school, pausing just long enough to change out of our white shirt and blue tie school uniforms, before we hit the streets. Our parents were glad to be rid of us as it gave them a few more hours of quiet. Not much kept us indoors; our play time was spent in the great outdoors. There were days though when maybe a pounding rain would keep us in the house, and that's when our poor mothers racked their brains for something to keep us busy. There was no electronic smorgasbord of entertainment delights, all we had were board games.

Even the poorest homes in our neighborhood could scare up a Checkerboard. Our red and black Checker 'men' were kept in an old Chock-Full-O-Nuts coffee can in the back of a kitchen cabinet. One of my dearest memories of childhood is playing Checkers with my mother, and when he was not working one of his two jobs, my Dad. We didn't have much one-on-one quiet time with our parents, so these games were kind of nice. I think when I was younger and just learning the finer points of the game, Mom would take an occasional dive so I could win. Then, like all mothers since the beginning of time, she would praise my skill and fuss over how smart I was becoming. My Dad, however, played for keeps. When I finally got good enough to beat him on the up and up, I think he was genuinely proud. Maybe for the first time he saw a future for me that did not involve wearing a paper hat.

Another indoor favorite was Monopoly. I was lucky enough to have my cousins living just down the street, and I can recall spending many hours in marathon Monopoly sessions. I never bothered to look it up, but I'm willing to bet that the game of Monopoly was invented by someone with a house full of screaming kids. There was something about that game that kept kids mesmerized for hours on end. We all had our favorite playing pieces; I liked the race car or the top hat. Although they didn't make a big deal of it then like today's learning-obsessed parents, the game helped kids learn how to count by moving their game piece around the board the required number of spaces indicated by the dice; we learned about money and making change; discovered the value of developed real estate in rental income; we practiced our reading on the Community Chest and Chance game cards; and felt the Capitalist's thrill of victory when an opponent went bankrupt or got sent to jail.

If there were enough players around, Bingo was always an option. We had the dog-eared game cards and the little wooden discs with the calling numbers from B1 to O79 stamped on them in red. We took turns being the "caller", clearly a position of honor. We used pennies to cover the called numbers that were on card. There is no greater sense of anticipation and excitement in today's video games that matched the feeling we had when our card was nearly covered with pennies and we were waiting for them to call N35 so we could jump up and yell Bingo. The game originated in Europe and reached North America in 1929,where it became known as "Beano". It was first played at a carnival near Atlanta, Georgia. New York toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe renamed it "Bingo" after he overheard someone accidentally yell "Bingo" instead of "Beano". A Catholic priest from Pennsylvania approached Lowe about using bingo as a means of raising church funds. The rest is ecclesiastical history.

Too many of today's forms of play are solitary and do not help children develop social skills and family togetherness the way group games like Monopoly did. I mean how are kids going to learn life's most valuable lesson: whoever ends up with all the money wins.


Children's Craniofacial Association

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