Let’s Play A Game

“Games are not just a source of entertainment. They are a model for how to become the best version of ourselves.”
~ Super Better by Jane McGonigal

Our seaside cache!
Our seaside cache!

My fondest memories of summer as a child were the games we played. Nearly every evening our neighborhood — children and adults — played Hide And Seek or Kick The Can. We would begin after dinner as the evening light began to wane and continue until it was too dark to see our own feet on the ground. I remember the fun, the laughter, and the sense of community. Games were an integral part of every day.

On our short street in rural Pennsylvania, everyone knew everyone else — we were a micro community. Because of the games we played, summertime became a long “endless summer.” During the daytime hours, all of us children would meet in one or another’s yard and make up games. When the weather was nice (which seemed to be most days) we all were outdoors from morning until bedtime with breaks only for meals or when our mothers called us in for help indoors. Back then, playing outdoors was simply what every child did and we wandered from yard to yard or into the cornfields beyond our yard. (We didn’t experience the fear that so many parents and children feel today.) The summertime was one long game from morning until night.

On rainy days, we had board games — Monopoly, Checkers, Candy Land, Scrabble — or card games, like Go Fish, and, of course, the family jigsaw puzzle always in progress. We didn’t have video games, iPads, computers, or apps for games. We also didn’t watch TV except briefly in the evenings. Games for us were physical and mental as well as opportunities for everyone to join in. We were close as siblings, as family, and as neighbors. The games we played were about connection, fun, and laughter.

As I reflect back on those games, I realize that they also taught us valuable skills for everyday life such as cooperation, concentration, perseverance, self-efficacy, setting goals, and resilience as in games there is, often, more failure than winning. We grew up using our natural strengths for happiness, health, and success because we practiced and used those strengths in the games we played.

Today, life is quite different. Few children (especially in urban areas) play outdoors unless supervised. Life is scheduled with structured activities and when not scheduled, too many children spend hours in front of the TV, their iPhones, iPads, or computers using Social Media and playing online games. Much of the disappearance of outdoor play is due to fear from the climate many children live in, I know. Yet, social media, TV, and online games aren’t necessarily learning and using valuable lifelong skills.

The good news (and there is always good news, if we look for it) is that games are making a comeback because who doesn’t like a good game whether old-fashioned fun or healthy competition between teams? How is this, you might ask? Children and adults can, indeed, be challenged with a good game that uses physical activity combined with technology for fun, cooperation, and connection. There is also growing scientific evidence backing the benefits of playing games — such as challenging us and improving our abilities both in and out of the game; increasing self-efficacy (the belief that you, yourself, can effect positive change in your own life); learning & nurturing greater resilience; increasing brain neuroplasticity; and increasing dopamine in the brain which is associated with faster learning and better performance. The science of games is quite interesting and, certainly, has encouraged me to play more games.

In just two weeks, I witnessed and participated in two games that combine technology and activity into the fun of game playing…

The first game I heard about and began seeing Tweets about is the new Pokemon GO. More on that in a moment…

The second game I learned about while out hiking, from a Dad with his two young children. The game they were playing is known as ‘Geocaching’ or a modern day, cooperative treasure hunt that uses a GPS to track a hidden cache. Totally intrigued, I asked them about geocaching since they were clearly excited and on a mission! Dad told me they were spending the day geocaching and there were four geocaches in the vicinity — the children excitedly showed me their small toys they’d retrieved from a previous cache.

On my return home, I googled ‘Geocache’ and was surprised at the number of results from a main Geocache website explaining all the rules and good practice guidelines as well as a number of YouTube videos on how to play and of adventures others had been on around the world. I Iearned that Geocaching began in 2000 to test GPS technology and quickly became a game played worldwide. Coincidentally, my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren were just introduced to a geocache near their home that was discovered by a neighbor and his children who are geocacher’s.

We registered with the Geocache website and planned our own adventure to find several in their area. We all went together (Mom, Dad, Gramma, and grandchildren) and had tremendous fun finding two out of three caches within miles of their home. We spent the day focused on a challenge, cooperating, being with and connecting with one another, and having fun with the added benefit of being outdoors in nature. My granddaughter who turned six that day, was ecstatic and has already been out to find more!

The second game, Pokemon GO, (I am sure you have already heard it mentioned somewhere) is a game that, within several weeks since being launched, is already popular in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK (with more countries soon to follow). Pokemon GO is an easily downloadable app onto your Smartphone. And, yes, I have heard many negative judgements about the game and even more positives. My curiosity was intrigued because of the premise of the game — you must be outdoors and/or moving to play. There are also opportunities to play the game with others. Everywhere I go, I see people playing the game and having fun. I’ve talked to teenagers who are already experts. I’ve talked to a father and daughter who play together. I’ve also noticed an increasing amount of mentions on social media — it is certainly the new trend in games that goes above and beyond the sedentary nature of many video games, watching TV, or the focused attention online in front of a computer.

In my recent travels while standing in a line, I asked a woman in front of me (who was playing) if she would answer a few of my questions about the game. She was most interesting as she was also a grandmother, her excitement was contagious, she admitted to the addictive quality of playing, she plays along with her grandchildren, and she gave me a mini-tutorial on how to play. Her one comment was most intriguing, she said “For an introvert, I’ve met more people in two short weeks because of the game!” She told me that everywhere she goes she meets people — young and old — interacting and having fun! (I want to be like her — a cool grandmother!)

As I looked around the busy roadside rest area off the highway, I saw people connecting, having fun while being challenged and moving about — you simply cannot play Pokemon GO while sitting still! (Of course, I’ve been playing!)

Whether your interest is in a traditional game of Monopoly or Hide-and-Seek or you want to try something new and trendy with technology (I like both) — it’s good for our physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being. So let’s play more games!

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Virtues & Strengths: Who We Are in the World

 

 

IMG_0911Recently, I became aware of using my strength of “Awe” (Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence) in a novel way. I was tagged to participate in a seven-day Challenge on Nature Photography. I woke up the first morning and, each day for the seven days, began the day thinking what might be my photo for the day. I was stepping outdoors with an eye for the unusual yet everyday beauty. My excitement grew each day with beauty I could capture and share with others. I was noticing everything and photographing ordinary moments, then delighting in choosing one to post onto Social Media.

We all have strengths — our own configuration — that allows us to be individuals. In fact, there are a number of online sites you can visit and take their survey. My favorite is http://www.viacharacter.org.

VIA stands for ‘virtues in action’ and came about as a result of a group of scientists over a three year period who studied cultures around the world and found what was considered the six most important virtues and within them, the 24 strengths that all people possess to varying degrees.

A short questionnaire will compile your strengths profile with the top five or six being your character (or signature) strengths. These virtues, expressed through our strengths, are who we are in the world. By consciously and mindfully using our strengths in different ways or noticing when we are expressing them in our life, our lives become richer and more fun.

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When I learned my profile of strengths, I wasn’t surprised by my top five because it is how I live in the world. What I am learning is that by intentionally expressing them, my life is more meaningful and rewarding. I’ve also learned to focus on strengths that I don’t use as often (or, initially thought I wasn’t good at) and find ways to creatively use them as well as notice them in others. Knowing my personal profile of strengths has become a set of lanterns in my life that I can more consciously use especially during challenging times.

A question I am asked often is, “Can I change my strengths profile?” Yes, you can. Though our top five or six tend to be somewhat consistent because they more closely align with who we are and how we live in the world. Why would you want to change those? I’ve taken the online questionnaire several times and find some strengths do move up the list or trade places with another strength. A friend of mine told me that the strength of ‘Love of Learning’ moved higher on her list when she returned to school. So, yes, our profile can change depending on what we are focusing on in our life.

A practice I like to do is to use a top strength to explore a strength less used in my life. For example, curiosity is a top strength for me while teamwork is not one I use often. When the opportunity came along for me to work with a team working on a common goal, I used my curiosity to explore me working with the team. It’s been a wonderful learning experience for me. I imagine if I were to re-visit the questionnaire, now, teamwork might be higher on my list because I’ve consciously focused on it as more a part of my life experience.

In my workshops, I teach virtues and strengths as a way to expand an understanding of who my students are as well as acknowledging what they are good at in their day-to-day. We are often, quite honestly, too focused on what may not be a top strength. Many us look to what’s wrong and ignore what is good which leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. When we look to what we are good at and what our natural strengths are, life becomes more satisfying and fun.

Using my strength of awe in my 7-day photo challenge was most rewarding as each day I could offer beauty and joy in a time of conflict around the world. What strength can you use to expand your life and those around you?

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An Independence Day Story

IMG_6125Every Spring I replace my bird feeders with birdhouses around my yard. Once the birdhouses are hung, I look forward to who will create their home for the summer. Most often it is the House Wrens and Chickadee’s who set up residence — this year was no different. Just days after hanging the birdhouses, a pair of House Wrens were the first to arrive and claim their home.

Every day for the next six weeks or so, I delighted in watching them. They began by cleaning house. Bit by bit, twig by twig, they dismantle last years nest until their home is empty and clean — ready to move in.

They begin to build a new nest bit by bit and twig by twig. I watched them flying to the birdhouse with twigs to place inside then fly off again to gather more. They brought twigs, feathers, and even some of the dog hair I left around the yard from my dog brushing. This construction goes on for several days from early morning until the last light of day. Their industrious work ethic and perseverance is awe inspiring! They reminded me of growing up in Pennsylvania farmland and watching farmers as they prepared their fields each Spring working from early morning until nightfall.

Then one day, all is quiet. The pair of wrens take turns in the birdhouse. I know their eggs have been laid and it is time to rest and wait. Just like the farmer’s after they’ve planted seeds in neat rows — they must water and wait.

This year, the wrens built their nest in such a way that the opening was partially blocked so I couldn’t peek inside to see their eggs (my curiosity gets the best of me, for sure). So, I too, needed to wait, listen, and watch until one day in early June the wrens chatter picked up in intensity. One would sing loudly while sitting on top of the birdhouse or on a nearby branch as the other would fly back and forth with food in its mouth to deliver into the nest. They would take turns with one always nearby singing or chattering in alarm while the other flew off and returned with food. The babies had hatched from their eggs and were hungry. Once again, I watched in awe at how devoted and watchful the parents were as they cared for their young.

After several days I began to hear the babies when food was delivered. I could easily imagine mouths wide open to receive the food. I felt a part of the family of nature and began to keep a more watchful eye on the activity in and out of the birdhouse. Each day I sat outdoors longer to witness how the mama and papa wrens took care of their young. Just as when they were building their nest, I was in awe at how they worked from early morning until nighttime steadily bringing food to their babies! They were such attentive and responsible parents spending hours flying back and forth with food. The would even clean the nest of bird droppings throughout the day.

As the babies grew their chirping became louder and I smiled at their tenacity. Then one day, I could see their heads reaching above the barrier and I wondered how long it would be before the parents job was finished.

IMG_6129Nearly two weeks later, I returned from a walk to see Mama wren feeding two wide open mouths at the opening of the birdhouse. As she flew away, their heads poked out of the opening — their curiosity led them to look around cautiously before retreating behind the barrier as I approached for a closer look. Each time I would take a step closer, one of the parents (always nearby) began a loud cry of alarm and the babies quickly retreated.

This dance continued for several days until, one day, I noticed the parents were nowhere in sight most of the day. They weren’t delivering food every few minutes. In fact, they weren’t delivering food at all. The babies cried louder as the day wore on and every few minutes one would poke out of the opening and then retreat. The next day I woke to see that the parents had returned. The activity around the birdhouse had changed. The parents each sat on nearby branches and sang (encouraging their young to be brave?) while the babies would emerge to look around and sing in return. Somewhere in the middle of the morning (while I was busy inside, of course) everything grew ‘loudly’ quiet. I went outside and the birdhouse was empty. The babies had found their courage and left their nest to fly on their own into their new life. They had found their wings of independence!