Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Custom Designed Interactive Game

"I'm bored." My 8 year old sauntered in, conjuring the most bland expression she could devise.

Looking up from my dinner preparations I assessed the situation. One sister was playing outside happily, another was reading in her room, one was napping and the other was, well, on me.

"I'm bored!" She reiterated with an exasperated emphasis. "Can I have something to eat?"

"Eating because you're bored isn't a good idea, you don't want to start that. It becomes a bad habit with health consequences that can be hard to break. We're going to be eating before long anyway, I'm making dinner. Think you can wait?" I asked.

With a sigh she grumbled that she could wait, making it clear she didn't want to.

"There's nothing to do, can I play wii or watch a movie?" came next.

Coming off of a couple of weeks of sickness, we had resorted to watching movies, playing computer games, and wii far more often than usual as a means of distraction from fevers. Though we had also read, knit, played games and fit some school work in, often just laying on the couch was all we had energy for. It was even worse when I was the one sick, the last to come down with the virus it became a free-for-all. In just that short amount of time I was hearing something that had, just weeks before, been rare in our house.

"On a beautiful day like this? When we're healthy and there is so much to explore?" I was tempted to inform her that when I was a kid, if I complained about being bored I'd be given an unsavory chore to do such as pulling weeds. Realizing that wouldn't be helpful and she had, in fact, worked turning over the garden just earlier that day and enjoyed it, I racked my brain for another idea, inwardly cursing the effects of excessive movie-watching and video game playing on my daughter's imagination and play. And her increased ability to whine.

"Why don't you go play outside with H? She's having a great time." I redirected.

"I'm tired of playing that, I want something fun, like a game. Why can't I play wii?" whined L.

"We've had a lot of screen time lately and we don't want to miss out on all the other fun there is to be had. It is the middle of the week, no screen media during the week, only on week-ends. If you'd like to play a game, you're welcome to pick one and ask your sisters to join you. I can play too once dinner is in the oven." I made my suggestions, hoping something would sound appealing.

No go.

After more suggestions that were shot down quickly by L, who had apparently done everything already, I got an idea.

"You could build an obstacle course!"

"A what?" she puzzled.

Encouraged that she didn't shoot it down right away I went on.

"An obstacle course. You could design one and then we could all run it."

"What would I build it with? We don't have anything." she was starting to whine again.

Instead of pointing out that we do, in fact, have loads of stuff and suggest some that would be ideal for an obstacle course, I decided to give her the opportunity to be creative on her own.

"Whatever you can find." I said. "Look around the yard, check out what's in the house and car port and see what you can put together to create a fun and challenging obstacle course."

At this point I should point out that if you try this with your children be sure that anything that could be truly dangerous for them to scavenger should be put safely out of their reach with clear instructions that they are only touch those objects with the assistance of an adult. Saws, boards with nails, lawn equipment, etc. could be very enticing for obstacle course building.

Mulling over the idea for a minute, L stood chewing on her lip considering the possibilities. A moment later though she gave me a doubtful look.

"Ok, I'll try it. I don't think it will actually be fun but if you're not going to let me play wii..." her voice trailed off.

"Let me know when you're ready for us, I can't wait to run your course."

A short while later, maybe 45 minutes or so, an excited little girl bounded into the house.

"I'm ready! It's ready! I just did it and it is so much fun!" She could barely catch her breath, bouncing up and down and gesturing to outside.

"All right!" I said. "Let's get everyone and give it a try!"

We rounded up the family and invaded our front yard. L explained the course, walking through it herself and giggling with delight at some of her ingenious challenges. There were a few elements that would have been tough to accomplish or possibly dangerous for those that were either smaller or larger than she so we discussed and agreed upon some modifications. There was a balance beam of two reclaimed fence rails I had still around from an art piece, jumping on, yes on, not over, Coke cans she grabbed from the recycling (yes, sometimes we drink soda, I know, I know!), running with one foot in a bucket, racing holding a ball between your knees, running to the finish line (a jump rope held up) holding a branch sticking out like a tail, and a few other funny tasks as part of the course. Everyone took a turn running it to the cheers of the rest of the family. It didn't matter who got the best time, we just had a blast. All of us thanked L for sharing her creation with us and after Jeremy and I went inside to finish the last of our dinner preparations, the girls continued to run the course and make alterations, constantly improving and devising knew challenges right up until we called for them to clean it up and come in to dinner. All through dinner we laughed as we reminisced about our Olympian feats of front yard athleticism. Plans were soon afoot for the next obstacle course to be built.

This has now become one of our favorite family activities. Since the first one we've had to toss crunched cans into a pitcher (one actually got in!), bounce on a ball a few feet, hop through a swing, balance on a skateboard, kick soccer balls, and more. The girls get very creative in coming up with daring exercises for us to try. Setting up an obstacle course for the family to enjoy together gets more of an enthusiastic response than the weekend chance to watch a movie or play wii. Which is exactly how we like it. Not that they are ready to give up Mario Kart or anything. ;)

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