On Games and Rules

We were talking with our daughter today at lunch about what rules are: that there are different kinds of rules, or structures, with different levels of importance. “Don’t play with fire” is a different kind of rule than “your coat must be navy or gray” (one of the rules at her school). The conversation got around to rules in games, which is where it got interesting.

Now, the first thing to keep in mind is that the term *games* in her and her friends’ parlance covers a wide range of activities, something she herself made clear:

> I understand that when you are playing *Chutes and Ladders*, for example [yes, she said “for example”], that you can’t really change the rules, but when you are playing a mind game, a game you’re making up, then you should be able to change them.

“Mind games” here means what my wife calls “pretend play.” It can cover a lot of territory: building things with Legos (and then playing with them), playing with various kinds of figures (stuffed animals, fairies, Lego people), as well as dressing up and role playing.

We have been trying to encourage our daughter to be more “open” when playing with others. She’s not terrible. I’ve heard almost all her playmates be adamant that they want to play one thing, or play one way, and not another, but we are trying to build a foundation for her that will serve her well in the future. We have framed it in the past in terms of improvisational theater’s concept of always saying yes, but today Lily proffered her own metaphor:

> It’s like you’re in a room, and there’s a door, or a thousand doors, really, and you want to see what’s behind those doors but the other person has the key, and they need to give it to you.

Some of the examples she drew upon were based on her relationship with her best friend, who is a bit more procedurally-oriented — whether that’s a function of a stage or just how he’s built is not yet clear — and who tells her no, or that her way is the wrong way, or that there is only way to play a particular game. And so we are trying to equip with her not only with ways for her herself to be more open but to make it possible for others to be open as well. It’s fascinating to watch her play. On the one hand, she is an extremely creative person, quick to imagine and re-imagine whatever world within which she is operating. On the other hand, she can too quickly get fixed on her vision of things and thus negate the creativity of others. How to navigate the span of multiple visions is a difficult task. I don’t know of any easy solution, but beginning that conversation with her is one way for us to think about it. (I would argue that becoming a parent was one of the best things ever for my teaching.)