Looking to Entertain Your Kids Without Having Them Sit in Front of a TV or Computer? Heather Swain Can Help!
In her latest book, Play These Games, author and mom Heather Swain offers over 100 games that are home made - and will surely entertain even the most tech-savvy children!
CommitmentNow.com: These days, it seems kids can’t go more than a few minutes without asking to watch TV, play a video game, or go online. Your book, Play These Games: 101 Delightful Diversions Using Everyday Items, is the antithesis of this trend. Play These Games features more than 100 games families can create with simple household items! What inspired you to write this book?
Heather Swain: I loved playing games when I was a kid—whether it was board games and card games with my family, or running around my neighborhood with friends playing cops and robbers or tag. As my kids are getting older (6 and 8 now) I’ve found that playing games with them is a great way to stay connected, have fun, and teach them some humility in a world where every move kids make is praised. “Oh you drew a dog—you’re the next Picasso!” I think it’s good for kids to turn off the screens, interact with other humans, and learn to win and lose gracefully—all of which takes practice!
CommitmentNow.com: You are a former third grade teacher and a mom of two. Did you create these games while teaching or parenting?
Heather: Both! I believe deeply in the educational value of gaming—for everyone, no matter what your age. For example, just this week a study was published that showed children’s IQ can improve through computer memory games and we’ve all heard how doing crossword puzzles and math games help keep our memories sharp as we age. When I taught, I incorporated lots of games into my classroom (some of them competitive, some of them cooperative). As I parent, I do the same when I play with my kids. For the book, I started with a long list of games I remember playing as a child, games I used in my class, and games I play with my own kids. Then I expanded from there, researching and creating new games with everyday materials anyone could find.
CommitmentNow.com: In addition to Play These Games, you are the author of Make These Toys. How do homemade toys or games benefit children in ways that store-bought games or toys do not?
Heather: Here’s my pitch to kids when I encourage them to make a toy or game instead of buy it: When your homemade toy or game breaks (and it will) you can make yourself another one. How great is that! I love giving kids power over their fun so they realize not everything has to come from a corporation. Once kids realize this, you can see their minds expand. They start looking at the resources around them differently. What can they do with their empty juice box—make a Teeny Tiny Air Rocket. What about that empty toilet paper roll—holes for Button Golf. My hope is that my books are just a jumping off point for kids who will start making some of their own fun rather than asking for money to buy it.
CommitmentNow.com: What advice do you have for parents whose kids only want to play video games?
Heather: The truth is, I have no problem with video games. My older brother is a brilliant video game designer and I’ve been known to spend too much time with the Angry Birds myself! But like anything we love (video games, TV, sugar) I think adults have to set limits for kids. But there’s another thing we have to do once we ask kids to turn off their screens and that’s to engage with them. Kids want interaction more than anything and they’ll seek it from a screen if they’re not getting it from a human. So we have to actively play with our kids, even as they get older and that’s where games come in very handy. If you start playing games when your kids are young and keep it up as they get older, adding age appropriate games to your family’s repertoire, you’ll have some built-in family time activities that everyone is open to. Some of my favorite projects in Play These Games are mini homemade versions of arcade games like Button Hockey (pg 64) which is like air hockey only a cardboard box, wax paper, a button, and some disposable plastic containers. It’s super simple. You and your kids could make it in under an hour with then play it together for days.
CommitmentNow.com: If a mom is overwhelmed with work and/or family responsibilities but wants to create some of the games in Play These Games, which ones would you recommend?
Heather: My top recommendation is the Mini-Marshmallow Popper (pg 177). You can whip one up in literally five minutes and kids of all ages (plus adults) love playing with them. Plus there are so many variations of things you can do with the poppers. Have a contest getting marshmallows into a bucket, see who can shoot the farthest, use it like a paint ball gun, get nerdy and make a chart of how far the marshmallows go. I also love Indoor Tennis (pg 14) which is made with paper towel tubes, paper plates, and a balloon. It’s another 5 minute project that turns into an hour of active fun. Plus, there are lots of games in the book that take no crafting. Grab a hula hoop and head outside for Giant Ring Toss or the Human Hoop Relay race!
CommitmentNow.com: What are some of your favorite games from Play These Games?
Heather: I’m most proud of the Pinball Machine (pg 28) because it was fascinating to figure out how to create moving parts with stuff from around the house (like clothes pins and craft sticks for flippers and bottle caps for spinners) and it really works! But that’s probably the most difficult project in the book, so clearly not everyone is going to want to tackle it. I also really love the Button Catapult (pg 50). It’s simple, almost elegant, but everyone who’s played with it has gotten hooked trying to land buttons into the egg carton target. Another favorite is the Progressive Photo Scavenger Hunt (pg 183). We’ve played that game at every birthday party I’ve thrown for my kids since they were three and it never disappoints. And finally, Name That Book (pg 40) in which you say a line from a well-known children’s book and everyone else competes to be the first to say the title and author, has become a staple for our family. We play it in the car, on planes, at restaurants, on play dates and at parties. The book runs the gamut from very simple word games to complicated engineering projects, but my hope is that my book gives other moms, no matter how much time and energy they have or don’t have, some new ideas for playing games with their kids. Because in the end, finding ways to connect makes every family stronger.
Heather Swain lives in a crooked house in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two children, and a barkless dog. She is the author of novels for adults and young adults, craft books, and numerous short stories, personal essays, and non-fiction articles. Visit Heather at www.heatherswainbooks.com.
To purchase Play These Games, click here.