When kids play well

In his blog Playborhood, Mike Lanza, a passionate facilitator and observer of children’s play, recently wrote about a phenomenon he calls the “player’s high.” I’ll let him describe it:

I’ve come to realize that children at play can achieve something like a runner’s high when they play, which I’ll call a “player’s high.” Kids achieve a sort of euphoria, but the most noticeable thing to us parents is that they start to generate new things to do seamlessly, from one activity to the next. Their play becomes self-sustaining, almost totally serendipitous. Anything they do is fun merely because they’re doing it. Boredom, or any traces of it, vanishes.

This reminded me of an experience I had early in my exploration of children’s games. I managed to secure the loan of a video-recorder (at that time, somewhat of a major achievement), and convinced some teachers at the Powell School in Philadelphia to allow to come in, teach a few games to some kids, and tape them playing. I started with a game of Duck Duck Goose, and then asked the kids if they could demonstrate some of their favorite games, for the camera, you know. As soon as I got my camera set-up, one little girl immediately started a game of follow-the-leader. She was amazingly attuned to the other kids, changing the course to incorporate more and more kids, increasing, decreasing the difficulty, the speed, making sure the slowest could keep up and the most agile had a consistently inviting challenge. And then she started suddenly to play a hand-clapping game, and almost just as suddenly the whole group broke into pairs and also started playing hand-clapping games, and then, seamlessly, it seemed, they were all in a circle again, this time playing Punchinella. And there, unfolding right in front of my actual camera, that very phenomenon, the player’s high. And that one episode validated everything I was working for in compiling my curriculum in children’s games, and that one memory has sustained my passion for play ever since.

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