As a little kid, I had a lot of time to fill. Some of this was spent outside climbing trees, but eventually it gets dark or it rains or gets cold. Board games filled many hours of this time. I used to play Life by myself, altering the rules to make sure I got the high paid jobs (doctors and lawyers in the version I had) and to take into account my risk tolerance (low). These were the days before personal computers became quite as prominent — something that marked my adolescence, not childhood — and with television you were stuck with whatever was on, so there weren’t obvious ways to spend long hours beyond toys and games.
Kids still have a lot of time. They have the same 24 hours in a day as they’ve always had, and the school day isn’t (generally) longer. Only a small percent of children are in more than one activity, and — despite much ink spilled on the topic — they don’t get much homework either. But the perception is different, which is why I was interested to see an article in the Wall Street Journal last week on “Toys for Tight Schedules.”
So called “snack toys” aim to fill small bits of time. “School-age children are increasingly playing in short bursts of time between organized activities — whether on the sidelines of a sibling’s soccer game or at home, between piano lessons and homework,” Ann Zimmerman writes. Faced with this situation, “Toy companies are working hard to maintain their market by refreshing traditional games and playthings to be shorter-playing, more portable and faster to clean up.”
So there are short versions of Scrabble and Monopoly. Neat-Oh Toys zip up into little carrying cases that you can bring with you for your family-on-the-go lifestyle.
But I don’t think any of this is about the larger social point the article hints at — look at how overscheduled our little darlings have become! Instead, I think this is 100% about the existence of easily consumable media and electronic games for kids. Time can now be filled with whatever show you want, on demand. I used to have to wait a year for the Wizard of Oz to come on TV (with no VCR you can’t tape it, and you better to go the bathroom during the commercials!). If my son wants to see any given episode of Dinosaur King, he just goes on the computer and loads it up. I don’t let the kids use my iPhone and we don’t have an iPad, but I know this is pretty common. My 6-year-old went to school this year and rode the bus — which definitely indoctrinates children in peer culture — and one day he came home and asked, “Wait, mommy, is your phone the kind that has games on it?” (My answer: no).
If any bit of time can easily be filled with flashy shows and media consumption, then time seems to move faster. Why play 2 hours of Life when you can watch a Disney video in the comfort of your own home?
And then there’s the parents. I’m not sure parents have ever really enjoyed playing board games with young kids when there’s a million other things demanding your attention. Playing Risk could take days — which is probably why most people don’t do it. But a game that takes 3 minutes? That you’re willing to take on and, after all, it’s the parents who generally pay for games in the toy store (or order them online).
Do you play board games in your house?
Photo courtesy flickr user freeloosedirt