Saturday, February 8, 2014

playing RISK - an opportunity to create circles of communication

i'm not sure how it happened that i still don't know how to play the game risk. my dad and my godfather played it nearly every time we got together with them, which was most of those monday holidays - labor day, memorial day, presidents day. we lived closer to my godparents, larry and cindy, than to any of our relatives and we spent a great deal of time with them. they had kids similar ages to my brother and me; three girls - hannah, sarah and leah - so my poor brother was outnumbered four to one but he didn't seem to mind. my parents and the soderbergs were friends long before kids came along and their friendship is still strong today long after the kids have left. they are one of a handful of families who have left a forever imprint on my heart.

i loved spending those holidays with them. whether it was at our house or theirs the visit typically included a big pot of soup on the stove and loads of junk food to be grazed throughout the day, twizzlers and fig newtons are the two i remember the most. us kids would play, the moms would talk and the dads would challenge each other to a long game of risk.

it was always just what the dads did and i never had any interest in learning to play.

the first christmas after jeremy and i were married was an interesting one. when we were dating jeremy was very thoughtful and generous in choosing a gift for me. after we were married, however, he went out to shop on christmas eve and on christmas morning i opened five different packages, all board games. one of them was risk. my sweet husband was attempting thoughtfulness, thinking it would be fun to play games together, but i sightly less than impressed.

monopoly, yes.  
scrabble, okay.  
acquire, never heard of it.
clue, yes.  
risk, you gotta be kidding me.

over the years jeremy and i have played lots of monopoly. we love playing clue with his family (i always get to be miss scarlet and jer's mom is always mrs. white). jer's brother, zach, loves the game acquire - who knew?! but risk has set on the shelf untouched.

until harrison asked to play it.

 here they are "playing" risk at christmas time. yes, they are wearing their ski helmets.

risk is recommended for ages 12+ but one evening jeremy pulled the box off the shelf and "played" with the boys (they made up their own rules) and all three of them had a great time. i still never participated, though, until yesterday. and when i finally did play, do you know what i learned?

playing a higher level game with younger level or inexperienced players is an awesome therapy activity!

over the past year or so as we've been figuring out this thing called sensory processing disorder and how it affects our son and our family, if i had to pinpoint the ultimate lesson i learned from occupational therapists for connecting with kids - ANY kids, but certainly kids on the spectrum - it is this:

find out what they are interested in
whatever it is, do it with them
expand on it

harrison wanted to play risk with me last night.

i could have said "that game is too old for you" or "let's play a different game," but what i said instead was, "sure i'll play with you but i've never played before so you're going to have to show me how."

that was all it took - me, sitting on the floor with harrison, setting up the game he wanted to play and being (sometimes just acting) very uninformed about what to do.

i think it's safe to say i've never had more circles of communication with harrison than i did last night.

he loves teaching others. he loves being in control of a situation. he loves talking about facts, giving information, sharing concrete details.

i took those things i know about his personality and exploited the game of risk to get as much communication and interaction with him as i could. first i just played dumb and asked lots of questions. "wait a second, i don't get it, what am i supposed to do again?!" then i expand it to more open-ended questions, "i wonder what would happen if crossed this border?" then i expanded it to add emotion, "ah! no! i'm scared! don't shoot my men!" then i expanded it to role-playing and acting out what my little soldiers were doing, "you can't hide from me! i'll ride my horse across this desert to find you if i have to! but, oh, i'm so tired and i need some food and water..."

silly? yes, it feels so silly pretending to be an exhausted, parched infantry man.

but rewarding? yup. every time harrison responded to my questions, every time he looked me in the eyes, every time he laughed because i was acting so silly, every time he pretended to shoot his cannon and kill my troops, every bit of it was hugely, satisfyingly rewarding!

last night was a great reminder that my job isn't always to be the leader, the teacher, the one in charge. sometimes, most times, the best connection occurs when i follow my boys' lead and let them teach me a thing or two.

my dad is coming for a visit next weekend to spend president's day with us. i suppose we'll have to pull risk back off the shelf and let harrison teach him a new way - the best way! - to "play." making a big pot of soup and buying some junk food feels like a good idea too. :-)

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