Why rediscovering childhood games is good for our wellbeing

Reconnecting with games from your childhood is not just fun, it can enhance creativity and rekindle your relationship. Karen Young looks at why play is good for adults and revisits 15 traditional games you probably forgot you loved…

Hand holding a marble

I remember, oh so clearly, running out of the classroom at breaktime, desperate to win Adele’s new and beautiful ‘big china’ marble. If I could just lure her into rolling it towards that bit of dipped concrete at the bottom of the playground, it was sure to be a keepsie!

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But it wasn’t until nearly 40 years later that this fond childhood memory gained a more emotional, ‘reliving-the-moment’ dimension. On holiday in Devon, I persuaded my other half to stop off at the House of Marbles on our way back from a country walk. When we entered the shop, thousands of marbles twinkled up at me from a large wooden stand, like a beautiful alternative to ‘pick and mix’ sweets.

I literally started to act like a 5-year-old again, flitting excitedly from one section to the next, quietly restraining myself from pushing real 5-year-olds out of the way when they stood between me and the next must-have marble I’d spotted. I filled my little pot to the brim and spent a mini fortune, but I didn’t care. This was marble heaven and I didn’t know when I’d get a chance to visit again.

When we arrived back at the holiday cottage we were sharing with friends, I showed off my new collection and then spent hours scrambling across the floor on my knees, playing with any willing adult or child. And it felt gooood. I felt exactly like I did when I was in the playground with Adele, all those years ago. Carefree. No worries. No concerns. No responsibilities. And better still, no school bell to bring playtime to a premature end.

It’s a sad fact but as adults, we are much less likely to enjoy play for play’s sake, and more so if we don’t have children or pets. Why? For many reasons. Because it can be perceived as unproductive or petty. Because we feel self-conscious or embarrassed if we drop our adult guard. Because we have a long list of more productive things that we really ought to be cracking on with, instead of ‘wasting’ time on something that has no real goal or purpose.

Play is of course vital for helping babies and young children to learn and develop, but it’s important for adults, too. In terms of relationships, it can help to foster feelings of trust and compassion, and if you and your loved one are less tactile than you used to be, it can help to rekindle your affection for one another.

Conversely, play can also help to diffuse a difficult situation between loved ones, friends, colleagues and even strangers. Some types of play are also great for stimulating the mind, encouraging creativity and problem solving. Others are a fun way to exercise – try skipping, playing hopscotch or hula-hooping for 10 minutes without getting out of breath! And of course, the mindfulness-like nature of play makes it a wonderful stress reliever.

So, how do we introduce play back into our busy adult lives? First, give yourself permission to play for five or ten minutes each day, or once a week – whatever works for you. In terms of what to play, it can be helpful to think about the sort of games you enjoyed as a child. If these involve playing with one or more people, then you’ll need to identify a few willing play buddies, such as loved ones, friends, friends’ children or work colleagues. People (or pets) who regularly make you smile or giggle are likely to be a safe bet. You could also give some thought to adding an elderly relative or neighbour to your playmate list. How lovely would it be to know that you’re helping to tackle loneliness at the same time as having fun?

Below are 15 games (in no particular order) that I enjoyed as a child and hope to reconnect with over the coming months. Why not make a list of your own and see where it takes you… at least you’ll have some fun along the way.

1

Bouncy ball

I remember having one with glitter in the middle, and one with coloured swirls. The glitter one was my favourite, but they both turned otherwise mundane walks to the shops and school more enjoyable.

2

Marbles

Forget the plain little glass or china marbles you had at infant school. Today there’s a whole new generation of these little spheres of joy, including ones that contain ornate flowers or glow in the dark.

3

Skipping

For me, the best skipping games involved a long rope, with a friend either end, as we all took turns jumping in the middle. ‘Had a little bumper car, number 48, went the round the coooooor-ner…’

4

Bubbles

Simple. Beautiful. With or without a little one or dog jumping in the air to ‘catch’ them.

5

Hopscotch

I never did work out what this one was all about, but I enjoyed chalking up the numbered boxes on the pavement and hopping about on one leg. (One to maybe look up online before I have another go…)

Woman playing fetch with her dog in the woods
Unsplash/Humphrey Muleba
6

Catch

So simple but really good fun and a great way to exercise your dog if he’s a bit silly like ours and just runs back and forth as you lob the ball to each other. (Don’t worry – when he does get the ball, he runs off with it, just to teach us a lesson.)

7

Rock, paper, scissors

I remember thinking it was really strange that you’d ever want to wrap a rock, but hey! Let’s play it anyway. I always enjoyed games that had a rhythmical nature.

8

Clapping games

I think my first introduction to clapping was ‘hands, knees and a boomps-a-daisy’. How my poor mum never tired of this one, I’ll never know. I always seemed to want to play when she was in the middle of washing up or baking.

9

Dominoes

If not playing the ‘official’ game, do you remember the endless fun (and frustration) of trying to make a domino run without knocking one down too early? Or seeing how high you could build a tower out of dominoes?

10

Cat’s cradle

I never got it and probably never will, but I’m going to give it one last shot. Surely moving a piece of looped string from one set of fingers to another can’t be that difficult?!

11

Wink murder

Who didn’t love being secretly chosen as the villain for this party game? If you work in an office, it’s quite a nice one to play on a Friday afternoon, as it’s not too disruptive. Though it is often the quiet ones who have the most dramatic deaths…

12

Jacks

This is definitely going to be the next game I buy and revisit. There was something so satisfying about building up to getting all five metal jacks in your hand in the space of one bounce from the ball.

13

Mud pies

Messy, completely inedible, but fantastic outdoor fun. Nothing beats mixing together a bit of mud with a splash of water and making tiny pies out of the resulting pap. Beautifully decorated with daisy heads and small stones on top, of course (it’s all about the finishing touches).

14

Lego

As a child, I lacked the imagination (and fancy bricks) to get any further than building a four-sided house with windows and no roof. Again, times have changed. I was given a Lego kit one birthday containing instructions and all of the necessary pieces to build three birds and I loved every second.

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15

Squares

Drawing out endless rows of poorly spaced dots was a bit tedious, but it was always exciting totting up the number of boxes you had managed to complete and put your initial inside, to see if you had won!