Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Game club

Archer would play games with us all day and all night if we'd let him. He's chess-obsessed -- give him a chess book and he'll read for hours -- but Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, or a book of marble, domino, or card games are almost as absorbing. In fact, not infrequently he draws his own game boards and cuts out money and cards, and a major subject of conversation is game rules and strategy.

I asked him last week if he'd like me to contact any of the kids in his school's chess club to see if they wanted to meet for matches, and one of the children he mentioned is the daughter of one of my university colleagues. We got them together today for an hour of chess -- two matches. In the first, Archer finally checkmated her when she had only a king left and he had a king and rook. In the second, they played to stalemate in about twenty minutes.

Last week I ran into a former student in a coffee shop, passing through town with her partner on her way back to her job in another town. She has worked with Archer before, and asked about him; the conversation turned to his love of games, and I mentioned Settlers. Turns out the two of them play quite a bit and have all the expansion packs. I enlisted them to come play with Archer when they're back in town for an extended session. There's only so much he can get out of playing a two-person game with me; what's more, I have no idea what I'm doing.

I would love to find Archer a regular game group to play with. Not for the first time, I've thought that we ought to introduce him to Magic-type collectible card games, which he might be able to play with other kids at the bookstore or the library. A game provides a structure to the social occasion of playing with his peers. Today while playing chess, he had intermittent conversations with his opponent about the rules, about whether the game has reached its end, about setting up the board. Archer is rarely focused enough on a common task to have an interaction with another kid; he tends to ignore their conversational proffers and wander off on his own or to the company of adults. I'm impressed that he sat across from a nine-year-old for a full hour today; words might not have been plentiful, but the two were completely engaged with each other and the chess board. I was not part of the equation.

I'd like to see Archer in more situations like that with kids his own age. His speech therapist told us this year that he won't make an effort to play with his classmates during recess unless he sees her watching -- then he approaches other kids eagerly in order to get gold stars from the observer. But nobody had to bribe him with a gold star to play chess for an hour with Miriam. With a structure in which he's already intrinsically interested, with scorekeeping and points and strategy and the reduction of the environment's unwritten rules to clear, written, and unambiguous ones, he can really be a part of a group of his peers. If I could find the group and the venue, I'd have him there every time the doors were open.

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