Tag: Games

Weave Through This Puzzle

On the first anniversary of the At Home section, zigzag through this puzzle to reveal the twist.

This week is the one-year anniversary of the At Home section, and what better way to celebrate than with a puzzle containing a hidden picture? Solve the clues and reveal the twist, with a mini shout-out to the section’s basket-weaving activity from August.

Write the answers to the 16 clues in the blank spaces on each strip. (We’ve filled in some letters to help.) Then cut and sort the strips into one of the four categories, based on your answers. Can you find what connects them? Words starting with B? Animals you’d find on a farm? We’ve given you a clue for each category.

Once you’ve sorted your strips into categories, the A and B groups become the vertical “warp” for your weaving; the C and D groups are woven through them horizontally. They should be ordered alphabetically within their categories. Follow the diagram to weave the strips in an under-and-over pattern, with the lettered squares going under the vertical strips. The weaving will reveal the hidden picture.

Robert Vinluan

Step 1

Place the A and B groups vertically using alphabetical order within each group, starting from the left and alternating groups.

Step 2

Start with the first strip alphabetically from the C group and weave it in, making sure the lettered squares go under the A strips. Slide the strip to the bottom.

Step 3

Repeat with the first alphabetical strip from the D group, making sure it goes under the B strips. Keep weaving, alternating strips from the C and D groups until you have used all your strips.

Step 4

Congratulations! You’ve revealed the image! Now fold and tape the extra tabs to square the sides and save your artwork.

A printable version of this activity is available for download here.

How to Play RPGs Online

Escape Your Reality With Role-Playing Games

Let the good times roll, as old-school tabletop R.P.G.s have taken off online.

Credit…Andrea Chronopoulos

  • March 6, 2021, 11:41 p.m. ET

Recently, a wizard, a druid, a cleric, a ranger, an artificer and a couple of bards met on Zoom. The bards fought. The druid baked cookies. The cleric, wearing nifty resin dragon horns, took hallucinogenic mushrooms. Together they explored candy-coated barracks, searching for an elusive ; cat jokes crowded the chat.

This was an average evening for Mike Sell, a professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania who moonlights as an online game master. On Tuesdays, he gathers friends, colleagues, partners and kids and has them ramble, remotely, through his role-playing game, Curse of the Sugarplum Fairy, a madcap riff on “The Nutcracker” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Tagline: “Who can take a rainbow and wrap it in a scream?”

Modern role-playing games debuted in the mid-1970s, when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson invented Dungeons & Dragons. The form has since proliferated — if you can imagine a genre (western, mystery, sci-fi) or a peril (zombies, rogue A.I., chthonic gods), it has probably inspired a game. A hybrid of theater, make-believe, board games and fan fiction, R.P.G.s encourage players to create a story collaboratively as they play.

“Tabletop role playing is the most powerful, most versatile form of interactive narrative we have by a mile,” said Nicholas Fortugno, who directs the digital game design program at Long Island University. “Nothing touches it.”

R.P.G.s have always been a relatively niche hobby, which is understandable. A typical session involves considerably more effort and imagination than, say, Scrabble. And who dresses up for Monopoly? But when lockdowns made in-person activities risky, these games, began to proliferate online, attracting new players and reviving interest among veteran, dice-clutching hands.

Not your nerdy teenager’s Dungeons & Dragons.

Last March, when rolling lockdowns began, Roll20, one of many sites that host R.P.G.s online, experienced so many new-user requests (an 840 percent spike, in fact) that its servers assumed it was some kind of cyberattack, said Dean Bigbee, the site’s chief operating officer. Within a year, the site has added three million new users, for a total of eight million. Representatives of similar sites like World Anvil and Role Gate also reported surges.

The revenue of Dungeons & Dragons, which still commands the largest market share of R.P.G.s, grew by 33 percent in the past year. Usage of its dedicated website, D&D Beyond, doubled. “It was always growing, but nowhere near that,” said Ray Winninger, the executive producer in charge of the of Dungeons & Dragons studio. According to Mr. Winninger’s colleague Liz Schuh, the director of product management for Dungeons & Dragons, “Virtual play has exploded.” Which means Zoom is the new finished basement.

In a typical game, online or off, the game master will present the players with a situation — an encounter with a kobold, say. Each player decides how his or her characters should respond, often rolling dice to determine the success of each maneuver. As these games are cooperative, not competitive, players don’t vie against one another. (Smack talking? Purely optional.) So this is pandemic-friendly escapism that allows your friends to escape with you. Unless a mind flayer takes them out first.

Over the past five years, tabletop R.P.G.s — a designation that differentiates them from immense multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft — have edged a little closer to the mainstream, becoming the kind of hobby a person could now admit to in mixed company. (Thirty-nine percent of Dungeons & Dragons players identify as female.) Vin Diesel, Terry Crews and Drew Barrymore have all outed themselves as R.P.G. gamers, and the actor Joe Manganiello (“True Blood”) hosts a celebrity campaign in his basement.

The streaming site Twitch has more than 100 channels devoted to Dungeons & Dragons. Critical Role, a live-play campaign executed by voice actors, has become a YouTube hit that recently raised more than $11 million for an animated special. R.P.G.s have also inspired dozens of podcasts, both fictional and live play, like “The Adventure Zone” and “You Meet in a Tavern.” The Netflix show “Stranger Things” has made Dungeons & Dragons a central theme: The boy characters play the game and use its vocabulary to understand their town’s bizarre goings-on. (You can even buy a “Stranger Things”-inspired D&D starter set.)

From the basement to Zoom.

Before the pandemic, when people already seemed to live mostly online, tabletop R.P.G.s were seen as a respite from multiscreen life, a more artisanal and analog way to connect. “The ability to get together with friends and put on a show, that’s a pretty amazing experience,” Mr. Sell said.During lockdown, when the ability to get together went away, RPGs stayed. Many of the most popular games had already found a home online. Sites and apps like Roll20, Role Gate, World Anvil, Astral, Fantasy Grounds and D&D Beyond have created platforms to make online play possible. Many have tools — like character generators — that simplify a campaign.

R.P.G.s don’t require tactile experience (apologies to those who hand-paints miniatures for their characters), so they adapt well to online play. “Almost everything that happens in Dungeons & Dragons happens in your imagination,” Mr. Winninger said. “It makes the transition to virtual play easier.”

If you have Wi-Fi, you’re in, and you don’t even need dice: Wizards of the Coast has a page that will roll the dice for you virtually. Other sites feature game enhancements, like virtual maps, and the ability to sync your game to a selection of creepy music. Want to run your own game? Gather a group on Zoom, Skype or Discord. Don’t have any like-minded friends? Wizards of the Coast released the Yawning Portal, a site that matches players with virtual games. Other sites run message boards and marketplaces that connect individuals with groups and groups with games masters. Newbies can easily find experienced players to show them the ropes and chains and dimensional shackles. After-school programs and local libraries run games catering to children and teenagers.

Building a bridge for the social divide.

And yet, we lose something when we can’t play in person or share Cheetos. Because R.P.G.s depends on storytelling, the experience dwindles when we’re no longer face to face with our fellow tellers. “It’s all about looking at people in the eye and performing with your body,” Mr. Fortugno said. “When you lose all of that, the game becomes more stilted.”

But questing through darkened forests or perilous caves from the comfort of your couch can still thrill. And because R.P.G.s have an inherent structure and turn-taking, they may offer more natural engagement than the average Zoom cocktail hour. Having a mutual goal — maiden rescuing, treasure acquiring, sphere of annihilation avoidance — makes the conversation flow. And players can now meet across the country and across the continents.

Avery Alder, a game designer (Monsterhearts 2, Dream Askew) who lives in rural British Columbia, used to host weekly in-person role-playing games in a nearby post-and-beam town hall. The pandemic ended that, but she still plays when work and child care allow, which isn’t often. She argues that maybe we need R.P.G.s now more than ever.

“In a year when people are feeling a big, big sense of fear and scarcity and gloom, it’s really important to be imagining other possibilities,” she said. “Even if you’re telling stories about a fantasy world, you’re still telling stories about exploration, connection, hope.”

Making Bar Trivia Virtual

In the spring, just before lockdown hit North Carolina, Steve Bahnaman met some friends at a Cider Brewery, just outside Raleigh, for an evening of bar trivia. His team, Covid Operations (this was back before Covid-19 puns were “super tired,” he explained), won the competition that night. The prize: $40 in bar cash. “Which I’m probably never going to use,” said Mr. Bahnaman, who hasn’t visited a bar or played another game in-person since. “That is very sad.”

Lockdowns have shut some bars, while reducing capacity at others. Though this has had a withering effect on in-person bar trivia, it has also encouraged a proliferation of online games. Now you can test your knowledge of Episcopal sees or TV catchphrases from anywhere at any time, competing against other humans or just your own recall.

Bar trivia began in England in the 1970s. Designed to bring people inside to order drinks on slow nights, the competitions quickly gained popularity, providing both an economic bump for small businesses and a social occasion for bar patrons. In most quizzes, a host asks a series of questions — general, themed, audio or visual — and teams of patrons scribble answers as they down pints.

A good trivia question has an interesting fact at its heart, something you might want to know if you don’t already. And it presents the query not in a “you know it or you don’t” way, but rather in a form that generates discussion and allows you to deduce your way to an educated guess. (One example: What is the only state in which both the name of the state and the name of the state capital have been one-word titles of Oscar nominees for best picture?) Prizes include cash, a cleared bar tab or simply the warm glow that comes from really nailing that multipart hockey mascot brainteaser.

Having proliferated on Zoom, Twitch and Facebook Live, quizzes look and feel different now, of course. While a few enable remote socializing — via chat functions or breakout room — you still can’t share jalapeño poppers or hunch around the same worksheet. But that’s the price paid for not having to share a table (and aerosols) with people outside your household as you try to recall China’s major rivers. Asynchronous quizzes, available daily, weekly or whenever, are enjoying a rush of popularity, too. Some still offer cash prizes, but many function as fund-raisers for struggling bars, food banks or the quiz companies themselves.

David Gallic, the director of content at King Trivia, which had games at 190 bars across the West Coast and the Southwest before the coronavirus intervened, misses the personal interaction of bar trivia. “On Twitch, when I’m hosting, it’s me on camera, and everybody else in a little chat box,” he said. But he enjoys the multi-timezone reach that an online format provides. Lynn Yu, a co-founder of Trivia LA, which generates monthly trivia question lists and offers private livestream games for a fee, likes that she doesn’t have to dress up. “They’re only seeing the top half of me,” she said.

O’Brien’s, a pub in Santa Monica, Calif., that hosts a weekly quiz thronged with “Jeopardy” champs, held its last quiz on March 11. The following Wednesday the quiz reappeared online and hasn’t missed a week since. “This is a way that maybe gets us to 90 percent of the feeling of being there live with people with basically zero percent of the risk,” said Dave Shukan, an occasional O’Brien’s writer and host.

Once a month, its rotating hosts present what they call a “Frankenquiz,” a best-of edition designed for a popular (if scarily knowledgeable) audience. On a recent Sunday, 17 teams handily fielded questions about film directors, sports teams, Ibadi Islam and a British foreign secretary, anagrammed. “It’s not a question of being smart,” said Paul Paquet, a longtime player and trivia columnist. “It’s just a neurological quirk where we remember things.” Debatable.

Admittedly, Google remembers what we may forget and the online format makes cheating easier. (Most outlets use the honor system; some ask players to keep their hands visible onscreen.) Quizzes have also altered form and methodology to make answers less searchable. America’s recent racial reckoning has also provided a moment to rethink quiz content.

“There was a very concerted call and an effort within the trivia community to make sure that you’re not just asking questions about white America and white Americana,” Ms. Yu said.

Newcomers to trivia, even those with decent general knowledge and a trove of weirder info lodged somewhere in the hippocampus, may find quiz questions difficult. “To be completely honest, a lot of the pub trivia I played online is too hard,” said Bill Patschak, a founder of the new site BPtrivia. But, as with any new skill, players improve through practice, learning not only facts but the types of questions asked, and the way writers might frame them.

“Everyone is an expert in something,” Ms. Yu said reassuringly. “And they do know more than they think they do.” And if thinking too hard about health crises or fraught transfers of power has you down, it can be relaxing to spend 10 minutes or a couple of hours immersing yourself in material that doesn’t matter at all.

“It’s testing knowledge, but it’s not testing anything important,” Shayne Busfield, a founder of the exclusive quiz site Learned League said.

Here are some ways to play bar trivia from home, with or without pants. Just bring your brain, and your own booze.

Bar trivia without the bar

Many major trivia companies, like King Trivia, Geeks Who Drink, Brainstormer Trivia! and the Big Quiz Thing, have all migrated some of their live events online. While O’Brien’s weekly quizzes are invite-only, its monthly Frankenquizes, found via the pub’s Facebook and Twitter pages, are open to all. There are two rounds of 15 questions each, plus two handouts (now Google docs) that players work on in snatched minutes between rounds.

If you can assemble a dedicated squad, remotely, try Online Quiz League USA, which Mr. Bahnaman co-founded and described as a bowling league for the brain. Each week, your four-person team plays another via Zoom, Skype or Messenger. The season finishes with a cup tournament, when teams play for trophies and bragging rights.

Game on, camera off

If you prefer your quizzing on your own time, you can work your contacts to score an invite to Learned League, a 21,000-strong members-only club that lets you start or end each weekday with six synapse-tickling questions, delivered via email. Or try BPtrivia, which has daily, monthly and race-against-the clock quizzes, to be played in your browser anytime. (Some are free, others require a subscription.)

There are also plenty of apps, video games and online games, like Random Trivia Generator. Or if you need more incentive to answer questions correctly, try Jackbox Games’ Murder Trivia Party and try to stay alive.

Quiz shows, remotely

If you love trivia, you are probably mourning the recent death of the longtime “Jeopardy” host, Alex Trebek. But “Jeopardy” will continue, and you can still take the qualifying test, now available remotely. “Jeopardy” also offers a couple of apps so that you can practice phrasing your answer in the form of a question. A voice-only game lets you play even during drive time. If current events are more your speed, NPR’s news quiz, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” has created a play-along game for smart speakers.

Let the board quiz you or choose your own trivial adventure

Maybe you grew up with Trivial Pursuit or one of its seemingly endless iterations. If you make a few exceptions for the geography category, the game has aged well, and a 40th anniversary edition collects question best-ofs. For a more recent iteration of a board game quiz, and assuming you don’t room with Ken Jennings, try Wits & Wagers: When a question is read, everyone in your household guesses the answer, then bets on which answer is correct.

If you would rather host your own quiz without having to do the work of writing questions, there are plenty of questions and answers available online. Start with Alpaca Farm, where Learned League alums post free quizzes, and interrogate family, friends and pets about 11-letter U.S. city names or Roberto Clemente.

Summer Challenge No. 6: Kids’ Choice


A group of Pennsylvania teenagers made beaded friendship bracelets as one of the many activities they came up with to spend 24 hours outdoors.

A group of Pennsylvania teenagers made beaded friendship bracelets as one of the many activities they came up with to spend 24 hours outdoors.Credit Kelly Kopera

Challenge No. 6: Let the kids take over.

So far, the Well Family Intentional Summer challenge has been led by the grown-ups. We’ve taught our children street games, encouraged them to try wild flavors of ice cream and walked or biked with them instead of driving. This week, we invite you to shake up that family dynamic and let your children make the call: What do they want to do (within reason) to make the most of this summer?

Research shows we gain more happiness from doing something than buying something, and like adults, children and teenagers get much of their pleasure from the planning process. Being a part of making something happen makes us value it even more.

And children have their own ideas about what makes for a perfect summer day.

Their choice might be fairly simple (my youngest son asked that we play mini-golf) or far more elaborate, like the plans of 17-year-old Kelly Kopera of Phoenixville, Pa. She wrote:

For the past four years, our neighborhood group of friends has set aside a day for the ultimate “intentional summer challenge” — staying outside all day.

It all started one night early in the summer of 2013. My brother, Tim, and I were out in the driveway enjoying the first of many summer nights to come, and we didn’t want to go inside. One of us said to the other: wouldn’t it be fun to spend a whole day outside?

A few weeks later, we did it — we stayed outside from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., accompanied by some friends and neighbors here and there, and time allotted for bathroom breaks. The day, which we dubbed “11 to 11,” became a tradition in our family and neighborhood.

The next year’s 11 to 11 was successful, with growing participation and commitment. Since our kitchen was undergoing renovations, we had a Porta-Potty in our yard, and didn’t even have to go inside to use the bathroom! The following year, however, we wanted to take it a step further. With a core group established — my brothers Tim (now 16) and Kyle (14), along with our friends since grade school, Kimmy (16), Keli (16) and Matt (15) — we stayed outside from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and then slept in a tent in our backyard before going back inside at 11 the next morning. We also declared it a “tech-free day” — no one was allowed to look at their phones for the entire time we were outside, enjoying summer and each other’s company.

Last year’s “11 to 11 to 11″ featured “extreme hopscotch” extending all the way down our block, a water balloon fight, a trip to our local pool, backyard croquet, a scavenger hunt and a bonfire. This year we’ll be going to the pool and a nearby creek to keep cool; playing “glowquet” (croquet after dark with glow sticks on the wickets), card and board games, and classic summer games like manhunt; and capping off the night with some stargazing before we get into the tent for the final 12 hours. It’s a summer tradition that we all look forward to every year, and we’ve been planning this one for a long time to make it the best one yet!

Last week, we challenged you to learn the name of a wildflower, tree or something else you find outside — and we offered a quiz to test your plant knowledge. Some of you complained that the quiz was too easy; about a third of you got all the answers right.

Anne, a reader from Rome, asked for the names in Latin, too. “That way people all over the world will know what you are writing about. Gratias vobis ago.”

But BusyLizzieBe wrote: “Youngsters’ disconnect from the natural world is deeper than I ever imagined and deeply disconcerting. In a volunteer situation, I have even encountered children who have never seen a caterpillar or a butterfly.”

Sue Peterson of California sent an email: “This past weekend, we went camping with friends, and there was quite a bit of concern about being able to identify poison oak. It was funny, because everyone had a slightly different identifying factor (rounded leaves, how many leaves on a stem, spots on the plant, etc.) and no plant we found seemed to have them ALL, but they would always have a few.”

She and others suggested using Google’s image recognition feature. “They are not exact, but it was fun to see the other plants that look so much like the plant I had found, but were slightly different, and learning the technical names and nicknames of different plants was fun.”

This week’s challenge: Whether it’s a full 24 hours outside or 18 holes of windmills and dinosaurs, why not let your children pick a summer moment? Tell us what they chose, and how it goes (and don’t forget to ask them what they thought, too), by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, Aug. 2. Were they more creative than you expected, or did they suggest an idea from summers past that you’d forgotten?

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, Aug. 4. The real goal, as always: to savor the summer all season long.

10 Children’s Apps for Summer Road Trips


Credit iStock

The car is packed, the pets have sitters and the GPS is programmed. But have you properly prepped your children’s devices?

While there are many apps that can keep a child busy, the best are those designed to promote active, engaged, meaningful and social learning, researchers say.

Here are some recent apps for the job. Most work without a Wi-Fi tether, are free or very affordable and are rich in bite-size bits of interaction, making them easy to pass around the car. Platform and price information change frequently, so check your favorite app store for the latest information.




Chomp by Christoph Niemann, Fox and Sheep GmbH ($2.99 on iOS, Android), is a powerful, easy-to-use video creativity experience that combines hand-drawn animations with real-time video. You’ll find your face inside 52 spring-loaded gags that you can try out simply by looking into the camera, and swiping. Pass this app around and give everyone a chance — except the driver.



HangArt: Play Hangman, Draw Pictures, Tell Stories by Literary Safari ($1.99 on iOS, Android) brings the age-old game of hangman to your road trip, using words straight out of a school reading curriculum. The two-player mode can promote cooperative play.



Heads Up! Kids by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (99 cents with in-app purchases, on iOS and Android) is another fun, social word game that is a simplified version of the Ellen DeGeneres game, in which you hold your device up to your forehead and ask someone else for a clue. The initial download contains six decks of virtual cards on topics like animals; extras cost a dollar each.



Moonbeeps: Gizmo by Moonbot Studios ($1.99 on iPad, iPhone) turns your tablet into a pretend dashboard full of dials and switches that are perfect for imaginary play, say, for turning your minivan into a submarine.



Sago Mini Robot Party ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone) contains a set of rubbery robot parts that can be mixed and matched. We like how easy it is to be silly with this app. You can use the sock for a head, for example, or put two heads on the feet and flip the robot upside down.

FOR OLDER CHILDREN (ages 8 and up)



MSQRD — Live Filters & Face Swap for Video Selfies by Masquerade Technologies (free on iPad, Android) is like sticking your head inside a magical mirror where you can try on some glow-in-the-dark face paint, or do a face swap with the person sitting next to you — and you can post it on Facebook. Keep this one far away from the driver.



Thinkrolls 2 by Avokiddo ($2.99 on iPad, Android, Kindle) lets you swipe your way through a series of increasingly challenging mazes. This is the second app in the series, and it’s well named because it gently introduces properties of matter and physics. You discover that things do more than “roll.” They can also float, glide and teleport through the 270 levels.



Stack the States 2 by Freecloud Design ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone) for ages 7 and up is a great app for learning about the United States while you drive through it. The app quizzes you on the capital, shape and location of each state. You can now zoom in for a 3-D view of the details on key cities and landmarks.



Toca Life: Vacation by Toca Boca ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone) transforms your back seat into a tropical resort, with its own airport, hotel and island. There’s no way to fail with this free-play app, and there’s room for plenty of cooperative play.



Finding Dory: Just Keep Swimming by Disney ($3.99 on iPad, Android, Kindle) delivers plenty of well-illustrated, slippery fun in this maze game. There are 13 levels, each inspired by the movie, and it’s easy to revisit an already mastered level, so a little brother or sister can have a turn. Make sure children know that they can pause the game at any point.




Traveling at night? Turn your vehicle into a rolling planetarium with Star Walk HD ($2.99 for iPad, Android). You’ll be able to predict when and where the moon will come up, or confirm if the bright star is actually Saturn.

Google Maps is a wonderful family resource. You can install a second version on your child’s Android or Apple device, saving on data costs by using the “offline map feature.” As you drive, your child can view the scrolling maps, and help you find landmarks or navigation, dropping pins on favorite places along the way. Show your child how to toggle between satellite, topographic and regular map modes, and use the Street View feature to follow your car.

Finally, Siri loves geography facts. Besides knowing “how many people live in Detroit,” she can tell you current altitude, or where the closest rest area might be. She’ll also have the exact answer, in miles, to that age-old back-seat question, “Are we there yet?”

The ‘Intentional Summer’ Challenge: Play an Outdoor Game


Credit Maren Hilton

Don’t let summer slip away! Challenge No. 2: Play (and teach your kids) a classic outdoor game, like Capture the Flag.

It’s week two of Well Family’s Intentional Summer, where — to quote an email from Pete Jameson of Ligonier, Pa. — we are making sure to enjoy “the gift that is summer.”

Why be intentional about this most relaxed of times? Summer goes by so fast. One minute, it’s June, and we have all the time in the world for ice cream, drive-in movies and bike rides. The next, it’s August, and too often, we’re left wondering where it went. We want to avoid regrets over missed opportunities. Every week, we’ll offer research-based suggestions for ways to set this season apart from the rest of the year.

Last week, we suggested walking or biking to somewhere you’d usually drive. In our family, a walk to a doctor’s appointment ended in a memorable excursion through a construction zone and under a parking garage — and my 10-year-old was delighted by our “adventure.” Readers tried it too, and reported back: Sam (age 7) and Elisabeth (4) of St. Paul, Minn., (pictured) biked to the library. Anne walked to yoga and back (bonus exercise!). Myriam let our challenge inspire her to start biking to work again after the birth of her baby five months ago: “It was rather hard, my bike is in need of some tuning, I am still sleepy from being up feeding baby at night, but my lungs are so happy and the view of the ocean on the way in was breathtaking.”

On this Fourth of July weekend, many American readers will be joining friends and family at picnics and barbecues. Our second challenge lends itself to a big gathering, though it works well for smaller groups too: Play a classic outdoor game you played in your youth, and teach your kids. If you remember late suburban nights playing flashlight tag or Ghost in the Graveyard under the streetlights, or Capture the Flag in your backyard, this one’s for you.

Anecdotally, parents know our kids spend less time playing outside than we did, and research bears that out. When mothers were questioned about the differences between their childhood experiences and those of their children, 70 percent described playing outdoors daily as children, many for more than three hours at a stretch. By contrast, less than a third of their children played outside every day, and most for far shorter periods — and while most of the mothers said they played street games, only about a fifth of the children ever had. That’s a shame: Outdoor games encourage self-reliance and independence along with an appreciation for just being outside.

“Kids who are used to more structured activities may not know how to create these things on their own,” said Kristen Race, a psychologist and the author of “Mindful Parenting.” With no set number of players and played outdoors, such games encourage a loose creativity (and camaraderie) to develop quickly. “If adults get things started, children will quickly take over,” she said. She suggests pulling aside an older child or two to get things organized. Then, after the adults race around for a bit, sit off to the side and watch the children create their own memories.

We’ve found the rules for some old favorites for you: Ghost in the Graveyard or flashlight tag for evening gatherings that stretch into twilight, or Capture the Flag and Kick the Can for anytime play — but we want to hear about your games, too. If you remember epic nights playing TV tag, tell us how to play and how you recreate them in your yard or local park.

Tell us about all your adventures by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com by next Tuesday, July 5. You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, July 7. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.

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Clumsiness as a Diagnosis


Credit Anna Parini

Years ago, I took care of a little girl whose mother worried tremendously about her clumsiness. When she was 4 or 5, my patient was still tripping and falling more than other children her age, her mother thought. She had trouble with the clapping games in her preschool. The mother was visibly distressed when she talked about this. She told me that she herself had been “that kid,” the clumsy one, the last one chosen for every team.

For a long time, a variety of terms were used in medicine and education to describe children who struggled with coordination but had no underlying condition, terms like the ominous-sounding minimal brain dysfunction, the milder movement-skill problems, and yes, clumsy child syndrome. In 1994, these were consolidated under a single diagnosis, developmental coordination disorder, though this covers a wide range of children who may struggle with anything from handwriting to riding a bicycle.

There is always a risk when you apply a diagnosis, always a chance that it will be seen as “pathologizing” or stigmatizing children. Are kids better off thinking of themselves as just kind of awkward? Should parents shrug and say, “no one in our family is a good dancer”?

“I think there is a perception out there that children who are clumsy are just children who aren’t good at sports,” said Dr. John Cairney, a professor of family medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, which maintains a website about the disorder with useful advice for parents. It’s more important, he said, to think about “how it affects children and adults in everyday activities — tying shoelaces, using knives and forks.”

The need for a diagnosis depends on whether the child is actually struggling. Pediatricians and pediatric neurologists do sometimes encounter parents who worry because a child isn’t gifted at sports, or at a particular sport. Not being gifted, or even good, at sports is not a diagnosis, and it’s probably more important for that child’s well-being to help parents take a new look and find the child’s real strengths and inclinations.

“Some of these kids come in referred to me, and they really look pretty normal; a lot is parental anxiety,” said Dr. Stephen Nelson, a pediatric neurologist and an associate professor of pediatrics at Tulane University, who wrote the Medscape article on developmental coordination disorder. “It’s O.K. if he doesn’t throw the ball well; he can have other skills,” Dr. Nelson said. “We don’t all have to excel at everything.”

On the other hand, a child whose fine-motor skills are far behind what is age appropriate may struggle to put on clothing, or feel bad about activities that children do for fun, like playing with Legos. And there are children whose problems go beyond just being average (or a little worse) at basic athletic skills, and those children can find themselves dreading gym class, and in some cases even being bullied.

“You have parents and teachers attempting to push them into activities, believing the problem is motivational, not neurologic or motoric,” Dr. Cairney told me. “They get bullied, called stupid or klutzy.” With a diagnosis, he said, the children’s quality of life might improve, especially if they are given good advice about how to manage the problem.

Taking the clumsy child for evaluation is all about whether the child could use some help. That may involve modifying the child’s environment: Lots of children are referred for evaluation because of dysgraphia, or terrible handwriting. Learning how to use a keyboard can make a huge difference for their school functioning.

Occupational therapy is a mainstay for these children. They have to practice the specific skills they want to improve, whether that means handwriting, tying shoelaces or using a knife and fork.

An evaluation may help tease out problems that aren’t actually coordination issues. Some children look clumsy because they’re distracted, not paying attention to the motor — or athletic — task at hand. Others may have visual impairments. Doctors worry more if a child is delayed in several realms at once; if speech, fine-motor and gross-motor are all lagging. Most concerning of all is when a child who wasn’t originally clumsy starts to lose coordination skills, or begins to walk differently. Such a child should definitely be evaluated, because something new and medically serious could be going on.

So what about my patient? Well, she illustrates another point: Developmental coordination disorder is found more often among children with other issues, like attention problems, learning issues and autism. Parents with a child who is not doing well in school and also seems uncoordinated should take the lack of coordination as a reinforcing reason to have developmental and academic testing done.

That was true with my patient; her mother was very focused on her daughter’s clumsiness, but her preschool teachers were worried that something was getting in her way in the classroom. She ended up needing some special help with reading and schoolwork as she entered school. I would probably take her mother’s concern about clumsiness more seriously sooner these days, looking at it as a clue to that larger issue.

Clumsier children may become more self-conscious about displaying their motor skills and less likely to participate in games and activities, and this may mean they get less practice. And practice does help everyone, from the naturally gifted to the rest of us.

“In general, most of this gets better with time,” Dr. Nelson said. However, he added, it’s not something that children completely outgrow; clumsy children, on the whole, tend to become clumsy adults.

With more screen time and less freedom to play outside unsupervised, there’s also a concern that many children may have a lower chance of developing and practicing many motor skills (other than swiping and clicking). “We need to do more to support children’s global motor development,” Dr. Cairney said, “not to ensure they become athletes, but to ensure they can participate in a range of activities.”


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A Reconsideration of Children and Screen Time


Derek and Isabella Galustians play on their tablets. The siblings each have their own tablet and each have one of their parents' old phones, without a phone plan, to use apps and play games.

Derek and Isabella Galustians play on their tablets. The siblings each have their own tablet and each have one of their parents’ old phones, without a phone plan, to use apps and play games.Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times

The digital world is changing around us at a dizzying pace; parents want guidance, and pediatricians want to answer their questions with helpful and scientifically valid advice. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy on children and media is probably best known for two recommendations: to discourage any screen time for children under 2, and to limit screen time to two hours a day for older children.

As new technologies have transformed many aspects of daily life, new questions have arisen. Did discouraging screen time for children under 2 mean no Skyping with Grandma? Did a limit of two hours for older children mean that if a sixth-grader did her homework on her computer, as assigned, she had used up her allotment? When those guidelines were originally composed in the 1990s, screen time was essentially taken to mean time in front of the television, or time spent playing old-style computer games; by 2013, the policy had changed to limiting “total entertainment screen time” for older children, while still “discouraging” all screens for those under 2.

The children and media policy and guidelines are undergoing review and revision, but in the interim, the academy convened Growing Up Digital, a symposium of experts and researchers last May, and came up with a list of tips — “Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use” — published in September in AAP News, which goes to pediatricians. These suggestions were meant to expand and enhance the existing guidelines by taking notice of new technology and new science.

“We have a variety of policy statements, but technology is always faster than how we can deal with it,” said Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Tex.-based pediatrician who was the chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Children, Adolescents and Media Leadership Work Group, and the lead author of the article. “We need to be able to provide practical guidance for parents that they can use now based on science.”

Although these tips on children and media were not meant to replace the existing guidelines, they attracted a good deal of media attention themselves, some of which suggested that a major change had taken place: The collective pediatric wisdom, which had been essentially anti-screen, was now opening the door and letting in the LED light.

”When you look at the press response, this was a foreseeable response but an unfortunate response: The AAP says media is great for kids!” said Dr. David Hill, the chairman of the A.A.P. Council on Communications and Media’s executive committee, and one of the authors of the article. In fact, he continued, the message was much more nuanced: “The A.A.P. says media are diversifying, that quality of the media is critical, that there is much we still have to learn.”

The pediatric wisdom has always been that you should err on the side of protection and prevention; we advise no screens for children under 2 because there’s no evidence of benefit, and a lot of concern about harm; because we worry about what screen time may be replacing in the lives of young children, who need direct human interaction to learn and develop.

Take that Skyping-with-Grandma question (or Skyping with a deployed military parent), which keeps being raised as an example of good screen time for children under 2. Every single pediatrician I spoke with brought that up — not, I suspect, because it’s such a burning question for parents, but because it’s pretty much the best reason anyone has come up with for encouraging a very young child to look at a screen.

“There are some preliminary studies — and I emphasize preliminary — that babies as young as six months can learn from prosocial media,” said Dr. Victor Strasburger, a distinguished professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a co-author of the original policy statement, “but they learn 20 times better from parents. I think very judicious use of technology for under-2s may be okay, but personally I don’t see the hurry.”

I hope very much that the go-ahead-and-Skype-with-Grandma message doesn’t somehow blur into a more general sense that screens are a good idea for the very young. Grandma is a good idea for the very young, and the technology here is supporting the interacting, not displacing it.

Whatever we may learn about what young children can or cannot learn from the screens in their lives, what we know is that they need human contact and interaction — and there’s a real worry that screens may take up time and space in babies’ and toddlers’ lives and replace some of what they most need.

But Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician who directs the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, who was one of the authors of the existing guidelines, argued in a 2014 editorial in JAMA Pediatrics for the value of high-quality electronic experiences even for very young children, and for up to an hour a day of what might be considered playing with educational digital toys.

What we should be emphasizing for older children, he said, is that parents need to make sure that they get true nonscreen time built into their days. That means, in part, no screens in the bedroom, and cellphones left for the night in a different room. Families need to create a couple of hours of high-quality offline time each day.

Dr. Strasburger noted that the content of what children watch is very significant. “Media violence will never be good for kids; sexual content at a young age will never be good for kids; first-person shooter games will never be good for kids,” he said. “The research is very clear, and it will never change.”

Even high-quality educational electronic content shouldn’t crowd out the other parts of childhood. “Unstructured, unplugged playtime is very important for all children and especially very young children,” said Dr. Benard Dreyer, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a professor of pediatrics at N.Y.U. “This does not negate the previous recommendations,” he told me. “We still don’t think kids under 2 should be watching TV; we still don’t think older kids should be spending more than two hours a day watching TV.”

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