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Barack and Mitt Should Play Marbles With My Boys

Mike Lanza, father of three and founder of Playborhood, suggests our presidential candidates could learn some valuable lessons by engaging in a game of marbles with his sons.

I wish Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would play marbles with my boys, Marco (8) and Nico (4-1/2), sometime soon. I’d feel a lot more optimistic about our country’s future.

  • Marco and Nico have created their own, highly original rules that work well for them. (Have Barack or Mitt ever had any original ideas for good laws?)
  • They resolve their own disputes, so that they always end up enjoying playing with each other. (Why can’t Barack and Mitt just get along?)
  • They apply some rules more leniently to Nico, who’s much younger, so he can win sometimes. (Does Mitt, a very rich guy, ever favor bending the rules to help the disadvantaged?)
  • The scope of their rules is minimal because they’re marble players first, and create rules only to facilitate their enjoyment of their game. (Barack, who’s never played at business, signed some of the most complex laws ever in his first term.)

It’s quite remarkable how many sophisticated life lessons Marco and Nico have learned from their marbles game.

They’ve created something wonderful for themselves. The past few days, they’ve been running downstairs first thing in the morning to continue the game we dragged them away from the night before.

What’s more impressive, though, is that they’ve learned all sorts of concepts and techniques to enable their marbles game to survive over a period of time. Many fun new things get old very quickly in kids’ lives.

For instance, bigger brothers or sisters often create games in which they trounce their younger siblings once. The latter aren’t very eager to play the next time. On the other hand, Marco has figured out how to keep younger Nico coming back for more. Also, they keep the game fresh and interesting by varying certain rules from one game session to the next.

The renowned child psychologist, Jean Piaget, wrote in the last century about how children in Switzerland who he observed learned valuable lessons in morality and social skills from their marble games.

Why are marbles games so good for learning these fundamental lessons? Marbles are very simple, versatile toys. They encourage kids to “construct” entire games and rules, and the social relationships that arise from these.

Most kids these days have few opportunities to think for themselves. The toys they play with, such as video games or Lego kits, make all sorts of decisions for them, leaving very little to their imaginations. Furthermore, when kids aren’t playing with toys, they’re often in activities in which adults make all the rules and decisions.

Similarly, Barack and Mitt seem unable to think for themselves. They’re trapped inside their deeply partisan political parties, trapped behind political consultants who tell them what to say and how to say it.

I wish they could figure out how to work directly with us citizens to create and administer our nation’s laws the same way Marco and Nico work together on their marbles game.

 is the founder of Playborhood.com and author of Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play. 

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