Our 4-year-old hates having to take her bath at night. She figured out it also means putting on her pajamas and going to bed for the night. None of that is fun to her.
So you can imagine my wife’s surprise when she started running up the stairs to the tub a few weeks ago.
I was just coming in from mowing the lawn on one of those hot, humid evenings and realized, for the sake of my family and my marriage, I needed to take a shower. I challenged this youngster, who already bucked the nightly routine, to a race. Whoever finished bathing first won.
She beat me up the stairs. She hopped into the bathtub in our girls’ bathroom.
She was halfway done before I even stepped into the shower in our master bathroom. I took a leisurely shower. By the time I was dressed, she was already in her pajamas and in bed. I told her it looked like she won. In reality, parenting won.
There’s something haywire about our brains that people will do all sorts of things they don’t want to do if they think it’s a game.
Last weekend, my wife and I were cleaning our front yard and looking at all the small decorative rocks that blew out of their beds (or more likely were kicked out by our golden retrievers). She challenged our 9-year-old and 10-year-old if they picked up more rocks together than she did by herself, we’d try going camping.
Those rocks were all picked up in record time, and we were packing for an impromptu trip to a friend’s pond for the night.
There isn’t much you can’t make better by turning it into a game. Sure, Mary Poppins said a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Add a competition into that, and you have no trouble getting any job done.
It’s called “gamifying,” and I have to admit it really works. If you turn anything into a game, people will stay engaged.
Our children’s teachers figured that out. They use an online quiz game called Kahoot! in their classrooms. Kids can compete against each other in a trivia-style, multiple-choice game. Instead of just reviewing the material, it’s fun for them to challenge their classmates. It’s so fun that we all end up playing Kahoot! at home a few times a month using all sorts of oddball quizzes we find.
I tried turning a chore into a game with our reporters at a meeting this week. We needed to review the Associated Press style on punctuating street addresses. This unbelievably dull, albeit necessary, topic led to one of the loudest meetings we’ve had in a while, as I flashed several possibilities on a screen and had the studio audience tell me which one was right.
Every good idea has its limits, of course.
Last summer, two of our daughters asked us to give them challenges they could videotape and complete. We went through several of them, and they seemed to enjoy most of all.
The jig was up, though, when we left them a basket of unmatched socks and told them to match and fold the most socks in five minutes. Based on their video, they figured out within two minutes this was just a trick to get them to fold socks.
Two minutes? I bet they can get it in a minute and a half next time. I’ll have to challenge them.