Sunday, November 13, 2011

Can Very Easy be Very Fun?

I can play air hockey at home without a basement! And it's not so "mini"
NASCAR® Licensed Air Powered Hockey Table
play a good game of air hockey at home even if you don't have tons of space or money
approximately $60-80 dollars  (see links at end of post)*
Social Scene Helper, Lose and Win Gracefully, My Body Needs to Move

I am not into competitive sports.  I kind of hate it.  When I think about school sports, I think about a very chubby and clumsy girl who was good at nothing.

For example, I think I have anxiety about tracking a ball back and forth so I still sucked after two summers of missing balls thrown to me by the nice camp counselors at the Frank Brennan Tennis Academy. I suppose that is called poor hand-eye coordination.  Whatever, I sucked.

I also remember playing field hockey on a school team and right away the coach made me a goalie (and we already had one who was actually really good).  I was quite useless there.

There was one "sports" game that I really did love.  I don't know why but I was good at, of all things, air hockey.  I suppose you do need some athletic ability to play, but not much.  You are standing, not sitting, and you are required to move very fast however, it never seemed hard to me.   I suppose that I chose to do it because if you grew up in the 80s (okay, dating myself here), then you would have found yourself in arcades at times and I could not play Pac-Man or Space Invaders for my life. So it was air hockey or nothing for me.

The Positives

What is great about air hockey is that you don't find yourself getting so angry if you lose.   That puck glides so fast that you can barely see the puck swish past your paddle and into the goal.  So if you lose, you might even find yourself laughing.   For those who don't want to play offensively, you can also play by incessantly swishing your paddle side to side (a la Number 2), hoping you'll block all attacks and maybe even score by accident.  This game is also great because you are off your butt, alert, and ready to move your arm and oftentimes your entire body to score.  I wouldn't consider it a big workout but it's still a really good feeling.

Number 2, who is now just 4-years-old loves air hockey and I had always wanted to buy him one but hesitated because our home is not too large and these tables are never cheap.  But I got lucky one day as we unexpectedly found ourselves at a toy outlet and saw an air hockey table on sale for just $25.  Number 2 is still unable to play lots of games on the Wii with his big brother but air hockey is easy for anyone.  If there are three children, the action is so fast-paced that it is fun enough to watch as you wait your turn.   I know about waiting turns very well as Numbers 1 and 2 were born without a wait-your-turn gene.  I certainly never had one to pass on to them either.

I picked special education expert, Alison Berkley's brain again to help me understand just what is it about air hockey that makes kids so happy. Immediately, she said,"I really like air hockey because it's a game of shared attention."  The educational center that Alison co-owns, Emerge and See, also has an air hockey table where she and co-owner Amanda Friedman often use it as a grounding point for social interaction.

This term, "shared attention," has been ringing in my head for the past year.  In simple terms, Alison explained that shared attention is "focus on a shared activity, two people thinking about or doing the same activity."

But games are not why I know this term, because I had thought that having good shared attention skills meant that you were better prepared for classroom learning.  Thus I joked and asked Alison, if playing air hockey helped kids learn better in a classroom. Ha Ha Ha...

"Absolutely," she says. Wait, what?  Alison then explains that the kind of problem solving kids are doing when they argue over who scored a goal or not, is the same kind of problem-solving that kids are doing after  they break up into groups to perform the skill they've just learned from a teacher.  The kids have to work together and reach an agreement in order to solve the problem. "All of those good social skills that we learn in play, transfer over to the classroom, and beyond," she said to me as I still try to hide that I was joking.

Truth be told, I am sure Alison doesn't mean that playing a thousand rounds of air hockey is going to get you an A in Math.  However, I do think it means I need to be sending Numbers 1 and 2 into the playground more.

Very simple: two pucks, two paddles, and a table w/ pockets
Tabletop vs. Free-standing Table: Think Space and Frequency of Play

Still, while I love the Carrom Air Hockey Table that we own, I do not feel like it is break-proof. I don't think any air hockey table in that price range can be. In terms of real air hockey feel, I think you can say that this game is "medium" which I think is great for a home that is trying to conserve on space and money.  Remember, the big ones can sell for $700 and they are 7 feet long!

Moreover, as I wrote this story, I found out that the table we own is meant for 13-year-olds but I think that as long as you instruct your kids how to play safely with it, it'll be okay.  I supervise most games that use plugs anyway.  Actually, I think you just want to supervise them so that they won't break it.  I constantly instruct my kids not to lean on the game but rather place their other hands on the floor and use that for balance.  I think if I had a long enough dining table, I could place it on there too but we are happy leaving it on the floor and letting it stand upright against the wall when we aren't using it.  I think that is the advantage of this because you don't have long table legs that would either have to be removed to store or if you can't remove them, then you'd better have space in your house and it better not be too flimsy or it would tip over.  Additionally, once you start looking at the table with legs, the price up goes up significantly.   In that case, you must think about how often they would play.  I know that this game is not something they would play with every day or even every week but when they do play with it, especially when friends come over, it is a real treat. You can even have a family tournament (grown-ups against kids!).

If you want something in your house that is more active than a board game and something that almost anyone can and will likely play, consider this table.  The rules are simple, just score goals by hitting the puck with your paddle and don't lean over the table too much. There are scoring meters that are on the goal part of the table since the puck actually doesn't go into the table but rather into some bulky roundish plastic holder that has numbers and a dial to show your score.  I don't even use that.  I think it is better to have one player keep score with a sheet of paper and tally marks.  It's more visual that way.  You can see who is losing and winning easily.  You also can play shorter games to have more chances at winning.

My 4-year-old (Number 2) can play with his Grandpa and both of them will have fun. I find that it is hard not to smile and laugh when you play air hockey.   There are virtually very few skills required and frustration for the kids who dislike losing could possibly be lowered with this because this game is so fast paced and easy.  I think many novices can often score goals by accident so much that the game almost looks as if it is a game of chance.  However, I am sure that you can become a better player if you practice.  There is even an Air Hockey League in the U.S.!  Who knew?

Toys are Tools would also like to know what are your favorite arcade games? Do you find them easy or hard?

*At date of publication, Toys are Tools found two links to similar air hockey tables that were more affordable than the picture air hockey table that we own.  They also came with free shipping. The only difference that we can discern is that these Carrom air hockey tables have a different graphic image from the table that we own.  We have seen the version we own sell for as little as $25 dollars on Amazon.  So put it in your cart and buy when the price is right!
check out link:
and this link:
and while I haven't purchased this one (not Carrom), it looks like it is a similar size to mine and ships free at the time of publication. If you buy it, tell us what you think!

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of this product for the publication of this post . 

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