Over the last few months Josh has been really into a game called MonkeyQuest. Your monkey character romps through all these different worlds, fighting beasts and completing quests to gain new items and work your way through the game. He loves it, and I have to admit that the game is fun. In the beginning Josh needed a little help figuring out how the game worked and defeating some of the beasts, but once he got the basics down he was able to play on his own even though he can't read yet (well, that is up for debate, I'm pretty sure he can read more than he lets on and lately he has been surprising me with the words he knows).
One thing I love about this game is that it is not overtly educational. I get a little tired of all the games geared toward 5 year olds that seem to be more about teaching reading than about being an interesting game. If I thought he needed a phonics lesson I'd send him to school or buy a curriculum. Whatever happened to games (or cartoons for that matter) that are made just because they are fun? This is a game that a 5 year old like Josh can play on his own (again, after an initial period of figuring out the game with help and occasional help later on), but it is also a game that we as parents enjoy playing with him. Of course he is learning things by playing the game anyway, but it's not like sitting him down for a computerized lesson in spelling. I'm not saying those kinds of computer games are bad, but I think he is learning some very interesting things from a game like this, though the "lessons" are harder to quantify or explain in words.
In any case, when a kid loves a game as much as Josh loves this one, it becomes part of his play. He wants to play MonkeyQuest around the house or with friends. I often overhear him asking kids he has just met if they want to play MonkeyQuest. They have no idea what he is talking about, but it doesn't take them long to figure out that running around pretending to be a monkey is a lot of fun. They shoot at imaginary beasts with imaginary weapons (or weapons constructed out of toys, sticks, or duct tape), make monkey noises, and do a lot of jumping.
Lyle seems to have a gift for taking something like this and extending the interest into other parts of our lives. Or to put it another way, he is great at making up games. It started one night when Josh was asking to play at MonkeyQuest (not on the computer) and Lyle started giving him quests to do around the house. He cleaned up the entire living room that night, all for some imaginary bananas and experiences points and a few exclamations of "Quest complete!" Josh had so much fun doing this and it was kind of amazing to watch him bounce around the house so happy to have real-life quests that he could complete.
Then Lyle took it a step further with the gift of a compass, a list of compass headings and distances, and a quest in our backyard. He walked through the entire process with Josh (while Lucy and I communed with the chickens and the dirt) and at the end Josh found a prize for completing a quest--a squirt gun. It wasn't even a new squirt gun, just something we've had around for a while, but he was delighted nonetheless. Quest complete!