One of my favorite childhood activities is a pastime I still enjoy whenever I get together with my family. As soon as the dishes are cleared from a big family gathering, my sister and I are the first to pull out a board game and plunk it on the table – much to the chagrin of our parents, spouses and our other (buzz-killing) sister. But I’m so glad that when the games do come out, our children gather around, sharing in our enthusiasm.
Board games are a wonderful way to engage with your children, while helping them learn about rules and structure and taking turns. From as early as two years old, your children can be learning their colors and number from games like Candy Land and Cariboo. As children grow and games become more complex, kids can improve their literacy skills and strategic thinking, all while having fun interacting with family and friends.
Make it age appropriate
As I mentioned above, kids can start playing certain board games as early as they can recognize colors and sort objects. But while it can be a great opportunity for learning, don’t forget that the point of the game is simply to have fun. If you try to introduce them to more complicated games before they’re ready, they could get confused and frustrated. Start off with very simple games and as they get older you can introduce ones that require a little more skill, such as Checkers and Trouble.
Even if they’re not ready for some challenges, there are ways to include kids in more grown up games that will still let them feel like they’re part of the action. Seven or eight year olds may not know many of the answers in Trivial Pursuit, but by letting them read the questions out loud to the adults, you’re involving them while helping them develop their reading skills. They may run across words they’ve never encountered before and in the comfort of a fun, sharing setting is the perfect place to practice new additions to their vocabulary. And they will feel empowered to play an integral role in the game.
Stick to the rules
My youngest son just loves to make up rules as he goes along and with him being the third child we sometimes let things slide. That being said, when it comes to playing games, I’ve always been a stickler for the rules. Playing board games with your child is a dress rehearsal for how they will interact with their friends, schoolmates and eventually colleagues. Your child needs to learn that there are certain expectations when playing games, lining up for class or taking turns at the water fountain, and you won’t be doing them any favors by letting them take short cuts on the way to Candy Castle or peek at your board when playing Battleship. As much as playing games are about having fun with your child, they’re also a good opportunity for modeling patience and guiding their moral compass. I have a zero tolerance policy for cheating – my kids all know that if they’re not playing by the rules, I’m not playing.
Let yourself win!
Of course we all indulge our children sometimes and what’s better than seeing your little one react with joy when they take home the prize? Unfortunately, in life we can’t win at everything and if you let your child beat you every time you play a game, you’re setting them up for disappointment. When the time comes to play with siblings and friends the odds aren’t always going to be stacked in their favor. Losing is a reality we all have to get used to. If you play fairly and stick to the rules, your children will soon learn that winning isn’t everything and that even when they don’t win they can still have fun.
You don’t have to compete to win
Some of my favorite games are cooperative ones in which my kids and I work together to try to beat the board. A company called Family Pastimes makes some wonderful cooperative games like The Secret Door and Sand Castles. My favorite is Harvest Time, where you work to harvest your crops before winter comes. The roll of the dice determines whether you can pick your crops or whether the cold weather will stop you. When players have harvested their own crops they can help their neighbors gather vegetables before the first snowfall. There are many great cooperative games to choose from that let you compete with your child instead of against them.
While my sister and I are well into adulthood, we have never outgrown our love of board games and I hope we never do. There are so many wonderful games to choose from that can be challenging and enjoyable for every age group. Some games make us think, others make us laugh, but most of all, they make us stop for hour or so and spend some quality time with the people who mean the most to us. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is.