I have many fun memories of playing board games with my sister when we were growing up. We’d play for hours, sometimes laughing as we made up our own rules and sometimes glowering as we engaged in intense competition. Regardless of what approach we used, we ended up bonding and having fun.
Until recently, my little ones were too young for board games. However, my preschooler is now to a point in her development where she is capable of understanding some of the basic board games. As I’ve been thinking through which game to buy her for Christmas, I’ve realized that playing board games can be incredibly beneficial to our kids.
What our kids learn from board games
Every board game is a little different, so the benefits vary from one game to the next. In general, though, here are 5 things our kids learn from board games.
- Practical and academic skills. Our kids have to use various practical and academic skills when they play board games. Because they’re playing, they typically don’t realize they are learning and honing these! What skills am I talking about? Here are some examples:
- Letter, number, shape, color, and pattern recognition
- Counting and reading
- Eye-hand coordination
- Manual dexterity
- To function within boundaries. Games have rules (e.g., who has the first turn, how one accumulates points or makes progress, what constitutes a win). Our lives are also full of rules (e.g., attendance policies, speed limits, codes of conduct). Learning to play within the boundaries of games is a good way for our kids to come to understand the roles and benefits of the rules we face in life.
- To think critically, solve problems, and plan ahead. Whether it’s thinking through the outcomes of many possible moves, interpreting clues, or responding to an unexpected move by a competitor, many board games require our kiddos to plan ahead, engage in critical thinking, and problem solve. Playing games is a fun way for our kids to sharpen these skills!
- To learn from experience. The more our children play a particular game, the better they get at it. They realize that certain moves advance them, while others hold them back. If they want to win, then they pay close attention to their experiences. Isn’t this what we want them to do in life? We want them to learn as they see the consequences of their actions. If they learn to do this while playing games, then they can generalize it to other aspects of their lives.
- Social skills. Any game that involves more than one player requires our children to use social skills (e.g., turn taking, verbal communication, cooperation, handling defeat). Board games can be a microcosm in which our kids learn and practice these skills that are necessary for their success in life.
A word about cooperative vs. competitive games
Most games are designed to yield a winner. However, “cooperative games” (i.e., games where players work together to reach an outcome) are becoming popular. Many parents like these because every player wins. All of the participants feel good when the game ends and no one has to deal with the emotions associated with losing.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with my kids playing these on occasion, but I don’t want them to be the only games my kids play. As a parent, it is my job to prepare my children for life. Losing is part of life. I want my kids to experience defeat so I can help them learn how to respond to it appropriately. I’d prefer their first experiences with losing—experiences that may shade their future responses to defeat—be with something inconsequential like losing a game. When they lose at games, I can help them label their emotions and find constructive ways to work out their feelings of frustration. In other words, the loss of a game isn’t a negative thing from which I want to shelter my kids because it’s a teachable moment!
It’s fun to play board games and doing so gives us unhurried opportunities to bond as families. Moreover, board games provide low-tech alternatives to entertainment options such as TV or surfing the web. Therefore, even if our kids don’t glean from them any of the specific benefits described above, they are still worthwhile uses of time.
Most board games are affordable to purchase (especially if you can find them at garage sales or thrift stores) and there are fun ones available for kids ages 2 to 102. Why not spend time playing one together tonight?
What board games are favorites of your kids?