I enjoy playing games. Although I did not grow up in a game playing family, I married into one and I have lovely memories of all of the card games, dominoes and dice games we played together. When my children were small I have fond memories of lazy summer days pulling out a game and getting lost in an afternoon of playing. Then, as the children got older playing games became less fun. There was a lot of competition, arguments over which games to play, and, quite frankly, it wasn’t so much fun anymore. Instead of doing the hard work and taking advantage of the opportunity to build relationship, teach gracious losing, and emphasize the importance of family, I caved to the pressure of screens and video games. I guess I didn’t count the cost of the lost family time. Playing games will not guarantee a close knit family, but it is definitely a tool to teach and connect.
Your children can start playing games at a very early age. As soon as they can start to identify colors, you can play a modified version of Candyland. We made a rule that you only moved forward, never backward. Every time we explained that it was our special rule and that when they played with other kids at school the rule was different. Our earliest games were counting games like Hi Ho Cherry O and Chutes and Ladders, color recognition games like Candyland, and memory games, like the oddly-named Memory. These games teach so many skills beyond patience, turn taking and gracious winning and losing. Games teach math skills like counting and one-to-one correspondence; concentration skills like remember whose turn it is and where the pictures are; and language skills as children talk about the game and its components. Mostly games provide opportunities for togetherness and connection.
As you children move into the upper preschool ages and early elementary the number of games they can participate in explodes. Many classic adult games come in a junior version. Monopoly, Yahtzee, Boggle, and Scrabble are just a few. They allow children to play more mature games, but they don’t last as long and the rules are simplified. Playing these kinds of games is a great introduction to strategy and planning. Playing family games as your children get older also gives you a chance to talk about secondary things as a family. While you are all playing a game together, you might be having other conversations that don’t come up in regular conversation. This a great time to tell stories of your family and your life experiences and maybe teach some lessons in a non-confrontational, “I remember when” kind of way.
You might wonder which games are the best. There are so many on the market and if you are anything like me, you have bought games that were played once or twice and now sit on the shelf. Personally, I like the classic games and their junior versions. You just can’t go wrong with not only the ones I’ve already mentioned but also include Sorry, Uno, Trouble, and Connect 4 and many more. One of our favorite games is Blink, because it is fast and fun, but it also teaches color, shape, and number matching. If you don’t own board games, look on line for games to play. There is everything from templates to make your own games, to how to create your favorite games like cornhole with things you already own, and of course the crazy Minute-to-win-it kind of games. The opportunities and ideas are endless, maybe overwhelming. We find plenty of fun with a few decks of cards and a couple of classics.
If you are saying to yourself, “That all sounds fine, but you have no idea how competitive my family is. Our games usually end in tears. It’s just not worth the drama.” I hear you. I was you. It is hard work to teach children social skills. It takes patience and endurance to teach children how to lose and win graciously. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to coach an upset child through a botched strategy or just plain back luck. But since your children need to learn those skills anyway, games are great way to do it. Maybe you want to add a pre-game warm up to highlight expectations and expected responses. Taking breaks during a game when you see the temperatures rising or having a code word to remind a child that he/she is getting upset can also be helpful. For some kids (and adults), winning is just so important and they will need a lot of coaching and modeling to learn how to play graciously. When you take the time to do teach that skill, you have given them a great gift that they will take into adulthood. Nobody enjoys seeing a grown-up throw a temper tantrum over a game, so let’s teach them how to be a good competitor when they are young.
Sitting in the same room doing something together builds community and family. So, make a bowl of popcorn, get out the snacks and drinks (because everything is better with snacks), pull out some cards or a board game and connect. It is worth the time and the effort both in the short term and in the long run especially as we social distance together. I can’t think of a better way to take advantage of all of this together time we are having!