5 reasons to play board games with your kids

My parents taught my brother and me to play Monopoly and then spent the next five years finding excuses not to play the game. 

After all, it takes a lot of time and patience to play board games with children. 

They forget the rules, they may cry when they lose and sometimes they try to cheat. 

My brother was famous for hiding a stash of money and triumphantly uncovering it when on the verge of bankruptcy. I’m still not sure he wasn’t stealing from the bank.

But there are good reasons for introducing board games to children when they’re young — and for continuing to play increasingly more complex games as they’re ready for them:

1. Basic Civility and Manners

During the life of a board game, there are a number of skills tested and honed. Players need to help set up the game and learn the rules. They must agree to abide by the rules and stick with the game until the end. They have to wait their turn and interact with other players in a positive manner. And, most challenging of all, they need to be able to lose the game (without negative behaviors) or win (graciously).

That’s actually a lot to expect from children. Parents and older siblings can model good game-playing behaviors. One way to soften the experience for younger children is to play in teams that are age-appropriate or provide support for the younger members.

2. Math Skills

The simplest math board games will involve matching of pictures and numbers. They’ll teach the skill of counting spaces while moving a board piece. Then they’ll move on to number recognition, shape and color recognition and sequencing. Later math board games will require operations skills — addition, subtraction, detecting patterns, analyzing probability, short- and long-term planning strategies and logic.

Most math games require organization of objects, sorting by likes or differences, some will require skill in spatial relationships. Many require prediction skills, too.

3. Reading and Language Skills

Many word games begin with simple skills such as matching, sequencing and building simple words. Letter and word recognition skills grow as children play. They must read directions to play games and be able to refer to written rules along the way. New vocabulary words will be introduced and mastered. Visual perception skills are enhanced and eye-hand dexterity builds with manipulation of game pieces.

Word-building games such as scrabble reinforce knowledge of the structure of words, spelling skill and manipulation of patterns found in words such as rhymes, prefixes and suffixes and root words. Some will encourage thought about the meaning of words.

4. Decision Making

A side-effect of enjoying board games is a gradual awareness of the consequences of our decisions and choices. In games, much is accounted for by sheer luck, but as difficulty levels increase, the player increasingly needs to make good decisions at the appropriate times. A mistake can mean a loss. Cause-and-effect thinking comes into play; probabilities must be considered. The player must balance risk versus reward. Tough decisions must be made in real life — games are a safe place to practice making them. 

Parents can help guide these learning experiences by asking questions such as “Why did you make that decision? Did it work?” Reflection on past decisions can improve logic and future choices.

5. Quality Family Time/Fun

In our fast-paced lives, we have to be intentional about making room for family time. While movies and other online games clamor for our free time, there’s something to be said for quieter, unplugged family time. So in addition to building a variety of social and educational skills, board games offer a space of time in which to laugh, chatter with one another and simply enjoy being together.

There are thousands of board games on the market, beginning with games appropriate for toddlers and building in difficulty levels to challenge the brightest adults. If you’re looking for award-winning board games for your family, check out topboardgame.com, boardgamecentral.com and Parents’ Choice Award Winners.

Jan Pierce is a freelance writer and author of Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read. Learn more at janpierce.net.

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