You probably already play card and board games with the children in your care, to some degree. It's a fun, shared activity to break up a day stuck indoors during bad weather, or to pass the torturous 23 minutes between ordering food in a restaurant and its arrival. It's better than TV, more interactive than reading.
But games aren't just entertaining, they're developmentally beneficial, an educational lesson disguised in playtime's clothing.
Even those all-luck (read: mostly boring) preschool games, such as Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, that mainly teach kids how to play games, also help them focus for a long time on a single activity, learn to take turns and how to cope with losing -- three crucial life skills you can develop early.
We play a lot of games in our family. We play over meals or in the middle of a weekend, more on vacation. It's enjoyable, easily accessible bonding time. My older daughter, age 10, and I have breakfast together most mornings and often while playing mancala, Uno, Connect 4 or backgammon. We laugh and commiserate over the game, but we usually talk about real life topics, too. I watch her think, see light bulbs go off. I'll see a smile grow as she gains insight or an advantage. Like me, she doesn't have a face for poker.
My younger daughter is 5 years old, so some games require her to be on a team with someone older, often relegated to throwing dice and counting moves. But we also adapt games for her to play. She's gifted at charades and Pictionary, she just needs to be whispered the clue, given that she's preliterate.
My daughters are amiable when they lose, as a result of experiencing a good deal of it. I'm quick to conclude any game, no matter who wins, with something like, "That was close! And so much fun!" pointing out some exciting part or some smart move they made or some little lesson for future wins. We shake hands and move on. Winning and losing is just part of games -- and life -- whether because of luck or because of a skill still developing (in part, by losing). If they can manage loss now, when the stakes are low, it builds up resilience for when the stakes are high.
Every game has its joy and side benefits. On the learning side, games teach critical thinking, planning ahead, learning from mistakes, predicting outcomes and probability, improved memory, considering what's in another's mind, impulse control, finding patterns, math, reading, communication, focus and more.
There are even studies to back me up. Chess lessons improved basic math skills for kids with learning disabilities. College kids enhanced critical thinking skills by playing a computer version of Mastermind. Even video games may have benefits. One study associated video games with decreased aggressive behavior and "heightened prosocial behavior" for girls, but only when parents played with kids. This year, I'm planning to upgrade from my old-school Atari 2600 to an old-school Nintendo game system, keeping our limited video game play to a simpler, less violent time.
Here are some games my family and I enjoy, each a treat (with side of vegetable learning included). There are more great games to play than there are hours to play them, so don't suffer any you don't like. Go fish!
Age 4 and up
- Hoot Owl Hoot! (cooperation)
- Race to the Treasure (cooperation and planning)
- Jenga (fine motor skills)
- Jigsaw puzzles (patience and patterns)
- Memory (memory)
- Twister (balance)
Age 5 and up
- Charades (non-verbal communication and acting)
- Don't Say It! (verbal communication)
- Hangman (vocabulary and spelling)
- Parcheesi and Sorry (counting and probability)
- Pick-up sticks (fine motor skills)
- Pictionary (non-verbal communication and art)
Age 6 and up
- Connect 4 and checkers (patterns and offense/defense)
- Uno and simple card games (probability)
Age 7 and up
- Battleship (probability and patterns)
- Mancala, a "count and capture" game popular in Africa and Asia (patterns and anticipating response)
- Stratego (deduction, memory and offense/defense)
Age 8 and up
- Apples to Apples Junior (word association and vocabulary)
- Chess (anticipating response and offense/defense)
- Sequence (patterns and probability)
Age 9 and up
- Backgammon (probability)
- Careers (careers)
- Clue (deductive logic)
- Rummikub (patterns, especially if you play off others, like in Scrabble)
- Scrabble and Boggle (spelling)
- This Game is Bonkers! (patterns)
- Yahtzee (probability)
Age 10 and up
- Hearts (probability)
- Mastermind (patterns and deductive reasoning)
- Risk (probability and deal making)
The bottom line is that games are an easy way to enjoy time with your kids that has benefits for you, them, and the whole family.
They are so beneficial that even if they weren't enjoyable, we'd probably make our kids play them anyway.
Please share some of your favorite games you play with children on the CNN Parenting Facebook page.
Even early "all luck" games have lessons for kids
Games teach critical thinking, planning, learning from mistakes and more
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