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Do you have fond memories of playing board games with your family as a child? Many of us do. But, in today’s screen-focused world where there’s no shortage of entertainment, it can be easy for board games to get pushed to the back of the closet. Fortunately, there are lots of reasons to dust off those boxes and get gaming!
First, board games offer a refreshing opportunity to unplug from devices and just play! Play is often cited as critical to childhood development, and it’s a stress-reliever for adults, too. When you’re connected all the time, however, it can be hard to adjust to free-form fun once you cut the cord. I like to think that board games give you just enough structure to get started.
Second, playing games is an incredible skill-building pastime. Some games, like Hippo from Toysmith partner Helvetiq, have specific educational benefits like math, but most games are educational by nature. Players learn to take turns, think critically, plan ahead, resolve conflict, be patient, assess risk, communicate, follow instructions, make decisions, and solve problems. Plus, in a world of ever-shortening attention spans, board games can cultivate focus and a stick-to-it-ness that can prove helpful later on. I may be biased as a game designer, but, I think that the lessons of playing games are some of the most important in life. In fact, in this study, two neuroscientists found kids’ reasoning scores increased by an average of 32 percent after playing games twice a week for eight weeks!
Finally, and, perhaps most importantly, board games are simply a lot of fun and an excellent way to bond as a family. These days, many kids are filled up with toys, planned activities, and outings, but, a little quality time with you and some family games will go much farther.
Now that you’re sold on the idea of playing family games together, how can you get started without getting overwhelmed? Here are a few of my favorite tips:
- Start with what you know. I hear from a lot of parents in my community that they’d like to play more games but that they don’t know where to start. I typically suggest starting with something you enjoyed as a kid, whether it’s a card game or old board game, or ask for recommendations from friends.
- Make it a regular event. Family rituals can be a great way to make sure that quality family time actually happens (especially with busy schedules), and this goes for board games as well. Find a time that works for you and your family, whether it’s once a week, once a month, on vacation, or at holidays. Pop some popcorn, make some fun drinks, and it’ll be something everyone will look forward to.
- Plan ahead. Decide ahead of time what you’ll play or you may spend your whole time in negotiations. A quick read-through of the rules the day before (or watching a YouTube video tutorial – my favorite!) can save a lot of time and frustration when you actually sit down to play.
- Put away distractions. Show your family that you’re all in by turning off the TV and leaving your phone in another room.
- Be flexible. Playing games doesn’t always go as planned, and it’s not all high-fives and Instagram-perfect pics. Your kids might argue. You might not finish. You might not play by the rules. That’s all okay. It’s part of the learning process, and, who knows, some of the most cringe-worthy gaming moments might go down as a favorite memory in your family history. When my kids don’t want to play by the rules or want to make up their own, I usually suggest that we play by their rules once, then we play again by the real rules (and see which we like better!). Making up new rules for games using existing pieces can be its own fun and educational activity. When we played The Mazins from Helvetiq, my oldest daughter always won because she was just faster. So, we used a sand timer from another game, and gave each player their own turn (instead of playing simultaneously). I also suggest being flexible in what you play. My youngest daughter loves any game with princesses and cupcakes. Those aren’t always my favorite, but I try not to talk her into something else. I trust that any game can be a gateway into something more interesting and complex down the road.
- Consider cooperative games. One way to avoid squabbles, at least for younger kids, is to play cooperative games. Losing can be particularly hard for those younger than 5, and so winning (or losing) together offers a gentle and tear-free experience. By 6 or so, however, it’s a good idea to introduce the idea of competitive games. At this point they can understand the “you win some, you lose some,” mantra frequently repeated in our house. If you’re playing a competitive game and little ones aren’t ready to play on their own, team up! Many games, even if it doesn’t say so in the rules, can be played with teams.
- Pack games to go. Sometimes a regular family game night isn’t realistic, but, many games can be easily slid in a bag and played on vacation or in a coffee shop. ColorFox is one of my favorite games from the Toysmith Helvetiq line. It’s a clever strategy game that can engage kids as well as adults, and it’s easy to take with you!
Shanon Lyon is a board game designer and writer. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two daughters and spends a lot of time playing games with her family and community. She shares her work at www.lyoneditorial.com.