A friend of mine planned a trip to Saudi Arabia over the holidays, and given that her husband who works there has only a limited time for sightseeing and entertainment, she was trying to come up with different stay-in activities for her daughter, since women in that country are not allowed to go out unless accompanied by men.
So she asked me what kind of games we play at home, and although we do a lot crafting and imaginative play, the first thing that popped to my mind were board games, like Chess, Draughts and Agony.
I automatically started searching my head for reasons to suggest these over any other play idea. And it wasn’t too difficult to provide a rather large set of benefits.
Board games help us grow…
Board games are not only fun, they are educational, too. And they help kids develop in all sorts of ways.
Playing them improves communication skills and attention spans: before the start, children need to discuss the rules, and then focus on following them. Respecting the boundaries of preset guidelines and waiting for one’s turn encourages self-control and independence. When it comes to cognition, hardly any other exercise matches the effectiveness of games: the players need to think logistically, plan ahead, assess and evaluate, reason, solve problems and make decisions, they have to find ways to cooperate and address all sorts of issues that arise during the game.
Several years back, a now famous experiment in a low-performing elementary school in Oakland, showed a remarkable impact certain board games had on cognitive skills and reasoning ability. Add caring parents ready to play to the picture and you’ve pretty much ensured kids’ higher self-esteem, better academic achievements and very low probability of alcohol or drug abuse.
Feel free to add a grandparent, too, and expect the probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease to drop by nearly a half.
Furthermore, playing board games relieves stress and helps unwind, and it has been attested that children retain information better when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. This is particularly important for games which offer context and knowledge in various areas, such as geography, history or math.
But probably the main lesson to be learned from board games is the inherent uncertainty of life, the facts that luck can easily change, not everybody can win, losing is a part of the game and it is really important not to give up. Actually, making an effort is what counts the most and failure, if understood properly, can lead to improvement.
On the other hand, if your child is still struggling with winning, it is quite alright to bend the rules, as long as he can distinguish between the regular game from the one by modified rules. Just remember, once the outcome becomes more important than the very act of doing it, it is no longer play.
…and provide ideal conditions for experimental learning
By being involved in the game, processing and analising information, making decisions and overcoming obstacles, and finally reflecting upon the whole experience aimed at gradual improvement, children are given a chance of gaining genuine knowledge and it has been demonstrated that experimental learning is, in certain aspects, superior to direct teaching, as it promotes creativity and curiosity, while encouraging self-confidence and empathy.
Ability to discover new ideas, reach different conclusions and conceive fresh solutions is certainly not fostered by providing ready answers that direct teaching does. Experimental learning offers freedom to acquire new skills, attitudes, logic and board games present a great medium for such kind of learning.
One of the first board games we played was Dominoes, matching different safari animals instead of number of dots. We also enjoy games of strategy such as Connect Four, which in my experience children can learn to play well at the age of four, Draughts for slightly older ones and Chess for kids over 6. Other favourites include Scrabble, Who Am I, Taboo and Agony.
Santa gave us Cluedo and Monopoly, both Junior versions, for Xmas and ever since we have discovered that they can be played as cooperation instead of competition games, not an evening goes by without us joining our investigative forces or rooting for a fairer redistribution of wealth after each round.
Board games provide endless source of family fun, they make for excellent gifts, are relatively cheap and can last a lifetime.
A famous psychiatrist, Stuart Brown, discovered that one characteristic mass murderers he investigated had in common was deprivation of play in childhood, a fact that actually implies playing can save lives.
My advice is to incorporate board games into your weekly routine and enjoy yourselves as often as you can. Because, the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.