In a rushed and hurried society, taking the time to play games with our kids is a great way to have fun, learn and unwind. Physically kicking a ball is usually dependent on fine weather and the space to do so, but enjoying a card or board game together as a family can usually be family time, any time.
Dedicating one night a week, fortnight or month to a family games’ night means the television and computer can be switched off. Computer games mostly involve one player, and little to no conversation, whereas a board game or a game of cards encourages interactive conversation, laughter, learning and fun.
Board games are rich in learning
Board games are not only fun, they’re also a great way to share learning time with our kids.
In the learning stakes, board games have a lot to offer. Quite apart from teaching children about winning and losing, board games can help to teach important social skills. Young children in particular, learn to wait, take turns, communicate verbally and think strategically, share and interact with other players.
For younger children, many board games can help to develop eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills, particularly those that involve rolling a dice, picking up and moving small marbles or tokens, or pressing buttons.
Depending on the board game, children are encouraged to recognise shapes, colours, numbers and letters, as well as practise reading, grouping and counting.
Strategy is not a word small children are likely to understand; yet games (particularly card games) require a measure of strategy as well as chance. For games that are not just based on chance, children have the opportunity to make decisions that will affect the outcome of the game and as a result, enhance their feelings of mastery of a new skill or concept.
Abiding by the rules
An important concept in any game is abiding by the rules. Where waiting for a turn helps to develop patience and restraint, abiding by the rules of the game helps children to acknowledge that there are distinct rules that must be followed. If rules are not adhered to, the game can’t be played, and a child who refuses to follow the rules learns quickly that they will most probably be excluded from the game.
Abiding by the rules also encourages respect for the other players; helps develop a sense of fair play and greater understanding of the complexities of how a game works. If a child is too young to fully understand the rules, try dividing up into teams or matching a younger child with an older one.
Winning and losing
No-one really enjoys losing – especially when a winning streak quickly becomes a losing one with the throw of a dice. However, winning and losing is an important part of playing any game and losing gracefully is a skill that can be learned. It’s important for parents to model a positive approach to both winning and losing, so that children have opportunities to learn to win and lose gracefully.
In learning how to lose, it helps if a child is not playing a game where the rules or strategies are beyond their comprehension. There’s nothing more frustrating to a young child than not being able to at least plan and work towards a win. Simple games of chance mean that a child has as much chance of winning as losing.
A consistent run of losses (or wins) in a row can frustrate players, so if you’re playing a game of chance, help to break a winning or losing cycle by changing seats, changing partners or changing games.
Calling time on a game before you start to play also helps to keep tempers and tiredness in check. By stopping play while children still want more, means they’ll be more than happy for another round the following day.
Games for the whole family
Games can involve the whole family. Even if the youngest child is too small to understand the rules and play, they can be responsible for rolling the dice or moving pieces or setting up and packing up.
Choose games that are developmentally age-appropriate for children. Packaging requires manufacturers to state what age group the game is most appropriate for, and, this combined with an outline of how to play, helps in the buying decision if it’s a game you’ve never heard of.
For under fives, look for games of chance that involve the roll of a dice and moving a token (for example Snakes and Ladders). At five years of age a child usually enjoys a game that challenges number, letter and word knowledge, and children over six years may enjoy a game that helps develop thinking, strategy, persistence and planning.
Sherlock: a memory card game. Suitable for 5+, requires 2-5 players, encourages critical thinking, deduction and memory skills.
Match of the Penguins: card game to find a pair of penguins with common features. Suitable for 6+, requires 2-6 players, sharpens reflexes and scanning skills.
Go Anna!: Card game about Australia’s wildlife with three card games in the set. Suitable from 4+ and older children. Younger children can recognise colours, words and Australian animals and the game has levels to develop creativity and lateral thinking skills in older children.
There’s a Moose in the House: matching card game where the goal is to keep moose out of your house, while at the same time giving them to your opponents. For 2-5 players, ages 8+. Reinforces creativity, imagination and matching skills.
Trivial Pursuit for Kids: board game. Questions specially written for kids, with the same game play as the adult game. Ages 8+. Play individually or in teams. Increases general knowledge.
Carcassone: this game is based on the southern French city of Carcassonne, which was once a trade route between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The players develop the area around Carcassonne by placing land tiles. Players expand their map, adding roads, fields, cities etc. Easy to learn, harder to master. For 2-5 players, age 10+.
Frog Juice: card game that teaches children to think strategically and play competitively. For 2-4 players, aged 8+. Requires quick counting skills and keen timing, as players capture cards by matching or adding cards to equal the value of another card. Advanced players will learn about probability.
Mummy Rummy: a visual game of logic and strategy where players match cards to form images of ancient Egyptian treasures. It teaches mathematical concepts, like symbolic logic and the relationship of sets. A descriptive guide of the treasures is included in the game, providing a glimpse of the mystery of ancient Egypt. For 2-5 players, ages 8+. Reinforces maths, memory and visual discrimination.
Other games such as Snakes and Ladders, Dominoes, Ludo, Snap, Scrabble or Monopoly are also great fun for the whole family.