If you’ve ever watched three kids play together, you probably understand where the saying “three’s a crowd” comes from. Inevitably one person gets left out for a period of time. Add to that a complication of mixed genders among the group, and you have a potential playtime disaster.
My son recently had a boy and a girl from his preschool class over to our house to play. As I watched the one girl get left out while the two boys dove into all kinds of stereotypical “boy” activities, I thought it was going to be a long couple of hours.
Then we got out a few board games, and everything changed. The three kids giggled, chattered, and played beautifully together, as though the last hour of friction, exclusiveness, and bruised feelings didn’t happen.
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Breaking down the gender barriers among kids is just one of the many benefits of playing board games.
My husband and I are board game geeks. Given that we have young kids and a low date-night budget, our going out life is almost nil. We are experts at staying in, though, and we have a somewhat embarrassing, geeky passion for board games.
Most kids need to be at least three years old to really start to play board games. When our son hit that milestone, we leapt on the opportunity to start introducing him to this type of play. (Okay, to be honest, we really started around two-and-a-half on the off-chance that our son—child of board game geeks—would be gifted in this particular area.) We quickly formed opinions about what makes a good board game for kids. Before I get into that, here are some of the benefits of playing board games.
Board Games Help Kids…
- Learn to deal with failure. There’s no way around it. You’re going to lose a few rounds. But instead of being discouraged by failure, kids can learn to accept it, regroup, and figure out a way to do better next time.
- Develop attention span and concentration. Playing a board game for twenty minutes (or longer) is a good way to practice focusing on a task to completion. Sitting through someone else’s turn and waiting for a chance to play requires kids to exercise their attention-span muscles.
- Apply and practice basic academic skills. Most games involve some combination of counting, color and pattern recognition, reading, fine motor skills, problem solving, and critical thinking. Working on these skills in a game environment is effective, hands-on, and enjoyable.
- Develop social skills. Playing board games is a great way to learn and practice turn taking, getting along with others, and patience. It’s also a fun way to spend quality time together as a family.
- Overcome gender barriers. Toys quickly get stereotyped as boy toys or girl toys, making it difficult for kids of a certain age to play together once they’ve started to make these unfortunate “rules” in their minds. Board games cross the gender lines
What Makes a Good Board Game?
The best board games to play with kids (and adults, in my opinion) offer a good balance of strategy and luck.
Strategy games allow kids to use critical thinking and problem solving. A game that is 100% strategy is chess. The pieces are set out the same way every time and the rules never change. There is no luck in chess. Chess is a great game, but playing it with two people at vastly different skill levels is not all that enjoyable.
Luck, on the other hand, levels the playing field and allows for those fun moments of surprise. It also allows those discouraging moments of board game doom that force you to think about the problem differently or accept defeat. A game that is 100% luck is Bingo. There is no skill or strategy, but there is chance along the way.
When we look for games to play with our kids, we look for a good combination of these two things—skill and luck—at an age appropriate level. It’s a great way to close an evening and wind down before bed. And let’s face it, after an hour of making dinosaurs eat each other or playing dolls, it’s a welcome break for parents without breaking off the time with your kids.
Tip: Board games teach kids valuable skills in a fun way and help bridge the gap in mixed gender groups.