Games are a wonderful way for families to play and learn together. Unfortunately, not all games are well suited for young children and even the “Junior” versions of some board games are not intended for toddlers or preschool aged children. Patience is a fine virtue, but if you can get young children involved earlier, it can be a wonderful opportunity for them to build motor, social, emotional and intellectual skills.
Your first consideration should be safety. A lot of games come with small pieces, and you want to think about what your options are before the pieces in question are swallowed. Can you switch out the pieces with something bigger that would work just as well? Can you switch up the rules or how the game is played so that the pieces aren’t even necessary? For example, you might be able to keep score with a pad and paper instead of moving placeholders.
In terms of motor skills, a lot of games have a hands-on element that is perfect for developing fine motor coordination. Playing Dominos or Jenga by the rules might work well for an older child, but a younger child can still use the blocks and tiles for building, stacking, and balancing. For older children with better motor control, Scrabble tiles and playing cards provide a more challenging building experience.
The very act of playing with the physical pieces helps children to make connections with a lot of abstract concepts. Dice can be a great way to practice counting. Playing cards can be sorted by colour, suit or face value. Recognizing the labels on game boards or building words with Scrabble tiles help children to learn and practice spelling. Learning to think abstractly comes with time, and it starts with concrete real world experiences.
Speaking of which, rules can be tricky, and ideas like sportsmanship and fair play take some time to learn. You can expect most children to go through a phase where they only want to win. They will either want to ignore rules or make up their own on the fly. That’s normal, and they are learning how rules work in the process. In a similar fashion, older children are often incredibly strict about the rules, which can be very frustrating for their younger siblings. Be patient, and try to emphasize the fun and excitement of the game. Being the first across the winning line is exciting, but if you’re just as excited about your “2nd winner” and “3rd winner” you can encourage them to keep trying. If the game is only fun when you win, then it can be hard to convince anyone to play again. On the flip side, if they are having fun they will be very engaged, want to keep playing and learn all kinds of skills and information in the process.