Have you ever pictured yourself playing a game with your family just like in a board game advertisement? It looks like so much fun, right? And each game you see on a store shelf would surely provide your home with hours of entertainment! So you carefully pick out the perfect game and bring it home to your children with such high expectations of fun.
As you open up the game, with eager hands reaching for all of the pieces, you hear yourself say, “wait, wait, wait.” You groan as you realize there is assembly required. After you put it all together (if your children are still interested) you say, “wait, let me read the rules!”
Not quite the experience you imagined in the store when you saw the picture on the box. Older children want to follow the rules, or bend them. Younger children make up their own rules and frustrate the older children. Parents wonder what on earth they were thinking when they bought the game, and perhaps the game gets thrown back in the box and put in the closet for another time, when the kids are “older” and “more mature” and have “longer attention spans.” Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Don’t despair, and don’t give up!
Playing games with young children is an excellent way for them to learn literacy and numeracy concepts. And don’t forget the important social skills learned in playing a game: taking turns, playing fair (no cheating), feeling disappointment at losing and excitement at winning.
If you start with the expectation for the experience to be just as advertised, you may be disappointed. Learning how to play a game takes time and small steps. There are often tears of frustration (from both the adults and the children) when things aren’t going as planned. Keep in mind the more often children play a game, the better they will get at it. Not just playing it, but understanding it as well.
Many games can be easily made at home for very little cost. With some paper, markers, scissors, dice, and maybe a homemade spinner, you can easily make your own “board games.” Keep the rules simple, it doesn’t even have to make sense. With younger children, focus on taking turns. It might not be important to focus on where their game piece sits or how they move their piece. Try teaching one concept at a time. If you add silly rules that incorporate large body movements to your game, you may be able to hold their attention for longer. For instance, “each time a player rolls a 4 they have to stand up and do 4 jumping jacks.”
Memory matching games can be made very easily at home using paper, recycled bottle lids, stickers, or even an old deck of cards. With younger children, start out by using only 4 pairs to match. As they get better at the game, increase the difficulty by adding more matching pairs.
Dice and cards are terrific tools for numeracy skills and the games you can play are endless!
The benefits of making your own games include:
- They cost very little, using materials you may already have at home or things you can buy at a dollar store
- You can personalize a game to your children’s interests. If they love dinosaurs, you can use dinosaur stickers, or print pictures from the internet to make puzzles or memory games. If they love turtles, you can make a board game in the shape of a turtle shell and have the pieces move slowly around to the finish
- If a game is not a hit, you can easily discard it and try a different one. Or save it for another time when your children are older and perhaps have more interest
- You can make a new game each month by just changing it up slightly, maybe changing the characters to one of your children’s favourite books. This keeps it new and exciting for you both
- Making games at home also becomes a family activity. As your children get older they can assist in the assembly or creation of new games to play. Older children can do some research on games from around the world and pick out favourite concepts to make their own version
At the end of the day, through the trials and tears of teaching children how to enjoy a game and be a good sport, you are also teaching them so much more, and these skills are ones that they will need for a lifetime of success! So bring back the family game night, even if it only lasts 20 minutes to start. Someday you’ll enjoy a games night with much older children, and you will at long last feel all of the work and effort was worth it.