Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ten Reasons Why I love family game night

Ben is looking awesome in his shades during Family Game Night.

This past month has been a busy one for me.  I started teaching night classes at the local college, and this is in addition to my regular day job at the elementary school.  This means that for three nights a week, I drop Ben off at school in the morning and don’t see him again until he wakes up the next day. 

While teaching at the college level has been a dream come true for me, it means that family time has been severely compromised.  I’m glad that Ben and his dad are having special bonding time, but I miss our evenings together.

And so we decided to start a tradition in our home that so many families enjoy.

We instituted family game night.

Ben loves his games so much that now, every night is family game night.

His current favorite games are Trouble, Hungry, Hungry Hippos, and Monopoly Junior.  Ben has always been a number nut and he has a special love for money, so he connected to Monopoly Junior right away.  He is proud that his skills have advanced to the point where he can play and also be the banker.

As I graded papers tonight, I listened to Ben and his dad playing Monopoly in the background.  They talked, laughed, groaned at times, and cheered each other on.  It got me thinking about the many benefits that I’m already noticing from game night.

So here they are (in no particular order)…

1)   Games promote family bonding
During the school year, our family has precious little time together during the week.  After homework and dinner, we have a couple hours max before bedtime.  Too often we spend this time on our electronic devices (the boys on their ipads, me on my laptop) rather than conversing with one another.  Game time gets us at the table, looking at each other, and talking to each other.  No cell phones allowed.  This screen-free time is something our whole family needs.

2)   Games encourage turn taking
Last year, Ben’s speech therapist told me that board games are a great way to practice turn taking, which is one of Ben’s goals.  I remember walking by during a therapy session last year at school and watching Ben’s small group playing a game.  During another player’s turn, he was completely disengaged, staring off into space or fidgeting impatiently.  Now during games Ben is very curious to watch other player’s turns, because he is learning that each player has a role in the game and that other players may make a move that could potentially help or hurt his play.  For example, when we play Trouble, I may roll a six and knock him back to start or I might land on his space in Monopoly and give him money.  Turn taking also encourages patience.  We always roll the dice to see who goes first.   Ben is becoming much better at waiting for his turn.  He knows the order of play and, while he might be excited, he rarely becomes agitated when another player takes his turn.

3)   Games teach critical thinking skills
I recently read a very thought-provoking article that talked about how we aren’t allowing children enough time for play.  We forget that play can be a form of work.  Even though I harbor a guilt that I’m not practicing sight words, reading, and math skills enough with Ben at home, playing games helps to build his academic skills in a fun and creative environment.  Monopoly is a great game for encouraging math skills.  He gets practice with counting money, dice reading (called subatizing), strategy, and literacy (reading those Chance cards).  Games like Scrabble Junior also encourage literacy and spelling, while the game Trouble fosters strategic planning while also teaching him to deal with unexpected setbacks (aka getting sent back to start by Mom).

4)   Games foster sportsmanship
When we first started game night, Ben (like so many children) had a difficult time losing.  He would become very upset and would want to play again immediately so he could win.  We’ve used game night as an opportunity to practice being good sports.  After each game, we shake hands with one another and say, “Good game.”  We talk about how sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, and this is okay.  I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in Ben’s ability to cope with loss during a game, and I hope this transfers to other areas of his life.

5)   Games lead to language and communication
There is a saying that “learning flows on the sea of talk”.  As we play games, conversations just seem to happen naturally.  There is the language and conversation that springs from the game (“Can you hand me the dice, please?”) but as we play, we also talk about school, work, and life.  Game time and talk time seem to go hand in hand.

6)   Games teach empathy
Ultimately, there may be a winner and a loser in a game, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t feel for the other person when challenges arise.  We feel bad for Dad when he gets the “Go to Jail” chance card.  We laugh but also say sorry to Mom when we send her back to Start in Trouble.  The struggles and pitfalls that arise in a game give kids an opportunity to not only practice handling these challenges but also to respond in caring ways when they happen to others.  All great preparation for the real world.

7)   Games promote risk taking
Games allow us to take risks in a safe environment.  We can spend our money to buy tons of properties in Monopoly and see if we can make our fortune, and if we lose it all, at least it's only Monopoly money.  We can sit in that precarious middle area in the game Trouble, the place where we may get knocked back to Start or potentially save tons of time get Home much more quickly.  Games provide opportunities to become characters and try out scenarios that we don't encounter every day.  It also gives kids practice with adult skills like managing money and making grown up decisions.

8)   Games teach us to follow a set of rules  
I come from an extremely competitive game playing family.  As a child, Monopoly games could last well into the night.  There were many occasions when someone would have to pull out the rulebook because of a dispute.  And then there were the house rules.  In Monopoly my family agrees to put the jail bail money and other “mad money” in the Free Parking space while playing Monopoly.  Learning to follow a set of rules is an important skill.  Ben not only follows the rules but he enthusiastically enforces him.  He's only beginning to try to "bend" the rules, which is quite humorous to watch.

9)   Games help to build fine motor skills
Whether it’s rolling the dice, moving the player around the board, or putting a card on the bottom of a pile, board games help hone fine motor skills, and in some cases, gross motor skills too.  (Ever tried to pop that bubble on the Trouble game?)

10) Games are just plain fun

Life can be filled with serious moments, but game time is fun time in our house.  Ben laughs with delight when he lands on a good space, squeals with glee as I give him money for landing on his property in Monopoly, and hoots when Daddy goes to jail.  Ben has even invented his own special rules, like singing the Happy Birthday song whenever anyone gets the birthday chance card.  No wonder he wants to play games over and over again!

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