When given a choice between playing Barbies, playing a board game, or stabbing myself in the eye, I normally choose a board game (though the eye-stabbing thing runs a close second). For me, a game of Snakes and Ladders or Zingo is a bit like going for a run - there may be a little pain involved, but it also may turn out to be fun, and I know it's good for us.
Board games are undeniably great for kids
They're a disguised lesson in logic, problem solving, literacy and numeracy. They get kids off their screens and talking (maybe even laughing) with you, and then there's also that important life lesson - learning how to lose gracefully. Now, the irrefutable benefits of board games may be sad news for some parents who hate them and find they always end in tears. But believe me, there are ways to avoid the crying. Well, the kids 'crying at least.
Don't underestimate your child's capabilities, but don't overestimate them either: If your child can't read or write, then don't start them off with Monopoly. Start with something simple, like Hungry Hippo or Snap. Conversely, you'd probably be pretty amazed at the complexity that kids can handle. Even a four-year-old can read a dice, which opens up a whole world of possibilities. At my girls' school, kids in kindergarten learn Chess. I'm not saying they've got all the moves nailed, but given the right instruction, kids can learn even the most complex of games.
Break the rules or make your own: My girls are now aged four, six and eight, which means they've reached the point where we can finally all play games together. However, we do make accommodations for the youngest, which means occasionally bending the rules. To avoid accusations of cheating from her sisters, we set the ground rules at the start.
Remember, it's your game. You paid for it. Once it's in your house, it's your rules. It's not like the Hasbro-police will track you down if you change them.
Set a time limit: At the best of times, my eight-year-old is indecisive. This is mildly annoying when we're at the supermarket and I've given her two dollars to spend on a treat, but it's downright infuriating when we're playing a game of Trouble and she's paralysed between moving her first piece or her third. Here's the tip - set a time limit on taking turns. Use an egg timer, a stopwatch, whatever. As I'm always telling the girls, a fast game's a good game.
Make up your own board game: Don't like what's on offer? Then how about you make your own. For this activity, you need nothing more than a large piece of cardboard, some textas and a bit of imagination. For a school project, my daughter created The Game of Australia where we drew a map, inserted some 'stops' and made up a few quiz questions. A whole afternoon, sorted.
Don't buy the junior version: Of anything. Remember those school holidays you used to spend playing games of Monopoly that went for days on end? Well, I can almost guarantee that you won't get that same fuzzy feeling from playing Junior Monopoly. It's just not as good. You're better off buying the real thing and dumbing it down yourself (see point 1 above)
Make a night of it: If you're anything like me, your games are stashed away in a cupboard somewhere, just waiting for someone to remember to use them. Out of sight, out of mind. So, to get around that sad fact of simply forgetting to play them, how about you schedule it in and make it a regular event. Your children, and the poor neglected dice, will thank you for it.
The writer is a freelancer
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