My kids aren’t interested in board games. What can I do to engage them?
Kudos to you for recognizing the value of board games! In today’s high-tech world, many people view board games as old fashioned. While I’m not here to lecture on the adverse effects of too much screen time for children, and I definitely acknowledge that technology is here to stay and has many benefits of its own, I believe strongly that electronics simply cannot replace the benefits that children receive from playing board games. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, the key is to keep moderation in mind and make sure your child is getting a balanced play experience. With that, I encourage you to find opportunities for good ol’ board games in between the hustle and bustle of iPad sessions and techy toys. Board games are generally any game played on a board that requires multiple players to move their pieces along a specific path. Besides those general guidelines, board games can vary tremendously. Some require the use of strategy, while others involve pure luck, and others incorporate a little bit of both. Board games are an excellent toy choice, because they can promote the development of various cognitive skills, including sustained attention, logic and reasoning, and critical thinking. They’re also a great supporter of social-emotional development, including aspects of perseverance, working toward a long-term goal, turn-taking, and patience. Board games also provide opportunities for the development of motor skills (like eye-hand coordination); visual, spatial, and perceptual skills; and communication. You can also find board games that support many academic skills, from math, to social studies, and literacy. Aside from all of the developmental benefits of board games, they also present a wonderful opportunity for family time that is all too often overlooked as we all get busier and busier. The challenge for board games is that they often don’t provide the same instant gratification that many children now experience with electronic games and iPads. If you’re on a mission to engage your kids in board games, here are a few tips to help keep them motivated, interested, and having fun:
Play with them!
I know, you’re a very busy person with lots of responsibilities, and you couldn’t possibly find the time. The good news is that you won’t have to play with them every single time, as long as they are old enough to play independently. You will just need to introduce them to the game, make it a fun experience for them, and make sure they know the rules. At that point, they can begin playing on their own with friends or siblings. Knowing you’ll be playing with them from time to time, or even just in the beginning, will make it so much more engaging for them. Who wouldn’t want a chance at beating mom or dad for bragging rights?
Read the instructions first.
Be sure to pull the rules out before you begin the game, and familiarize yourself with how it works. Once you’re well versed, you can explain it to your child in a positive and clear manner, allowing you to jump right into playing. Oftentimes, adults will fumble along without having learned the rules first. This can create a confusing and sometimes frustrating experience for everyone involved, and it may cause your child to lose interest quickly. Since board games require a child to maintain focus, wait their turn patiently, and learn new or complex rules, it helps to be playing with someone who already knows the rules and can help the process move along more quickly and seamlessly.
Let them learn as they go.
It isn’t necessary to ensure that your child understands every single rule before you begin the game. In fact, running through every rule in the beginning could not only be boring, but could also be setting your child up for failure. It could be a lot to remember all at once if you’ve never played a certain game before. Instead, take a quick moment to walk them through the rules as you’re playing the game together. Instruct them to roll the dice, and remind them to move their game piece that many spaces. When they land on a space, explain what that means and what comes next. Providing short and clear instructions will help the game move along more quickly and will allow your child to gradually learn the rules until they become second nature.
Let them help pick out the games.
I know how tempting it might be to select a game for your child. Maybe you’re just itching to have them play that math game you got them, so they can practice those addition and subtraction skills they need reinforced. In this case, I’m urging you to choose your battles. If your child might struggle with focusing on a board game to begin with, and there is potential for them to get frustrated with the math components of the game, you’ll lose them quickly and may turn them off from the activity in the future. Instead, let them choose a game that most appeals to them. Create a positive environment and have your child associate board games with having a good time. You can also select a number of games for them to choose between, in the event that you do want to narrow down the choices a bit.
Start with board games that are more interactive.
Since we already know that board games present a risk of having your child lose focus fast, starting out with games that are extremely interactive help to increase the chances that they’ll stay engaged. Games like Guess Who that involve lots of back-and-forth discussion, My First Animal Tower that involve a sense of suspense, and Silly Street that incorporate fun tasks in the game provide great opportunities to prevent boredom. Your child won’t even notice that they’re working on their cognitive, social, and motor skills while they’re doing all of that talking and laughing.
Start with games that have a relatively quick finish.
For younger children and those new to board games, start out with games that won’t take too long to complete. Games such as Jumping Jack allow for a fast-paced experience, which is more likely to hold your child’s attention. A quicker finish is also likely to tempt your child back into playing again and again.
Keep things exciting by putting a new and active spin on the game.
You can incorporate physical activity, like an obstacle course, in your board game to help break up long periods of sitting in one place. Sitting still for a long while could be quite challenging for many children. Even the most interesting game could be interrupted if your child has lots of energy that needs to be expelled. As an example, if you are playing Candy Land, you can place the game cards throughout the room and mixed into an obstacle course you’ve set up. In order to get their next card and advance in the game, your child will have to complete a physical task, like jumping hopscotch or crawling through a tunnel to get their card that’s waiting for them at the end.