Introducing Games to Kids
- Are games really good learning experiences?
- Is my child old enough?
- Why do I have to play the same game over and over again?
- My child hates to lose. What should I do?
- What's the best way to learn a new game?
- Should I help my child during a game? If so, how much?
- Which games should I give my child?
- How can I get my child to clean up the game afterwards?
A well-stocked game closet is an educational institution in your house. Well-made, well-designed games can be an endless source of learning and fun for you and your family. The more we, as parents, know about games, and especially how our particular child plays games, the richer our family's game experiences will be.
Many younger kids will "repurpose" a game, playing with the components in a different way. They might build a stack of checkers, for example, alternate the colors, or roll them across the floor. This unstructured play is a healthy part of a younger child's development. In his mind he may be "playing the game," and it's important to encourage and support this interaction.
Too often a parent may introduce a game only to quickly decide that "my preschooler is not ready for this game" simply because they were not playing according to the rules. With younger children, be open to using the game "in toy mode" if your child is enjoying it and it is safe (consider choking hazards). Ask him how he plays. What has he discovered? Is there something important he can tell you about how to do that activity? For young children who may repurpose games, look for games that are colorful, have nice tactile components, moving parts, or physical full-body activities.
In time, your younger child will be able to sit for longer periods of time and allow turn-taking to happen. Focus, observation, patience, and sharing are all important life skills that your preschooler is learning during this time in her life. Games can help her practice these skills, as long as the overall play experience is enjoyable.
Many parents complain that if they have to play one more game of memory, Candyland, or Chutes and Ladders, they'll go bonkers. The best remedy for this is simply to add more games to your collection, so a bigger variety of play experiences is available. Don't make disparaging remarks about any game your child enjoys, he may be learning through play in ways that are beyond the simple rules of the game, or he may just enjoy spending time with you in a relaxing, familiar activity.
For many young children, it can be hard to lose a game. Self-esteem and self-confidence are just developing and it can be difficult to separate the idea of "I just lost this game" from "I'm not very good at things." Sometimes this can be too much for a child to bear, and tears, anger, or yelling are triggered. Some parents tell us that they simply avoid playing games altogether because it is just "too traumatic."
- With younger children, let them win most of the time.Play games where you can fix the outcome so they win. At this stage of their development, it's more important that they enjoy playing and keep playing games. There is time to learn "how to lose well" down the road.
- You can play competitive games cooperatively.Play collaboratively sometimes. There are collaborative games you can buy where everybody plays on the same team (The Grinch Sing Your Heart Out game, for example). You can also take a traditional competitive game and play with your child in a collaborative manner. Tell your child that you want to do "team play" this time. Then choose a token on the board that will be your team's token. Play against other tokens on the board and make them one or more imaginary opponents. Move the other tokens to the appropriate spot on their turn. You can even decide who these tokens belong to: Grandma, Aunt Sarah, a stuffed animal, and so on. If you and your child lose the game together, it is emotionally safer when you're on the same team.
- Use an adult handicap.Change the rules of the game. Either take out the part of the game that may be unappealing to your child, or ask her if she wants to you to play with a handicap. Since you're the grown-up, you can play checkers with four fewer pieces than your child or let him start on space 20 of the Chutes and Ladders board. Another great variation with your kids is to let them switch positions with you and take over your position (space on the board, hand of cards, scoring pile, etc.) at any time during the game.
When you change the rules - name the new game.When you change the rules of a game or invent a new variation of the game, name that new game variation with your child. Maybe you call that new game "Mama Half Checker" or "Chutes and Ladders Boost 20" or "Battleship Switcherroo." Naming the game variation allows children to aspire to the regular version of the game as they grow older, and it teaches them that other people in the world (teachers, friends, Grandpa, etc.) play this game too, but in a slightly different way.
- Talk BEFORE you play the game.As your child gets older and can better process and discuss his feelings, talk to him about wining and losing just before you start playing. You might say, "So, would it be okay if I were to win this game?" Then stop and don't say anything. Let him think about it and imagine what that would feel like. It's likely that he knows whether or not it would be okay. If he says it is not okay, don't try to convince him otherwise. Work out a way with him that he can avoid losing and then simply ask him the question again the next time you play. Eventually, it will be okay with him because ultimately he has a desire to play games the same way you play them.
Reading the rules to yourself before sitting down to play with your child can sometimes be more efficient, especially for a young child who may be confused by the "rulesy" language or a child who is very anxious to just start playing.
There are millions of people in the world who can't stand playing bridge, chess, some other game, or even playing piano because their "parents tried to teach them how to play." As parents, we want to help our kids and we want to give them the benefit of our experience. In a game, advice is often a mixed blessing, especially when it comes from a parent. For a child, advice can be a reminder of dependence and a reminder that the parent is better at the game.
When it comes to giving advice, we recommend two approaches:
- Rather than give advice, talk about how you play the game when it's your turn.First, resist the temptation to give advice to the other player on his turn and instead role model that advice, while you speak to it, on your turn. For instance, when playing chess you might move your king's pawn while you say, "I like to advance the pawns in front of my queen and king as soon as I can because it gives me a lot of possibilities to move my stronger figures out."
- Second, limit yourself to only giving one or two strategy tips per game (in the above method). Again, it's more important to have fun and ensure your child wants to play again. You can depart all your jewels of wisdom if you spread them out over a year of playing the game.
As soon as kids master these skills, they are ready for games that ask each player to make choices during game play. There are many great games for young kids that involve making choices. All of the games in the I CAN DO THAT! product portfolio are designed to accomplish this in an age-appropriate way.
If your child plays with games by herself or with friends, direct them to put a finished game away before the next toy or game is pulled out. If you come across games that are left out, rather than demand that they are put away immediately, which can be an interruption and a negative experience for children, tell them that the game needs to be put away as soon as they're finished with their current activity. Sometimes it works to insist that the game is put away before your child watches TV, gets on the computer, goes outside, or engages in the next fun activity. We recommend keeping the consequence of money and/or food (including dessert) out of the equation altogether.
Reprinted with permission from I Can Do That! Games
I Can Do That! Games™ foster self-confidence by giving kids a chance to discover what they can do. Favorite Dr. Seuss, Curious George, and Richard Scarry characters come to life—challenging kids to run, slide, hide, seek, sort, exploreâ€”and more! By engaging kids physically, socially, and creatively, I Can Do That! Games™ provide endless hours of fun for the whole family. Click here for a list of I Can Do That! Parents' Choice Award-Winning games. Visit their website to learn more.