I am a gamer. I have played games most of my life, and all of my adult life. most of my gaming time is spent on board games, but I also play roleplaying games, card games and the occasional video game. It's an excellent hobby and has made me many friends, including my wife. It has and continues to enrich my life in many ways; one of those ways is by sharing the hobby with my children. I'll tell you why.
It's a proven fact that kids who play games are smarter; see the research. I definitely want my kids to have every developmental advantage and I fully believe that the type of reasoning that is necessary to play games will lead to creative and analytical ways of interacting with the world. Being able to weigh choices in the controlled environment of a game will help acquire the skills they need to succeed: resource management, weighing long term vs. short term investment, anticipating the actions of others. Exposure to these concepts early on will help them develop a more integrated and multi-faceted view of the world, be better problem solvers and and better at
In an age where communication is increasingly less face-to-face, it is more and more necessary for kids to learn social skills; board games are a great teaching tool. Not only are you sitting around a table with fellow players, you are in conflict with them in a standard game, or on a team with them in a cooperative game. It creates a slightly more complex and nuanced interaction with the people participating. This is a great teaching opportunity for concepts such as teamwork, civility, and the idea of being a good winner or loser. These are social skills that my children need, and will serve them well in their lives.
Families need to do things together to be healthy; it's the basic premise of the much-used "Families who X together stay together" (replacing X with whatever activity supports your opinion). There's a reason people say that; families who bond by pursuing a pastime together tend to have more cohesion, and more common ground. Games are a great way to interact with children. For those of you familiar with the banking model of positive behavior support, games a great way to make "deposits" in the bank of trust for the parents ("withdrawals" happen when applying discipline). It's not hard to find articles on the benefits of playing games with your kids, if you look. And it beats the heck out of watching TV!
Young minds need to explore and discover; their mids are little superprocessors cataloguing and interpreting what they interact with and their experiences. A game offers a lot of tactile experiences. Want to see some exploration? Open a game box and put it in front of a toddler and let her sift through (making sure to be aware of potential choking hazards). There are all sorts of amazing, brightly colored and odd-shaped bits... possibly a board... and other things. Watching a little person look over each of the things, play with them and make up ways to have them interact with each other is fascinating. Exploration is great. As an older kid, actually playing the game (as opposed to with it), other means of exploration present themselves. Games offer contained little worlds to try different thing... a controlled environemnt where it is okay to fail without consequences. Being able to explore opportunities and not worry about the consequences of failure is one of the greatest parts of playing games, and cannot be understated.
Kids are creative creatures, and love making art and participating in imaginative play. Games have varied and creative themes, and gaming with you kids may just add a little fuel to their creative fires. For instance, after playing a game about horse racing, my daughter was inspired to draw a picture of a horse, and when I told her I was designing a game, she jumped in with a load of suggestions of her own. Additionally, I have seen my kids engage in imaginative play where they use words and concepts picked up from games. I personally believe that creativity is something to be nurtured and helped to blossom, and games are a great starting point for other forms of creativity.
The acquisition of vocabulary in children is a big determiner of academic performance later in life. Games are excellent in that they often teach vocabulary indirectly in a fun way, and in a context where you learn related concepts. A game about exploration may teach words about exploring, expeditions and idols, and a game about trains may talk about goods, passengers and connections. And they learn about it in an active way, where they are relating it to actions that they take in the game. The research I've seen talks about quantity and quality of words a child hears in their early years, and playing games and discussing the concepts in games can certainly give them a boost.
Gaming can be a very cheap hobby, depending on how you go about it. A typical game costs about the price of taking the family to the movies, maybe even getting refreshments as well. A movie is over in a couple hours, but a game can be played over and over again. I cannot tell you how many times I've played my copies of Settlers of Catan or Attika; I can tell you that I have had so many hours of fun playing those games with family and friends that it's hard not to smile when thinking of playing them. It's true that you can go overboard and spend loads on games, but you do not have to. A handful of good games, purchased after reading reviews and possibly trying at the game store or with friends, is all you need. And if you really want to game on the cheap, keeping an eye on thrift store game shelves can turn up some gems at a small fraction of the price. I encourage supporting your lolcal game store, though, but other options exist.
They inspire *my* creativity!
Ever heard someone say, "Kids say the darnedest things"? Well, they do. They interpret the world through fewer filters than we adults and often come up with brilliant insights. Pay attention! Write stuff down, if you need to. I often find myself thinking about what one of my kids has said to me. And the better the input, the better the output. Show them a game about elves and dragons, they'll name them and talk about their mommies. Show them a game about aliens conquering worlds, they talk about making friends with them. Seriously... listen to them; you'll be surprised at what you hear.
Games, even non-abstract ones, usually have you manipulate things that represent other things. Little black cylinders can represent oil drums, cubes can be influence and some things may not actually represent anything, like the stones in a Mancala game (before that one comes back to bite me, I'll just say that if they represent something, I don't know!). The concept that something can represent something else is a big cognitive leap, and games help introduce and reinforce this concept.
Gaming is a great hobby. It's an excellent pastime to share with your kids, and may even play a significant role in their life; it has in mine. Some of my best friends I have met through gaming, including my wife. Sharing something like that will mean that no matter what, you'll have something fun to share. And they'll likely pass it on to their kids. It's a great gift to give. And further, you may just end up with a new best gaming buddy, or that one extra person that you need to play your newest game!
Convinced? Check out what my wife Angie has to say about getting started gaming with your little ones for some practical advice about introducing kids to our favorite hobby. And leave us a comment, we love to hear from you!