Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Positive Benefits of Gaming With Kids

By Angie

The Positive Benefits of Gaming with Kids

We’ve already talked about Reasons to Play Board Games with Your Kids, and given you some advice on Teaching Games to Kids, so I thought I’d follow up with a list of some of the key benefits of playing games with your kids. These were written with interactive social games such as board games, card games, and role playing in mind, but many of these concepts apply to digital games as well, especially when families play them together.

It’s OK to Make Mistakes

Games allow an opportunity for kids to try and fail. So much of our society is focused around success and achievement, and even young children are having their efforts at learning “graded”. However, the best teacher is experience, and games provide situations in which children are encouraged and supported as they attempt new strategies and tactics, and in which they are “allowed” to fail safely. Failure provides a chance to examine your approach and modify your actions to try again next time, but in our society kids are often taught that failure is bad and an unacceptable conclusion to any event. In most games, failure is inevitable… no one can win 100% of the time, and that provides children with an opportunity to practice valuable life skills and be rewarded for perseverance, adaptation, and hard work. Kids need to have a safe environment to learn new skills, and games are a great way to provide structure and reinforcement of concepts in a fun setting. 

The Thrill of Discovery

Games provide excellent discovery kits. Opening up and exploring the contents of a game box provides many different learning opportunities. Games contain pieces which can be used for sorting, color matching, exploring shapes and textures, and important tactile processing skills. Game components also provide a great medium for imaginative play and can be as exciting as any toy play set. Learning how to play a game provides another avenue of exploration and discovery. Kids learn about how the pieces work together, what happens when they take certain actions, and how specific strategies or tactics will play out.

Creative Power

Games provide children with a vast source of artistic and creative inspiration. The art and components for games are something that many children are drawn to, and interacting with the pieces of a game or visualizing the themes through the art of the game can help children to grasp a concept as well as inspire their own art, stories, and games. Many games contain amazing and detailed images of fantasy worlds, exciting characters, and grand adventures, all of which can help kids visualize and imagine their own whole new worlds.

Practicing Social Skills

A game is a structured social activity in which children learn and practice many valuable life skills. The core life lessons of sharing, taking turns, cooperation, good sportsmanship, accepting and learning from failures, positive social interaction, communication, critical thinking and analysis, decision making, self confidence, healthy competition, problem solving, and following rules and societal norms are built right into gaming experiences. Games offer a unique opportunity for children to explore these essential life skills while immersing themselves in imaginative play in an intrinsically rewarding activity.

Planning Ahead

Games allow children to learn and practice thinking ahead. Success in many games requires the participants to learn to control impulses, mentally plan out actions and enact a specific strategy, and that process creates a clear example of how choices and actions carry consequences. Replaying games offers kids a chance to see how different choices can result in different outcomes, and can encourage a thoughtful approach to decision making.

Learning New Words

Playing games with your kids provides an excellent opportunity for teaching new vocabulary and building their word base. Communication is important during any social activity, and games are no exception. Games usually have a theme or concept that carries its own set of terminology, and provide a great branching off point for discussions on a wide variety of subjects. Exposure to new ideas and new words is an important part of children’s vocabulary and language acquisition skills, and playing games will encourage and promote vocabulary expansion and word usage while having fun.

Task Mastery

Children learn by emulating adults and older children, and are most challenged by activities that are just outside of their current skill level. Many games provide a perfect opportunity for kids to practice and master new skills though watching and interacting with other players. Games also present a challenge in which repetition is encouraged, and accomplishing game goals can help reinforce a developing sense of self-efficacy. By playing games, kids are able to improve their cognitive, motor, and social skills while engaging in a rewarding activity.

Number Practice

 Games provide a motivation and practical application of math and spatial reasoning skills. Counting spaces on a board or life meter or adding together the results of a dice roll are common gaming tasks. Many game components offer a strong internal motivation for kids to practice basic addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, fractions, and even geometry just by playing the game. Figuring out things like how far you have to move to get to a certain space, or what your combined skills roll might be, are essential parts of many card and board based games. Kids are learning and using these skills just by playing the game, and playing games for even a short time has been shown to dramatically increase students mathematical achievement. As kids grow beyond counting and expand their number fluency, even more complex learning opportunities emerge. Games have obvious and subtle math calculations that factor into the mechanics, and learning strategies in games can start out simple with calculating odds of success and grow increasingly more in depth as the vast possibilities are explored and discovered.

Providing Context

Games provide a great introduction to a new concept within a familiar context. Kids learn best when they can connect a new concept to a prior experience, and playing a game that introduces a specific theme will help kids make the connection between the real life events and their own in game experiences. For example, playing a game like Memoir 44 which simulates some of the major battles in World War 2 provides a kids with a concrete exercise in considering the problems the historical people faced, fortifications, superior firepower, beach landing crafts, airborne strikes, and coming up with solutions and tactics to solve the problems the game represent. This experience based mini-lesson provides an easy transition to a follow up learning exercise in which the historical context surrounding D-Day Landings will be much more interesting to the kids, and there is a personal tie in because of the time they spent immersed in the theme of the game

Complex Ideas

Games also allow kids to learn about abstraction. Young children are usually very concrete thinkers, and playing a game that simulates something they are familiar with can help them to begin to realize how certain systems, tasks, and aspects of life can be thought of in new ways. In a game such as Agricola, the kids are responsible for taking care of their own farm. Players make decisions about what crops to grow, which livestock to invest in, how they will provide food for their family, expand and renovate their home, pursue career options, and utilize tools to accomplish the task on their farm. By playing a game such as this, children are taught about how pieces represent other things, how the activities of daily life and time management affects working people, and how the whole game system works together to create this tense and exciting experience. Game pieces and game mechanics are used to represent objects and actions, and playing a game develops children’s understanding of symbolism and simulation as they discover how all of these systems work together to represent a bigger picture.

Quality Interaction

Playing games with kids allows you to spend time bonding over shared experiences and encourages meaningful interaction amongst participants. In comparison to passive experiences such as TV viewing, the quality and quantity of interactions with children is dramatically higher while engaged in an enjoyable activity such as gaming. Games provide many opportunities for conversation, laughter, camaraderie, and fond memories of time spent together. Playing games with your kids allows you an opportunity to “make deposits” in their positive attention “bank”, a core concept of positive behavior support parenting methods. By providing your child with fun and memorable experiences and reinforcing their learning and growth opportunities through gaming, you are also setting yourself up to reap the rewards of providing positive attention before needing to make a “withdrawl” (behavior correction or redirection). Kids want and need to interact with their parents, and playing games together can be an enjoyable activity that both fosters your child’s intellectual and social development as well as strengthen the bonds between you.

Lasting Effects

Sharing games with your children makes for enjoyable time spent together now, provides a variety of skill building and cognitive development opportunities for your children, and can create a lifelong connection you can always come back to. Family game nights are a fun tradition that can last a lifetime, and the memories of time spent together laughing, talking, learning, and growing through gaming are invaluable.

…and Many More

Did I miss anything? Have you noticed any specific benefits of playing games with your kids that you would like to share? Please jump into the comments below, we love to hear stories from our readers and are always looking to expand our ideas and knowledge base.


  1. Wow! Excellent and thorough article! I concur whole-heartedly with your last two points, especially! Family is where its AT!

    1. Thanks! I really think those are the ones that resonate the most with me. I grew up playing games with my family members and those are some of my most cherished memories. Time spent together is time well-spent!

  2. Family game nights are a great tradition. Children have fun and learn important skills.

    1. Exactly! We really enjoy having a special time set aside specifically for playing games together as a family. Our weekly game night has recently been taken over by swim lessons (another important activity, especially with spring and summer on the way!) but we're planning to get it back into our regular routine as soon as possible!

  3. Agreed; gaming can really strengthen the bonds in a family and create long lasting, positive experiences that will affect how a child's own family will develop. A happy kid is a happy adult.

    1. Great point! Families that play together and put effort into building positive rapport and communication skills are setting great examples to their kids of appropriate social interaction and the value of having fun. Win-win, even if you lose sometimes :)

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