For many people, the coming of a new year brought a resolution, or at least a hope, to spend more time with family. Simple quality time together. Accomplishing “nothing” and doing “nothing” other than being together. Perhaps time is set aside every evening to be in the same room reading. That’s a great start, for the mere presence of family can bring comfort.
Family interaction is also important, and there’s no better way than sitting on the floor or at a table playing games. It could be a card game or a board game, but no expense or purchase need be involved.
There are a lot of games that simply require interaction. One of the most fun games is charades. You may go by standard rules or you may make up the rules. The point is for one person to act out something like a book title, a movie title, a famous person or event. No words are allowed. It all has to be acted. One finger, one word; two fingers, two words. One finger, first word or first syllable. Charades often leads to hilarious laughter—and nothing’s more healing than laughter.
In our family, we’ve accumulated a box full of ideas for charades titles. If you can’t think of something to act out, you draw one from the box. It can be interesting to see how a four-year-old might choose to act out something like Winnie the Pooh. We’ll leave that one to your imagination. Like I said, hilarity often ensues.
Many kinds of games that you play sitting around a table have layers of benefits.
For a start, you are all facing one another. Banter occurs. Conversations get going in a rather non-threatening environment.
Even social skills can be learned by playing board games. You have to wait your turn, take turns and communicate clearly.
Obviously different games are appropriate for differing age levels. It can also be helpful to play as teams. For example, a three-year-old who does not necessarily grasp all the concept involved in a game like Clue, could be given the task of rolling the dice for mom or dad. Children can learn to count by playing board games.
Scrabble is a great game for building vocabulary, and for younger children there’s Scrabble Junior.
Even the simplest games can help children increase skills in spelling, logic, and critical thinking.
I realize that video and other electronic games can help increase motor skills, but board games are great boosters of emotional well-being.
Games aren’t just good for children.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported that stimulating the brain with such activities as board games, crossword puzzles (as well as reading and playing a musical instrument) reduces the chance of developing dementia. Those who took part in playing board games over a 20-year time frame could drastically reduce their chance of developing dementia. Playing a board game once a week cut the risk by 7%, but those who played more regularly were able to cut the risk by over 60%.
Playing games offers an opportunity to build strong bonds in the family. Like the family meal, game activity offers another opportunity for quality time.
In addition to providing general fun, board games offer a great way to relax.
There are many games that go back decades, centuries even. Sit down and play something like Clue, which many adults will remember from their own childhood. For Harry Potter fans, there’s a slightly more complex game of Clue that we’ve been playing at home. The playing board looks like a Hogwarts map with recognizable wizarding rooms and classrooms. The game is made more complex than the standard game of Clue because instead of rolling two di, a third dice is added. This third dice can take you somewhere, block you or have some positive or negative affect on the play of the game. In addition, the rooms can change, and how you get into rooms can change. Doorways can be blocked, so where you were headed is suddenly no longer possible.
My family has really been enjoying this newest version of Clue.
Games can foster and tap the player’s creativity. The game of Pictionary challenges, not only intellect itself, but also creativity.
Games, to me, are like the dresser in Narnia. They take us to other worlds. They also allow us to dive into pretend worlds. They take us back to childhood.
Jay Tietel, writing in Psychology Today, noted that the game provides a social world where the bad stress is removed from socializing. Games have structures that release us from the stress of many social situations. Tietel pointed out that almost every social situation, from dates, job interviews, parties, and whatever else, lacks a specific structure that can make situations safe. But games have rules and structure. They also provide a focal point, the board, so there is not constant eye contact. This, too, builds in safety and allows a feeling of not being “on the spot.”
In a sense, a game provides an opportunity to role play, much like theatre does. Many games require that we pick a character to represent ourselves.
Once you are that character you have to learn to take turns, one of the most valuable of life lessons, one which many children who are not taught the importance of the words “yes” and “no” do not receive. In other words, in addition to their many benefits, games demand that we become functioning social beings.
Learning to take turns requires us to learn to control our impulses.
Dr. Gwen Dewar, writing for parentingscience.com points out the many benefits of games. Not only do games teach those of all ages how to get along with others, they also teach the general concepts of rules, encourage us to detect patterns, and plan ahead.
The game Clue, mentioned already, helps teach deductive logic.
An interesting study on chess showed that students with learning disabilities who were give four hours of math instruction plus one hour of chess instruction performed better than students who were simply given five hours of math instruction.
For an thorough examination of the benefits of games and an understanding of hour playing games affects the brain, visit gamasutra.com.
Mark Bergin on Twitter @markaidanbergin.