My daughter is a senior in high school now, and everything that she does this year seems to be taking on a whole new significance as the school year rushes headlong through her final semester at home. This year is seemingly full of a lot of “lasts,” which, by any measure, makes this an emotional time for a dad and a time for looking back on how we got here so fast. I mentioned on the podcast the other day that there was a saying I’d heard when I was a new dad: “The days are long, but the years are short” and there really isn’t a better way to describe what it feels like to be looking back over her school years. My daughter is about to head off to her dream school — an incredible accomplishment in and of itself, and the beginning of a whole new chapter in her educational career. It got me thinking about the journey we’ve been on — from her pre-school years up through high school, and it occurred to me that one of the things we’ve always done in our family over the years has been playing lots of different games.
Games Children Play
We’ve been playing games of all sorts (card games, board games, strategy games) practically since my kids could read. And while I am not an expert in education, I think that the exposure to these games has helped teach my kids how to think in ways that are different from how they are taught in school. When my kids were in elementary school in Virginia, we were lucky to have a “strategy lab” where they would go once or twice a week to play various age-appropriate games to help teach critical thinking and cooperative gameplay skills. When the kids came home and told us about some of the games that they were playing in strategy lab, we would get our own copies of the games so we could enjoy them as a family at home.
Among our favorite games were Set, Blokus, Mastermind, and an ancient game called Go — all of which were introduced as the kids progressed in age and were able to handle more and more complex gameplay. We also liked a number of games that were fast paced wordplay games like Bananagrams, Quiddler, and Scrabble Slam. As our kids got more experienced with these games, we found ourselves looking for more and quickly found ourselves delving into new and interesting strategy and board games.
Board games have come a long way from the days of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, if you haven’t taken a look into the category recently. When I was younger, we had a few basic options for multiplayer board games: Monopoly (really, the granddaddy of all board games), Risk, and Life. Games today run the gamut from building civilizations (Settlers of Catan), to railroads (Ticket to Ride), to monsters overtaking Japan (King of Tokyo), and beyond. The board game industry has seen incredible growth over the past 10 years or so, and for the money, there really isn’t a better way to spend a few hours as a family, in my opinion. Games like these do require a bit of learning, and the game designers these days have gotten much better at providing good instructions with their games to get you started. Games like Dominion and Catan, for example, have a “beginners game” setup that allows you to get into the game with a basic setup, and then you can explore and play any one of a nearly infinite setups as you progress into the gameplay.
Starting the Game
So where to start? My personal favorite is a card-based game called Set, which is great for anyone 5 years and up. To this day, it remains a family favorite that my teenagers still enjoy beating their dad
My suggestions here just scratch the surface on the world of games that are available today. There are great articles on the different types of games that are certainly worth a read, and no end of games to learn about on BGG. Consider a game night for the family a chance to try something new and a way to encourage a different kind of thinking, as well as a chance to turn off the screens and enter a new world or build an empire. I can’t say for sure whether or not these games helped my daughter get into college, but I know that they have absolutely helped her develop important skills outside of the classroom, and have also contributed to many hours of family fun over the years.