By Jeremiah It occurred to me just a few nights ago while playing a prototype version of the Kickstarting Pigpen with my family, that some of the more deep and meaningful side benefits of playing games—sitting at a table instead of staring at the TV screen—were coming to fruition in my boys.
Yes, we play games in my house, quite often. We haven't relegated games to a family game night; games come out whenever we have the time, and what we play is determined by that days schedule. My schedule can be erratic at times, so it's often tough to schedule anything on a weekly reoccurring basis. So, what are these side benefits I'm speaking of?
Well, first off, because of the nature of board and card games, we are all excited to sit down, and interact with each other at the game table. It's sad, but many families today don't have time to even sit and have dinner together (which is sometimes the case in our home, although I'm glad to say this is the exception not the rule), but sitting at the game table and playing games together is something that my boys get excited about, and will actually choose over playing Skylanders or watching TV—score!
Secondly, my oldest just turned seven, and my youngest very recently turned five. My oldest is going into 1st grade in just a few weeks (where did summer go?!!?), and at the end of his kindergarten year he tested at an above-3rd-grade level in math! Now, I'd like to attribute some of that sheer genius to his genealogy, and the hard work of his mother and me to keep him on top of his academic journey and growth. But I've noticed as we've played games over the summer that we've reinforced, in a fun way, his math skills, and have seen improvement over the summer instead of him forgetting all that he's learned during the school year. I've also found myself finishing up a game with my boys, and as we are putting it away, I'll look at the box to find that it's recommended for children ages 10, 12, 13 years and up! Again, they're smart because of the gene pool they come from. But I think we can credit some of that development, and sharpening of their strategic and logical sensibilities, to repeatedly being taught, and playing new board games. They've become very well versed in learning rules, player turns/interactions, teamwork (in co-op games), and win conditions. This type of brain exercise can only help them in the future with academics, athletics, and eventually the workplace
And finally, and possibly most important, we have seen an impact in the growth of their character. Competitive sportsmanship has slowly but surely begun to sink in and become second nature. My wife and I make it a point to stress that we can have fun playing the game and trying to win, but there has to be one winner, and if it isn't you that's okay, you'll get a chance next time. Certainly there is plenty of excitement as a game draws to a conclusion, especially if it's a close game! But no one runs away in tears if the game doesn't end in their favor.
I'm a very competitive person (it probably has something to do with being a middle child), and I want my children to be competitive and give their all when they are competing, but I truly believe you learn more about a person and their character when they lose than when they win. It's easy in life to be a good winner; it takes character to be a good loser.
While we were playing Pigpen a few days ago, it dawned on me as I pulled out a jackhammer card to destroy a portion of my son's pen and potentially set free his pig, I'm not at all worried about his overreacting to my playing this card. We're playing the game, and he completely understands that this is how the game works. Of course they turned into devious little scoundrels and teamed up on me that game, but they both got it. It was a game, and we're going to go back and forth destroying each others' pens, and no one needs to get upset, have a fit, or shed tears over it. When the game ends, we'll put it away and move on. I don't even remember who won that game (I'm pretty sure it wasn't me), but when it ended, we cleaned up the cards, gave each other high fives and said "Good game!" and headed off to bedtime. No sore losers, no snotty faced winners. I was a happy dad.
And that's what happened, at the game table.
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