After every holiday meal, my family would gather around the dining room table with a game purposefully selected by my mother for this occasion. I remember Taboo, Scattergories, Trivial Pursuit, Outburst. No matter the age of the player, the expectations were the same: follow the rules, win with humility, lose with grace, do your best, and never, ever complain. Games make up the fabric of a childhood and, perhaps, a lifetime, and appropriate game play opens doors to respect, friendship, and fun.
Turn-taking is a highly intricate skill that is easily taken for granted. When does your turn start? End? Whose turn is it? Where/how do you pay attention when it is not your turn? Do you need to pay attention when it is not your turn? Does someone else’s move affect your game play? How long can I make others wait? The type of game you select depends on the goal.
If your goal is turn-taking, keep the amount of “turn” time low to help keep the number of “turns” high. Consider: Candy Land, Connect Four, Jenga, Topple.
If your goal is sportsmanship, consider games that are quick and can be replayed frequently to minimize the devastation of losing. Consider: Connect Four, Tic Tac Toe, Operation. Also consider games that incorporate “small” losses within the game, rather than one “big” loss at the end: Chutes and Ladders, Mouse Trap, Sorry, Aggravation, Trouble.
Most games can be turned into games of cooperation. Take a game like Battleship. By putting two children on a team, they have to figure out how to work together. Who puts the pegs in? Will they take turns calling letters and numbers? Will one call a letter and one a number? Who will place the ships?
If your goal is simply to have fun, there are some basic considerations to make sure fun does not turn into a disaster. In general, consider:
· The level of distraction the game presents. I hate Mouse Trap, but kids love it for some reason unbeknownst to me. Mouse Trap provides pieces that are continuously distracting, falling apart, and creating problems.
· The level of attention required to complete the game. Unless we are playing a prodigy, we wouldn’t expect a five-year-old to play chess; expect some games to be too challenging for children to endure without a break.
· The length of turns. A Sorry card tells you exactly what to do, but Scrabble might take time, and lots of it, to develop the perfect word. Waiting is sometimes like asking a child to fail.
· The length of the game. Risk, Monopoly, and Chess are somewhat like a marriage: til’ death do you part. That being said, I have perfected the art of “pausing” a game (you’d be amazed at what post-it notes and paper clips can do). If you have 30 minutes, don’t attempt to squeeze in a “long” game; repeat or modify a short game.
Perhaps more than anything, games create memories and self-confidence. April 12, 1993 is a date I will never forget. I beat my mom at Scrabble for the first time. We had been playing for five years.