The Skills Kids Can Learn from Traditional Board Games



Wall street Journal writer Laura Perez, lists some skills that family games has taught children over the years:

It has taught them to be good actors. My children have great poker faces. They will bluff you in cards and convince you their made-up dictionary definition is legitimate. They’ll pass you some pretty shabby cards in Hearts with a sweet smile.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t want my kids to become amoral liars. But learning to beguile, to read others, to keep emotions in check, to negotiate skillfully—all these can be useful in life.

It has improved their vocabulary. You can’t win at word games if you don’t know lots of words. And they know a lot. Piebald, anyone? I knew I’d never win Scrabble again when my youngest cleared her tiles with “reevict.”

They have gained presentation skills and grace under fire. I have a few shy ones, but it’s pretty hard to be shy during our family battles. Whether it’s charades or Pictionary, they have to know their audience, think conceptually on their feet and not let a countdown paralyze them.

It has taught them to be great guessers. Being smart about guessing is crucial in so many of the games we play—such as Trivial Pursuit or Clue or Botticelli, which is like 20 Questions on steroids. True, mastery of 1980s pop-culture trivia may not be a college entrance requirement. But learning how to reduce the possible answers to two from four definitely helps. And I have the proof on some recent PSATs.

It has taught them critical thinking. “It really helps develop their brains,” John says. We both noticed 16-year-old Riley’s concentration and animation a few days ago across the chess board from her uncle. They’re aware of the concepts of strategy and planning and go through life now instinctively solving puzzles.

It has taught them patience and sportsmanship. They’re still willing to play games with me. And when I lose they’re so encouraging!

It has unleashed their imagination. Games like Think Fast or role-playing computer games require the kids to use their creative skills. Riley says she doesn’t get people who don’t play games. “It’s like when people say they don’t like to read. It’s like going on an adventure.”

Most important, it has taught them to not fear failure. Our kids haven’t cared about the odds against them. Their egos aren’t fragile. Games have taught them that they need to risk failing if they want to succeed. I’ve been blown away by how much the kids actually love losing. Isabella, 12, says it’s fun to fling yourself off a cliff and make a crazy chess move.

When she loses, she says, “we don’t care that much. We don’t throw a fit, we accept it and play again.”


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