What’s in a Game?

Most of us remember playing games as kids; I had my favorites, and it’s a lot of fun to introduce them to my own kids now. Sometimes we forget, though, just how much is going on when kids play games. Behind the fun, kids are learning life strategies and sharpening their aptitude for thinking and reasoning.

What exactly is a game? Here’s a very general definition: a structured activity undertaken for enjoyment and/or education. That means “games” can include board games, action games, card games, strategy games, computer games, physical activities, and more. Games have been played since the beginning of human history, in every culture and every country.

After brainstorming for just a minute or two, I was able to come up with this list of skills that are honed by playing games:

* hand/eye coordination
* fine & gross motor skills
* reasoning, logic, and spatial skills
* sequencing
* taking turns
* cause and effect
* strategy and prediction
* colors, numbers, and reading skills
* memory skills
* team work and cooperation

There’s lots of good news: first of all, the games we remember as kids are still around and are more popular than ever. My kids have enjoyed games like Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Connect Four, Scrabble Junior, Mouse Trap, Memory, and Uno. Second, there are companies coming out with wonderful new games all the time.

There are some games that have been played for centuries, with good reason. Chess, checkers, and dominoes spring immediately to mind. These games are fairly easy to learn, but difficult to master. That intriguing combination means that they appeal to every age group, regardless of skill and experience. Study after study shows that children who play strategy games like chess show improvement in academics, self-esteem, determination, and critical thinking skills.

My parents have informally decided to play lots of games with my kids whenever they’re together, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Not only is it quality time with grandma and grandpa (and lots of one-on-one attention), my kids are learning so much while having fun – the best kind of learning.

If you haven’t played games with your kids in awhile, I encourage you to find a game that the whole family can enjoy and spend some time playing together. You might even want to institute a “game night” once a week where a few different games are played in one evening. If you’re teaching in a classroom or homeschooling, make games a part of your curriculum. It’s a win-win situation!