I love board games. Or, at least, I loved them as a kid. And I’ve been counting down the days until my kids can begin their own journey, discovering their own favourites. Children’s board games are a joy – and I’d like to chat a bit about why, before describing the three doing the rounds in a big way in our house at the moment.
Before I start, this isn’t going to be a Board Games vs Computer Games thing. I love computer games – hell, I even design them at Pora Ora – and I will certainly post about kids’ computer games at some point in the future. But for now, on with the games…!
Learning Through Games
All great games teach us something. Games can mirror real life in safe, closed spaces. For children, especially, games can be their first encounter with many of the conventions and structures we take for granted as adults.
Almost every children’s board game has an element of turn-taking. It seems like such a mundane, almost depressing lesson to learn – but for me it encourages a child to exercise patience and to respect others. Turn-taking is a cross between sharing and teamwork, without being either. It asks your child to think about others, while pursuing their own goal.
Frameworks & Boundaries
Call them rules if you like, although I’d argue there’s more to it than that, but games teach a child to operate within a framework. That means taking instruction, understanding what is and isn’t possible and knowing the boundaries of play (and beyond).
Great children’s board games will focus on memory recall, counting, shape & colour matching, and observational skills. It’s worth stating the obvious – games are fun ways to build these fundamental skills in your child.
Dice are magical. Full stop.
Our Favourite Games
My 3 year old daughter has a few firm favourite board games at the moment – all, coincidentally, from Orchard Toys (who, I should say, are not in any way involved in this post). They are simple, starter games – great for introducing the very basic concepts at around 2 or 3 years old.
Quack Quack is a simple memory game where children have to guess (or remember!) what animal is on each face-down card. Crucially, it uses a (coloured) dice – my daughter’s first ever encounter with this beloved game mechanism. This is a fun game which doesn’t really need a winner or loser, and can last as long as you want it to – simply sneak a few cards off the board if bathtime is approaching with no end in sight.
Red Dog, Blue Dog
Red Dog, Blue Dog (aka Matching Puzzle in our house, as a legacy of when we first started playing and my daughter probably didn’t even realise it was a game – coming, as she was, from a diet of jigsaw puzzles) is a turn-based collecting game where your child simply chooses a card, hoping or recalling that it matches a picture on their board. You can play to win, or just help each other fill your boards then everyone’s a winner.
Spotty Dogs is a great introduction to that other beloved board game mechanism – the spinner! It’s so simple, and yet so awesome to watch a child negotiate its gameplay. Spin, read the number, find the dog with that many spots. This is total beginner stuff – but my daughter is at an age where this brings several huge new skills together, not least reading and counting. We even managed to put two “1” dogs together the other day and figure out that 1+1 was 2. There is a random bone-counting element to the back of the cards to help determine a winner, which we currently ignore completely but which may be fun in time.
The Game Of Life
I wrote previously about swimming as a life skill, and I think children’s board games help advance other fundamental life skills such as turn-taking, operating within a framework, and pure and simple play. And they are lots and lots of fun, for you and your child.
I’m always on the lookout for great new games so if you have any recommendations, do pop some suggestions in the comments section.
- Orchard Toys
- A Geek List for 2 and 3 year olds – or – How to grow your very own game player (from the Board Game Geek blog)
- Pora Ora (where I design games – educational games and apps for primary school kids)