Board games have been a huge part of my life, growing up playing the classics, and then later getting into Eurogames when my brother-in-law introduced my wife and I to Small World. When we had our first child I knew I wanted family game night to be a part of our family, but I didn’t begin to imagine all the amazing benefits of family board games we would see. I’m sharing some of the benefits of family board game night and then tips for raising board game loving kids!
[Stephanie’s note: If the voice sounds different it’s because this post was written by Tyler, my husband, and originally published on Kidsloveboardgames.com which is now defunct!]
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Pin this round-up of family board game tips with this photo or link!
Reasons to have family board game night.
1. Board Games Make Learning Fun
Board games are a fantastic way for kids (and adults) to learn new things while having fun. While formal learning has its place, I’m a big believer that learning should be as fun as possible to help our kids grow up and be life long learners. Board games are the perfect delivery system for fun learning! Board games are fantastic for all kinds of skills, starting with colors and shapes for the littlest gamers, expanding to letters, numbers, reading, spelling, and math as kids age. While all the technical skills are great, I didn’t realize all the less obvious skills kids take away from board games. Problem solving, spatial thinking, reasoning, communication, and emotional intelligence to name a few. With the opportunity to learn all these essential skills, why wouldn’t you play board games with your kids?!
2. Getting Everyone Engaged in Family Game Night
One of the constant struggle’s we battle as parents is engagement. It is a hectic world with lots of things vying for our attention, kids, work, friends, and smart phones updates. Combine that with the short attention span of our kids and it can feel like no one is paying attention to anything…ever! We’ve really come to appreciate board games as a way to counteract this. As parents we put out phones and other distractions of life aside and just enjoy being together. It allows us to be focused on having fun as a family! At the same time, board games help kids learn to stay engaged in a single activity.
3. Family Entertainment
Of all the benefits of family board games, fun is probably the most obvious, but also one I don’t want to overlook. We have had so much fun with our kids playing board games! I still remember the first game we played when our son was a toddler (check out My Little Orchard). He is a wild child (understatement!) and I had reservations about him being able to sit down and actually play a game. He learned the game and had a blast playing, and has been hooked on board games ever since. As our kids have grown the fun we have with board games has only increased.
4. Creating Family Game Night Memories
Another of the benefits of family board games is creating great family memories. What is better then spending a rainy afternoon cozied up with a pile of board games, creating memories? I have fond memories of those days growing up, and it has become a staple for our family as well. I love that when our kids see bad weather outside they race to the board game closet and I hope they’ll remember these game days when they are older as fondly as I do.
5. Lasting Traditions
Having family traditions is very important to creating family culture and bringing families closer together. Board games have been a great tool for our family to create traditions. Our traditions are weekly, family board game nights, as well as new board game to play on Christmas Eve. The anticipation build up to our weekly board game night, and even more so on Christmas eve, is so fun to see and just makes the actual ‘events’ even more enjoyable!
6. The Board Game ‘Reset Button’
We all have those days where the whole family is a little…grumpy. Maybe its a bad nights sleep, maybe you were out of bananas at breakfast, the most random things can set a day off on the wrong foot. Do you just accept that its going to be a no good, very bad day? No, you try like heck to turn everyone’s attitude around! Cooperative board games have become our go to reset button, to turn a grumpy day around. What else can you do in fifteen minutes to get the whole family together and competing against the game? After the game everyone is (usually) in a much better mood and we can go about having a better day. I think this is a big reason why research shows board games are good for mental health!
7. Sibling Bonding
While our kids squabble just like any siblings, they are also best buddies a majority of the time. Board games have played a big role in building their relationship. There is a really special dynamic built when the older sibling can be the expert and help the younger sibling learn a game that’s new to them. At the same time the younger sibling has just as much opportunity to win the game putting them back on equal footing. The kids learning and playing board games together has really helped them build a strong relationship.
8. Inspiring Passion with Family Game Night
When I was a kid and we played board games I remember it being a pretty standard set of options, Checkers, Connect 4, Chess, maybe Monopoly, all games we had fun with, but not a ton of imagination involved while playing. Today the board game landscape is very different. For almost any subject that your child is into there is a board game to go right along with it. When our kids went through the dinosaur phase, board games were there to encourage and expand on the obsession (Dinosaur Escape was our go to during the preschool years). The current focus is medieval times and Brandon the Brave has been getting a lot play. It is so great to see them play a game focused on something they are passionate about!
Start Your Family Game Night!
With all the great benefits of family board gaming, I am sure you are ready to start your family board gaming. Check our lists of favorite board games for each age:
- Best Board Games for Toddlers,
- Best Board Games for Preschoolers
- Best Board Games for 5 Year Olds
- Best Board Games for 7 Year Olds
- Best Board Games for Older Kids
5 Tips to Raise Board Game Loving Kids
1. Simplify when learning new games
When teaching kids a new board game, it’s easy to forget how much of a strain it puts on them. Most games for younger kids seem simple to adults who have years of experience with all sorts of different board games. Combine the new concepts kids are picking up with the fact that most games for kids are designed to teach them as well and it can be very intimidating for kids to learn new board games! To counteract this, we try to simplify games where possible. There are a few ways we do this. First is looking for ways to simplify the rules during the first play through. Some games do a great job of laying this out for you (thank you Robot Turtles!), while other leave it for you to figure out.
The main ways we have simplified games are (1) removing some of the more complex rules and (2) easing the ‘learning’ burden of the game. Depending on the game we may do one or both of these.
Removing Complex Rules
Removing more complex rules is pretty straight forward. As an example, when learning sleeping queens the first play through we took out a number of the cards and just focused on a couple of the special cards (knights and dragons). This made it so much easier for him to understand the cards in play, then we incrementally added the other cards back in and he had the whole game figured out in no time!
Easing the Learning ‘Burden’
Easing the ‘learning’ burden can be a little trickier. Most kids games try to teach kids something, colors, addition, reading or something else. That’s one of our favorite things about kids board games, but when kids are learning a new game it can be a lot to also ask them to learn a skill at the same time. During the first play through (or two) we don’t stress the learning aspect. Maybe that means you do the piece movement the first time so they aren’t stressing about their counting if that is a developing skill for them. This will greatly vary by game an age but it can really help kids pick up a new game, and have fun while doing it.
2. Match game themes to your kids interests
Something I never would have guessed is how much the game theme would impact the fun factor. As an adult, the board game theme doesn’t really matter. With kids the theme can make or break the game. The right theme can really ignite their will and determination to learn a new game. This was really eye opening for me when our five year old was really into medieval times. He had seen my wife and I playing Carcassonne and ‘building castles’. After seeing that he was determined to learn the game. I tried to stall him with “you’re not old enough” to no avail. When I finally gave in and taught him he was SO determined to learn! I of course employed tip number one and played a simplified version. Fast forward and Carcassonne is now one of his favorite games to grab from the game closet!
3. Let them make mistakes
It is so natural as parents to want to ‘help’ our kids. In board games that manifests itself by suggesting different moves or better strategies. While I’m not saying you should never give guidance (I certainly still do it more than I’d like!), try to limit it as much as possible. I view board games like a puzzle, when you tell kids the best move it is like rushing in at the last minute and sticking the last piece in place! Kids will learn from watching you play and through trial and error, and they will feel better about themselves for figuring it out. That first time your kid beats you with a move you didn’t even see, you’ll really feel proud!
4. End on a positive note
If something is fun, kid’s brains tell them to keep doing it until its not fun anymore. You want them to remember the fun part, not the end when they got bored! As a parent your job is to figure out that point and help the gaming end on a positive note. For new games we usually shoot for one play through and then take a break. New games take a lot of concentration and sometimes kids don’t realize how hard they are focused until they are completely spent. Once the kids have learned the game playing is less draining, and we’re more flexible about replays. We just make sure to watch for when the attention span starts to wane and the wiggles take over to guide us to the right time to stop playing.
5. If the kids aren’t having fun, stop!
I was raised to finish what I started, and while I do agree that is an important trait for somethings, don’t take it to the board game room! When we first started playing board games with our kids, sometimes they just weren’t in the right frame of mind. Maybe the game wasn’t a good fit, or they just needed to be outside running around instead, or something else entirely. My first instinct was to press on…big mistake. This led to the kids causing more and more of a raucous until someone got really upset, and the board game was left collecting dust in the closet until the traumatic event was forgotten.
With time, we’ve learned that its really tough to change an attitude mid-game and powering through just leads to associating negative emotions with board games. If the kids aren’t having fun, we pack up the game or set it aside for later. What a change this makes! No more board game blow-ups!
Get started raising your board game lover!
These tips have helped us have a lot more fun while board gaming. When kids have fun board gaming they want to play them more often which creates family fun and more opportunities to learn through playing games!
What are your favorite tips and tricks when playing games with your kids? Comment below! Then check out the Best Family Board Games for All Ages.