Monday, April 4, 2016

Little People Love Gaming, Too!

Hazel playing picture dominoes with her great-grandmother.
One of the reasons we have embraced board gaming is because of how adaptable it is to whole-family, multi-generational interaction.  Granted we haven't figured out a way to involve the fourteen-month-old in board gaming in a meaningful way (i.e. chewing on game components doesn't count and is a cardinal sin in our household!) but we've been surprised at how early little people can participate in a way that feels like participation and not just "go over there and play with blocks".

Want to know how to involve your 3-5 year old children in family board gaming?  Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Play little-people games that big people (and medium people) can enjoy, too!  Perhaps when you think of little-people games, you think of games like Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land.  And perhaps that brings to mind cheerful images of you checking facebook on your phone while saying to your preschooler "Go ahead and take my turn for me, honey," glancing over only frequently enough to discern how much longer you will have to wait until the game is over.  These games fail to engage because they do not involve any interaction or decision making - they are 100% based on random chance.  Can it actually be called a "game" when you are really only watching it play itself out, rather than actually playing it?

    Perhaps some folks feel that this is the only kind of "game" pre-readers can handle.  Not so, my friend.  Not so at all.  One of the best type of made-for-little-people-but-enjoyable-by-others game is the dexterity game - a game in which the main mechanic is based on balancing or careful moving of pieces.  Other good game mechanics for mixing in little people are memory-based games and matching games.  Hoping to Scope soon on some of our favorites!
  • Play team-style.  Even if you are playing a family game, the strategizing or decision-making making may still be beyond the abilities of your 3-5 year old.  But a little person can be on a team with an older person and still participate in meaningful ways.  Begin simple and increase in complexity so that you can ease your kiddos into being self-sufficient game opponents!
  1. Have your little person roll the dice, spin the spinner or draw a card for you.
  2. Have your little person move your piece on the board, place a card or hand the dice to the next player.
  3. Have your child add up the total of a dice roll, count spaces on the board or announce the move or choice your team is going to make.
  4. Discuss the gaming decisions with your child to help them see how you decide what to do and what effect your choices have on the game.
  5. When your child is ready to be a player in his own right, you might play a round "open handed" - show all of your cards, etc. and discuss what to do (and why) before each move.
The more you game with your children the more adept you will become at anticipating how the unique abilities and developmental level of each child will interact with a game and how to make adaptations so that more kiddos can play. Oh, and sometimes the three year old will just want to go play blocks instead of sitting with you.  That is OK, too!

This post is part of the "Living" Board Games! series.

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