Family Game Night: Fun and Learning
If you’re looking for an enjoyable way to enrich your kid’s development, family game night is a terrific opportunity to bond while enhancing family communication and benefit your kids’ academic and social skills.
In fact, family rituals like game nights and family dinners are proven to contribute to the rhythm and predictability of family life and they support child development.
Inclusion, Structure and Belonging
Making memories together fosters a sense of inclusion, structure and belonging that is a hallmark of healthy family life. And these activities don’t have to be expensive, time consuming or complicated.
Memories can be revisited far into the future with fondness, evoking these moments of shared experiences that, over time, become part of a family’s unique DNA.
Positive, Regular Family Time Habits
Amid the challenges of parenting and growing up, it’s crucial for parents to understand the high-impact benefits of positive, regular habits of family time.
Here’s what parenting success could sound like when your child leaves home:
“I loved our family time. When we were kids, every Friday was pizza and games night.”
Parents have an enormous role in orchestrating and leading the action around family time. It’s important that during these family gatherings, parents are completely present to their children. This means agreeing that all electronic devices are powered off.
Start With Dinner Prep
If you really want to make an evening of it, think of beginning with making a simple meal together.
For example, your routine could become a pizza night followed by games and puzzles.
Young children could knead the dough, and help with spreading the sauce and slicing, dicing, chopping, shredding and arranging the toppings.
Buying prepared thin crusts can cut down on the time and the mess of dealing with dough.
The New York Times article, “Cooking With Kids: 5 Reasons You Should Be Doing It” provides inspiring reasons for cooking with your kids, along with kid-friendly recipes at the bottom of the article.
Language and cognitive skill building can be incorporated into these easy kitchen activities, making them fun, natural and interactive.
Dinner will be on the table in a flash and your child will be sure to eat their creations as well!
And don’t forget to chat it up at the dinner table; research identifies meal time talk as central to reinforcing relationships and developing vocabulary among young children.
Games, Puzzles and Learning
Games and puzzles provide an excellent platform for creating these shared experiences.
They have the potential to promote a range of social and physical skills, concepts, strategy use and language development that will serve your child very well in their academic achievements in math and literacy.
Size, shape, space, patterns and sequences, for example, underlie alphabet recognition, spelling and numeracy.
Games and puzzles promote a range of social and physical skills, concepts, strategy use and language development.
Classic Games and Activities
Forever a favorite, Lego is great for developing concepts of whole-part relationships, how things fit and for promoting fine motor skills.
There’s no end to the fun and creativity your family can enjoy with a big Lego set.
At the same time, your kids will learn and practice:
- Fine Motor Skills
- Cooperative Play
- Puzzle Solving
And depending on the project, they’ll can also learn science and technology.
The Lego website “Family” blog has some great play ideas, so you’ll never run out of things do do with your collection.
There’s also a resurgence among adults known as Adult Fans of Lego (AFOL) in using these blocks. So, parents will enjoy it, too!
I recommend the Lego Classic Creative Brick Box (790 pieces).
This is the most versatile collection of the blocks, perfect for boys and girls to create any project they (or you) can come up with.
Jenga is a game of physical skill involving blocks arranged in a tower at the beginning of the game.
One block is removed by each player in turn, and replaced at the top of the tower, until it comes crashing down.
Classic Jenga includes 54 hardwood blocks, and a stacking sleeve with game instructions.
This is a simple, solid and timeless game that takes skill, strategy and luck!
This is one of those games your family will return to again and again over the years.
Interestingly, Jenga evolved from the game creator’s own memories of playing and puzzling with her family.
Scrabble is another long-time family favorite. The game reinforces letter recognition and spelling patterns.
With younger children, it’s recommended to play as adult-child teams to provide a great learning opportunity.
Handling the tiles, arranging and moving them about and placing them on the board are good exercises for fine motor development.
Benefits of Playing Scrabble
I can’t really say enough good things about Scrabble as a family game.
It’s not only entertaining, but it will grow with your family, and provide your kids with plenty of advantages, such as:
Spelling and Vocabulary
While playing Scrabble, you can teach the kids the basic rules of spelling a word. They’ll definitely grasp the word and its spelling quickly, so they can use it themselves!
This game will also let your kids know new words and their meanings.
While playing the game, if you put a new word on the board, the kids will be inquisitive about knowing its meaning, and want to remember the word for the next time.
Kids need to think creatively of a fun and unique word, other than those already on the board.
Along with improving the English skills, Scrabble also teaches the kids basic math skills.
Since each tile of the letters used in the game carries specific points, the kids have to multiply those points with the value given to the box, and apply addition and multiplication methods after creating every word on the board.
Jigsaw puzzles are a great source of entertainment, but quite often they are overlooked for the flashy electronic games.
This is such a shame, because it’s long been known that jigsaw puzzles have a big part to play in a child’s learning and development.
What’s more, children love doing them!
Here are just a few reasons why you should encourage your children to play with puzzles:
When a child tries to fit, remove or turn a puzzle piece to find its right place,they are learning the connection between their hands and their eyes.
The ability to coordinate what the eyes see, with what the brain pictures and what the hands do, takes a lot of practice, and puzzles are an enjoyable way to develop this skill.
Children learn patience and persistence while working on a puzzle, and then are rewarded once it is completed.
This boosts their independence and self-esteem as they will feel a sense of accomplishment.
Fine Motor Skills
Little ones need to strengthen the muscles in their fingers so they can grip and hold things.
Movement of fingers to get the pieces in the right spot will do just that, which in turn will help them to develop better handwriting skills.
All puzzles encourage children to work cooperatively with a friend or relative, as they try to complete the puzzle together chatting while they work out where the pieces need to go, developing a plan to solve.
When a child asks for a certain piece they will often describe what they are looking for e.g. a square piece with a horse on it etc.
Plus, the subject matter of the puzzle, such as animals, numbers, shapes, vehicles, will all help encourage speech and identification.
Puzzles enable children to use adaptable thinking and deductive reasoning skills, trying to find different ways to put the pieces together, and work out which piece they need next, whether it’s a corner one or a red zigzag piece they need.
Puzzles are perhaps the one game you can’t cheat at, the puzzle piece either fits or it doesn’t! Children have to use critical thinking skills to complete it.
Dominoes is an ideal game to play with kids, because the rules are simple.
Older children can play this game with adults without feeling as though their age puts them at a disadvantage, and even preschool-aged children can benefit from playing dominoes as they learn to count and to recognize patterns.
Preschool Activities With Dominoes
Even preschoolers can learn and have fun with dominoes. Try these activities with your little one:
- Count the number of dots on each tile
- Find matching tiles and stack them together
- Line up tiles end to end by matching up the number of dots on each tile
- Form stacks of a set number of tiles (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.)
- Write numbers on pieces of paper and ask your preschooler to place the correct number of tiles on the corresponding piece of paper
- Create shapes or letters with the tiles
- Construct 3-dimensional shapes or towers with the dominoes
Video: How to Play Dominoes
Mexican Train is a fun take on the classic dominoes game.
This colorful, versatile set can be played using the Mexican Train rules, traditional rules, or for preschool activities.
Video: How to Play Mexican Train
Card games of all kinds, including card tricks, afford endless possibilities for adult-child interaction and fun across age groups.
Concepts of “more than” and “less than,” discussions of chance or probabilities as well as sequence and groupings, are given a good work out with a card game.
Fatherly.com has a terrific list of the best card games for kids that use a traditional deck of cards.
Skip Bo is another really popular game (it has over 1,000 reviews).
Suitable for ages 7 to adult, it presents numerous opportunities to strategize:
- organizing of cards into the discard piles
- avoiding setting up the next players for good plays
- knowing when to play from which option and especially the timing of playing a valuable ‘Skip-Bo’ wild card.
Best Board Games For Families
To keep family game night interesting, it’s a good idea to have a collection of favorite board games, and have family members take turns choosing which game to play.
When the kids have friends over, you can encourage them to play with these games as an alternative to playing video games and watching TV.
These are my suggestions, based popularity, reviews, and of course, my family’s experience:
Games for Preschoolers
Shopping List from Orchard Toys is an award winning game that encourages memory and literacy skills in a really fun way that helps children learn.
Suitable for 2 to 4 players, each player picks a trolley or basket that they must fill.
Turn over one of the 32 cards showing familiar, everyday items from the supermarket such as eggs, tomatoes, washing powder and toothpaste – if they are on your list, you can pop them in your trolley or basket!
The winner is the first player to collect all the items on their list and fill their trolley.
This updated version of our bestselling game is suitable for children aged 3 to 7 and features new style items and lists, including one on a tablet. Children can learn to recognize various grocery products and read the names from their lists.
The game can also promote plenty of discussion, not only while playing, but also on a shopping trip to a real supermarket. Children can spot how many items from the game they can see on the shelves!
The colorful illustrations of everyday items mean the game can be played by young children with no reading ability as well as more advanced learners.
Shopping List has virtually perfect reviews from purchasers.
Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It!
Join Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm on a Busytown adventure, racing around Busytown to search for hidden objects in this fun-filled collaborative. Richard Scarry’s classic world comes to life in the gigantic, colorful game-board.
Drive through city streets, and activity-filled farm, a busy airport, and a bustling harbor full of boats. There’s so much to discover along the way!
How Many Can You Find!?
Pig Will and Pig Won’t are on a mission to eat all the food on Picnic Island! Using the illustrated, over six-foot long game board, you’ll work as a team to make it to Picnic Island before they eat the food!
Work together with other players to find hidden objects like buckets, traffic lights, flags, or ladders!
Everyone gets a chance to say, “I Found It!”—the faster you find the hidden objects the faster you’ll move!
How to play, snapshot!
After setting up the Busytown Eye Found It! game board, placing the ferry at the end of the road, and the food items on Picnic Island, everyone chooses a mover. On your turn, the spinner will tell you to move, take away one food item from Picnic Island and spin again, or solve a Goldbug Mystery!
To solve a Goldbug Mystery you flip a Goldbug Card and work as a team to find the item on that card on the game board. For each item your team finds you get to move forward a space. To win, all players must be on the ferry and arrive at Picnic Island before the pigs eat all the food.
Ages Five and Up
Monopoly Junior, designed for younger players is fast, simple, and features kid-friendly properties.
This edition comes with 4 favorite tokens: Little Scottie, Little Hazel, Toy Car, and the famous top hat worn by Mr. Monopoly.
Players move their tokens around the board, buying the properties they love such as the zoo, and a video game arcade.
It’s fun for them to place a “sold” sign on their very own property.
Parents can introduce their kids to counting and the simple math of the transactions, and single banknotes keep the transactions fast and easy.
Games For Tweens
Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out.
In Pandemic, players must work together playing to their characters’ strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks.
For example, the Operation Specialist can build research stations which are needed to find cures for the diseases.
The Scientist needs only 4 cards of a particular disease to cure it instead of the normal 5.
But the diseases are out breaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also towards cures.
A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.
Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is an exciting cross-country train adventure game.
October 2, 1900 – it’s 28 years to the day that noted London eccentric, Phileas Fogg accepted and then won a bet that he could travel “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Now, at the dawn of the century, some old friends have gathered to celebrate Fogg’s impetuous and lucrative gamble – and to propose a new wager of their own.
The stakes: $1 million in a winner-takes-all competition.
The objective: to see the most cities in North America – in just 7 days.
Players collect train cards that enable them to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn.
Additional points come to those who can fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities, and to the player who builds the longest continuous railway.
Games For Teens Ages 14 and Up
It can be challenging to keep family game night entertaining for teens, after all, there’s a lot competing for their attention.
It’s important to find games that will engage your teens, and have them looking forward to family time!
Zombicide lets 1-6 players live out their zombie survival nightmares!
Players take control of one of six survivors, each who have their own special abilities and skill trees.
Using unique and clever mechanics, Zombicide is designed as a fully cooperative game where no player has to play as the zombies.
Zombies in Zombicide are controlled by a simple AI system, dictating they must chase after the closet living thing or the loudest spot on the board. This lets players become fully immersed in the game as they search for new equipment, trick zombies, set traps and make daring escapes.
Destroy large amounts of zombies to level up your survivors. But watch out, zombies grow more powerful too!
This game is hot! At publication, Codenames is one of the most popular board games on the market!
Codenames is a social word game with a simple premise and challenging game play. Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their codenames.
The teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the table.
Their teammates try to guess words of their color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.
The game works very well with 4 players if you prefer to guess without help. Or you can add more players if you prefer lively discussion.
There’s also a cooperative variant where a single team tries to achieve the highest score they can by playing against the game itself.
Game Night Tips
Parent-child talk makes a difference to a child’s language and social development. Significantly, parents should try to become mindful of how much they talk with their children, not simply to them.
What matters is taking turns in conversation, where the adult listener models responding and expanding on the previous comments.
For example, if the family is working on a puzzle and the child explains they are putting all the blue puzzle pieces here, the parent might say: “What a great idea, you can group all the puzzle pieces by color, which helps us find them.”
The parent returns attention in a way that gives words to the skill the child is experimenting with; the adult also models the art of taking conversation to the next level.
Completely focusing on the game and the players allows parents to fully hear their child and respond to the child’s comments to open the conversation further, which is central to building children’s vocabularies and understandings.
In addition to offering positive feedback and encouragement, parents can offer “think alouds”—talk where adults expose their thinking processes while using a strategy or solving a problem. In this way parents support children’s cognitive development while sharing an activity.
Does your family have game night traditions? Let me know which games are a hit at your house!
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