By Carolyn Forte
Many families now have more T.V. sets than people. Add to that the array of smart phones, computers and electronic game devices owned by most families and you get a recipe for family disconnection. One of the best advantages of homeschooling is family time together, but if we squander too much of that time in our separate electronic worlds, we lose a precious treasure forever. Time lost can never be regained and children are soon grown and gone.
Raymond and Dorothy Moore have pointed out that education researcher, Urie Bronfenbrenner, “found that at least up to the sixth grade, children who spend less of their elective time with their parents than their peers tend to become peer-dependent.” (www.moorefoundation.com – search Articles, “Synopsis”) . The myth that “quality time” is sufficient for positive child-rearing has long been debunked; it is imperative that parents spend large blocks of time engaged with their children in activities and conversation. Children need their parents’ attention in far greater quantity than they need friends and amusements. Sadly, our hurried, suburban lifestyle can divide families and prevent the kind of vital parent-child interaction that has been the norm for millennia. Unless we consciously develop family-centered activities, our children will be deprived of the positive adult modeling they so desperately need to grow into happy, productive adults.
One solution for a busy family is to set aside time to play family games. Turn off all the electronic media so you can devote attention to each other and the chosen game. Do this frequently and games will become an integral part of your family lifestyle. Whether your family prefers a game that takes 10 hours or 10 minutes, sitting down on the floor or table to play a game helps to firm family bonds. Playing a game helps people relax and interact more freely. It is also a gentle venue where parents can teach children fair play, patience and even teamwork. We get so busy and are so inundated with electronic information/entertainment, that we often forget to stop and just talk with each other. Games force us to stop and just focus for a while on the family — to pay attention to each other without distractions.
Sometimes, a very simple game like Ruckus that can be played by children as young as three, yet is great fun for adults, is a good choice. Each hand is quickly played, so the game can last a few minutes or go on for as long as you wish to play. Ruckus is unique in that the younger, slower players actually have the advantage.
It’s important not to discourage the younger children when playing a family game. They won’t want to play for long if they always lose. For that reason, pick your games carefully and feel free to modify the rules for younger players. Try to pick a game that will work for the youngest player. There are many games that are interesting to adults, yet are fine for young children. You just have to search them out.
Many of the old standard card games are simple enough for five- and six-year-olds. My mother began playing a card game with me when I was about three. She would give me four cards and put four on the table. If I could match a pair numerically, I could take the pair. If I could not make a match, I could draw from the deck. She helped me along until I knew all the patterns as well as the numbers. She always had a deck of cards in her purse, so that we could play whenever we had to wait in an office or wherever she had a little free time. This was a special time for me with my mother, but it also helped me learn about numbers and patterns.
You can play games in the car. Our family liked to play the alphabet game, searching for the alphabet in order on license plates, billboards and signs. We also played Twenty Questions, always using something that could be seen from the car. This can be quite challenging and a lot of fun, but it also trains the mind in powers of reasoning and deduction. Mad Libs is another great car activity that also teaches parts of speech. Carschooling by Diane Flynn Keith is loaded with interesting things to do in the car. I know that electronic games are very popular and can be great pacifiers and babysitters, but it’s important to remember that human interaction is vital to healthy humans, so try not to let the screens and iPods swallow up every minute.
Some people plan a weekly game night and others like to pull out a quick game after dinner before everyone scatters to their individual pursuits. Each family is different and tastes in games vary widely, but there are thousands of games on the market to choose from and if you let different family members choose games in a rotation, you should have an enjoyable experience.
Here are some suggestions for choosing games for family play: Look for games that have a very wide age range or that can be easily played in teams or with partners.
• Scrabble is a terrific game for older children and adults, but it is too hard for younger children. Pick Two and Keesdrow will satisfy the adult word addict yet can be successfully played by children as young as seven or eight.
• Traditional board games like Parchisi, Chinese Checkers and Monopoly are fun and interesting for a wide range of players. Even pre-school children can enjoy Parchisi, which also involves counting and addition. Card games that are not too complicated are fun for the whole family. For those who chafe at waiting turns, pick a game like SET or Quick Pix in which there is no waiting, or buy cards with art, science or history pictures on the cards.
• BINGO games are very popular with kids and adults. Whether you use a traditional BINGO game or an educational version, the whole family can have a great time. If one or more of your children cannot yet recognize letters and numerals, try one of the primary level JINGO games or a Lucy Hammett Bingo game — they have pictures as well as written clues on the calling cards.
• Keep in mind the attention span of your players. Generally, you will have to work with the tolerance level of your youngest player. If you have favorite games that take too long for the youngest player, you can shorten them by setting a time limit, or you can excuse the youngest when he loses interest.
• Different family members may prefer different styles of games. Some people prefer strategy games and others like games with more chance. Some like geometric games like Blokus, Castle or Katamino while others want a linear board game like Candyland or Uncle Wiggily. Some love word games and others prefer quiz games. It is impossible to satisfy everyone at once, but try to have a variety of games and allow a rotation of styles so that everyone gets his choice now and again.
• Allow children to make up alternate ways to play games. You own the game; you are not chained to the rules. Often, children invent better, more creative ways to play a game. Don’t discourage this. If you get frustrated by your child’s insistence on creating new game rules, make a pact to play alternate rounds of the standard game and the child’s version.You may be surprised by the results. It is, of course, important to agree on the rules before beginning a game.
When planning your family activities, don’t forget the outdoor games like croquet, badminton, ball games, Frisbee and jump rope. The whole family needs exercise and fresh air. Get outside and play there, too. These games help develop vision (focusing, tracking, depth perception, figure-ground perception, etc.), hand-eye coordination, agility, balance and much, much more. Most children today don’t get anywhere near enough unstructured outdoor play. These activities are a wonderful way to cement family ties while developing both social and physical skills.
Carolyn Forte is a homeschool mom of two grown daughters, co-owner with her husband, Martin, of Excellence In Education Homeschool Resource Center in Monrovia, CA, author of The Game Curriculum and a former classroom teacher. She can be contacted at email@example.com.