If you’re anything like me, every time you make a "Donate" pile in your kid's room, you find yourself eyeing the wayward stack of board games in the closet and wondering if it’s worth keeping them.
Turns out, despite all of the digital gaming options today, the old-school games are still in stores for a reason — and they're definitely worth hanging on to! I spoke with child developmental experts to get the inside scoop on why board games are amazing for our kids, and why family game night should totally be a thing.
Board Games Make Unplugging a New Habit
The lack of technology required to play a board game makes them special, explains Beatrice Tauber Prior, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, author, and owner of the private practice Harborside Wellbeing. For that reason, board games are a simple way to get some quality, screen-free time with the kids — and you might be surprised by how much they love it.
"Families are struggling to find the balance between digital and [real-life] connections, but board games provide a tool for that emotional connection to each other," says Prior. Order pizza and make it a way to celebrate the start of the weekend together!
They Offer Opportunities for Early Learning
Simple games like Candy Land and Hi-Ho! Cherry-O help young players identify colors, count spaces, and even develop hand-eye coordination and dexterity in moving cards and pieces around the board. Plus, learning to wait your turn and follow the rules are important lessons that serve kids far beyond the living room floor.
Board Games Get Older Kids' Brains Buzzing, Too
Forget flashcards and workbooks: Board games are an easy way to encourage healthy brain development in older kids and teens. “Strategy games, including Clue, Sequence, and card games are useful in helping the frontal lobes of the brain develop,” explains Prior. “Those frontal lobes are responsible for executive function skills, which include planning, organizing, and making good decisions."
They Boost Their Language Skills
Board games can be a sneaky way of helping school-aged kids work on skills they’re struggling with. Have a reluctant reader? A round of classic Boggle, Scrabble, or the Bob Books Happy Hats Beginning Reading Game will help him expand his vocabulary and flex his spelling skills.
Meanwhile, a game like Clue, in which players have to remember several pieces of information at once (who did what, and where) might help a child who’s having trouble with reading comprehension — all while she's having fun.
Board Games Are an Alternative to Time Out
The next time you find yourself going through a rough patch with one of your kids, consider playing a board game together instead of sending him to his room. “I often use board games as a mechanism to work on the parent-child relationship,” explains Regine Galanti, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and professor at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University in New York City. “They can also be used to increase frustration tolerance in a child.”
In other words, taking turns and practicing patience during a game — even when things don't go their way — can help little ones practice more respectful responses than stomping off and slamming their bedroom door shut.
They Increase a Shrinking Attention Span
“Board games, when played without interruptions, can also help lengthen a child's attention span,” says Prior. But to reap the benefits, everyone needs to commit to seeing the game through to the end.
“If your family sits down for a game of Chinese checkers, be sure to complete a full game without everyone checking their phone, asking Alexa to play a song, or turning on the TV for the latest football scores,” adds Prior. “Finishing a board game without interruptions will help lengthen the declining attention span of kids in world filled with digital distractions.”
Board Games Soothe Anxiety
They may help anxious kids learn how to navigate friendships more easily. “Because they're structured, board games can provide an easier way to build interpersonal relationships with peers, since the child knows what's expected of them,” says Galanti.
For kids who struggle with striking up conversations with others, Galanti suggests games that promote structured opportunities for speech such as Guess Who or Battleship.
They Teach the Value of Teamwork
Board games often offer kids meta-messages about life: Your luck can change in an instant, for better or for worse. But in addition to teaching them that nothing is guaranteed, board games are a good way to encourage kids of different ages to team up and work together — something they'll need to do throughout life. Form teams of older kids working with their younger siblings, or choose a game like The Brainiac Game or Race Across the USA, which have questions tailored to grades 1-6, so everyone’s challenged fairly.
They Show Kids How to Be a Good Loser
They also teach important lessons about playing fair. “If you're playing with a child who has low frustration tolerance, and losing is really difficult for them, allowing them to break the rules at first can make the game more tolerable and fun for them,” says Galanti. “But my goal is often to purposely play by the rules and encourage them to use coping skills and promote resilience when things don't go their way." For instance, you might say: "I'm so proud of you for staying calm even though you picked a card you didn't like. I hope next time you pick a good one!"