October 15, 2008
OPINION SHAPERS: Board Games Teach Life Lessons to Children
By Pam Dyson
When I was a child growing up on a farm, my family would spend cold winter evenings sitting on the
family-room floor, playing Monopoly.
We would set the game board up on a card table, with the legs folded underneath it. This enabled us
to slide the game under the bed at the end of the day. The next evening we only had to slide it back
out and pick up where we had left off. This would continue for several days.
During the course of my childhood, several of the little green houses and red hotels had become lost.
Occasionally one might be found under a sofa cushion or in the pocket of a pair of my brother's jeans.
Our Monopoly money was very well worn. Sometimes, when money was changing hands, someone
would get aggressive, and the money would accidently get torn in half. Several of the bills had been
mended with tape that had yellowed over time. Who would have ever imagined that 40 years later,
one could go to www.monopoly.com, download a PDF and print replacement money?
In my work as a play therapist, I encourage parents to play board games with their children. What's
that, you say? You already play games with your children? Is it Guitar Hero? Is it XBox or any of the
other video games on the market today? These are all wonderfully entertaining games, but when was
the last time your family played a good old-fashioned, traditional board game?
Many of the games you played as a child are still being manufactured today. Do you remember Sorry!,
Trouble or Chinese Checkers?
In addition to Monopoly, I suggest you consider - depending upon the ages of the family members who
will be playing - Candy Land, Hands Down, Yahtzee. Another favorite board game from my childhood
was Hi Ho Cherry-O. The dog swallowed one of the cherries, so we improvised and substituted the
pointed end of a broken red crayon.
Board games imitate real life. For example, you have to cooperate and wait your turn. There are rules
you have to follow. Someone will win and someone will lose. Board games have an element of learning
as well. If money has to be counted, you are learning math. If you have to spend money, you are
learning how to budget. By observing the behavior of adults during the game, children will learn how
adults deal with winning and losing.
Ask yourself what you are modeling during the game. Do you lose graciously? Do you win without
rubbing it in?
Sometimes adults will intentionally lose a game to allow a child to win. I suggest you play as well as
you can and let the chips fall where they may. If a child is disappointed at losing, it's a good learning
experience for him or her. Children will be able to take what they learned playing a board game and
incorporate it into real-life experiences.
When there is tension or distance among a family, a board game can serve as an ice breaker.
Remember the old game Don't Break the Ice? It's a perfect game to ease some of the tension and get
family members interacting again.
Because board games provide an opportunity to interact with people, they promote social skills. Board
games bring people together, both young and old. Board games can strengthen bonds between family
members. Playing a game provides parents with an opportunity to start conversations with their
children. It's a refreshing change from the traditional question, "How was school today?"
Caution: Playing board games together as a family can cause spontaneous laughter, fun and a good
Pam Dyson of Ballwin is one of 17 West County area Opinion Shapers. Opinion Shapers are guest
writers who submit a column three times a year on areas of interest to them. Dyson has a master's
degree in professional counseling and is a play therapist.?¨