Newswise — WICHITA, Kan. – Now that the holidays are over, these dark, cold days of winter have families looking for ways to keep the kids occupied. There’s an easy, inexpensive way that has benefits well beyond the activity itself, according to Kansas State University extension agent Elizabeth Brunscheen-Cartagena.
“Playing board games gets everyone in the same room and helps family members across generations connect, compete, and have a great time together,” said Brunscheen-Cartagena, family life and resource management agent with K-State Research and Extension. “Besides promoting face-to-face interaction, a vital component in human relationships that is fading away, games are an entertaining and painless way to help kids build essential learning skills on the sly or by accidental learning, which means there’s no anxiety or resistance.”
Brunscheen-Cartagena, who is based in the Sedgwick County Extension office, said her own family has benefited from playing board games for generations. She and extension volunteers sponsor family game nights, “Bonding Thru Board Games” six times during the year, including one day-long Mega Event. They also collaborate with schools, churches, community events and other organizations in Sedgwick County on similar programs.
Unlike video games, board games promote face-to-face interaction, a key component to connecting, learning how to read body language and developing what she calls “social capital.”
“With board games there’s a personal touch. We quickly build a bond that sets the foundation for trust and ultimately, lasting relationships,” she said. “When playing video games everybody has a device in hand, and the attention is on the screen more than on the players. And, if the video game is online, the non- face-to-face interactions often provide anonymity and the opportunity to present ourselves differently than we might be ordinarily.”
Brunscheen-Cartagena cited a book, “Family Treasures: Creating Strong Families” by John DeFrain, which covers six qualities that strong, successful families around the world exhibit: enjoyable time together; appreciation and affection for each other; positive communication; spiritual well-being (values, beliefs, life skills); successful management of stress and crisis; and commitment to each other.
“If we don’t carve out time as a family, none of those traits will be achieved,” she said. “Those traits are built in a scaffolding manner – one brings the other. Board games foster that face-to-face time interaction needed to connect deeply with each other and to develop the other traits of strong families.”
Brunscheen-Cartagena outlined the benefits for children.
• Social and emotional health – Research shows the link between social and emotional skills and school success is so strong that it is a greater predictor of children’s academic performance than their family background and cognitive abilities. Learning is a social process. Children cannot learn if they struggle with following directions, getting along with their peers and controlling their emotions in any setting.
“Every face-to-face game provides a ‘social experiment’ where players learn self-regulation and social skills to play successfully with others,” she said, adding that a lot goes on under the surface, even when playing the simplest of games. Children identify and regulate their emotions and behavior, learn to calm down when upset without hurting others, and learn how to win – or lose – with grace and good manners.
Playing games fosters persistence, a willingness to try new things, conversation, cooperative play and thinking of appropriate solutions to conflict. Games also help children learn to interpret others’ behavior and emotions, and can reinforce children’s feeling good about themselves and others.
• Basic math concepts – Even some of the simplest board games give children a sense of numbers. For example, the numeral 4 represents four objects, which is greater than 3 and less than 5. Some games introduce geometry concepts with shapes and patterns, how to classify items (pattern recognition and matching), and support learning about measurement, including distances and amounts.
“Logical thinking, or the ability to reflect on the task demand and independently use the appropriate reading, writing, math or learning strategy, are some of the underlying skills children develop through playing board games,” Brunscheen-Cartagena said.
Problem solving and critical thinking can be strengthened with practice and learning, she said. Kids might make even more improvement if we encourage them to explain their tactics or the tactics they see others use.
Games also encourage learning about color, letter recognition, communication and dexterity.
Not just for kids
“While play is crucial for a child’s development, it is also beneficial for people of all ages,” Brunscheen-Cartagena said. “Play can add joy, relieve stress, supercharge learning, and connect you to others and the world around you. It can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, which promote an overall sense of well-being and can temporarily relieve pain.”
Teens and adults can benefit from many of the concepts that children do when playing – stimulating the mind and boosting creativity, fostering relationships, including empathy, compassion, and trust with others, and strengthen social skills.
She cited a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
“Play and laughter perform an essential role in building strong, healthy relationships by bringing people closer together, creating a positive bond, and resolving conflict and disagreements,” Brunscheen-Cartagena said.
Her tips for families with young children include looking for games that: have simple instructions; do not require reading; are easy to set up; do not need batteries; build skills in some way; are constructed of safe, non-toxic materials; and have sturdy, easy-to-grasp pieces.
Some of her suggestions for collaborative games for very young children include: Peaceful Kingdom board game brand; Qwirkle; Word on the Street; Ingenious; Ticket to Ride; Chicken Cha Cha Cha; Animal Upon Animal; Tsuro; Order Up; The Magic Labyrinth; Gemstones; Apples to Apples; and Viva Topo.
The K-State Research and Extension Sedgwick County office offers Bonding thru Board Games, a program for families to come together to play board games every other month through 2016. A come and go Mega Event will be April 30 from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
The program is a tool to help family members carve out quality time and connect with one another in ways that activities in our everyday lives sometimes inhibit, said K-State Research and Extension family life agent, Elizabeth Brunscheen-Cartagena. More information about the programs and services offered through K-State Research and Extension statewide is available at K-State Research and Extension.