Newswise — Keeping the kids sharp during the dog days of summer doesn't have to involve only books, paper and lots of complaining. Playing games with them this summer can boost academic and social skills - while the family has some fun, to boot.

"Because you need to follow the rules, plan a strategy and interact with other players, games increase active learning," said Sam Gladding, a family counselor and chair of the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University. "They enliven your memory, so kids who play have to think, 'If I do this, then that might happen. I need to memorize what works best.'"

Parents can enrich the learning experience by talking about different strategies their kids can take. Or parents can offer a little side lesson on the game's history and, in the case of trivia games, on the topics the game raises.

Family game-playing also gives parents a low-pressure opportunity to assess strengths and limitations, and encourage different learning strategies for their kids -- a lesson that can pay off when the kids face academic challenges during the school year.

"It's all about helping your kids avoid getting discouraged when they don't succeed," Gladding said. "Game help children look at their strengths, how they feel about succeeding and how they deal with not doing so well in situations. They instill in us a respect for life and give us lessons about its ups and downs."

Gladding's family -- he and his wife have three sons -- like to play Monopoly, chess and trivia games, but the boys most enjoy the series of cook-offs they hold. Gladding's wife is a cook (he isn't), so she'll teach their sons a new dish and they'll have, for instance, an omelet-making competition.

Along with the lessons they teach you, games are a great way to bond with your family. "Games generate memories, and memories strengthen our lives, especially if those games are connected to one's family," Gladding said.