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What's In a Game?

By Claire S. Green

If you thought playing games was only about gathering the most objects and declaring yourself the winner, think again. Whether taking a walk through Candyland or solving a word puzzle on a restaurant menu, your child is developing, in different stages and degrees, hand/eye coordination, vocabulary, discipline - and that’s just for starters.

Ruth B. Roufberg, longtime senior Toy Editor for Parents’ Choice, champions game playing. “Playing games helps children learn to follow rules, take turns, accept wins and losses, and fit in with any group of children who know the same game. Social skills like these help children become happier in school and more eager and ready to learn.”

Think about some of the popular board games you played as a child. Roufberg says: “Countless children have learned subtraction by making Monopoly change, improved their spelling with Scrabble, and sharpened their deductive reasoning skills with Clue.”

Mrs. Roufberg, whom I’m honored to call a friend and a mentor, recounts that some of her early learning began while watching her mother play Solitaire. As her mother placed a red 6 of diamonds on a black 7 of clubs, she learned to identify colors and shapes. Through the progression of the game she learned forward and backward counting sequences. Today, in addition to her other successes, she is a member of Mensa and The National Puzzlers League.

You need not be preoccupied that each game your child plays must teach a specific skill set. Playing games can help develop a child’s ability to think strategically, to see patterns, to focus and to appreciate the value of patience. By playing games and solving puzzles kids learn how much fun it is to exercise their brains.

By playing games and solving puzzles kids learn how much fun it is to exercise their brains.Puzzle Guru Helene Hovanec, author and designer of innumerable children’s puzzles, describes what kids learn from different kinds of puzzles: “When doing a maze the child learns that there is a start and a finish to the path; when finding out the 5 differences between two seemingly identical pictures they can learn visual discrimination. When solving a crossword they can learn vocabulary; when solving a word find puzzle they can learn how to spell words; when solving a code they can learn to find answers to perplexing questions.” Hovanec’s website, offers a tremendous variety of ideas.

Today’s kids are barraged with an extraordinary amount of information at a very rapid pace. Thriving in this world of information overload requires developing the ability to take vast bits of information and use it in a focused manner. Think Fun’s president Bill Ritchie believes, “Playing mind-challenging games develops focus and absorption – essential ingredients for creative insight. The key is to choose games that are fun. If children find the game enjoyable, they will be naturally drawn to it.”

At what age should you introduce games and puzzles to your children? Peek-a-boo is one of the earliest games parents play with a baby. Briarpatch Games’ Martine Redman says that one-on-one is the best way to play a game with a young child. Game time with Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandpa is precious and will be remembered fondly. We know that children learn best when they’re ready. Don’t force a young child to tackle a game that’s simply out of reach for her stage of development; games should be age appropriate. “Many children, Redman advises, can enjoy a simple matching game at around 18 months. At 2 or so the child may enjoy a very simple path game. At 3 or 4 years, kids love all sorts of memory and matching games, Go Fish card games for example. At around age 5 kids will initiate board game play and invite their parents to take part.”

For Ages 2-6 years
Cranium CaribooTschu-Tschu (TC Timber/Habermaass, $34.95, ages 2-5)
Cranium Cariboo (Cranium, $16.95, ages 3-6 )
Picture Link 4+ (Think Fun, $15.00, Ages 4 and up)
I Spy Memory Games (Briarpatch, $19.99, ages 4-9)
Race to the Roof/ Le premier au grenier (Ravensburger, $19.99, ages 5 and up)

As the child’s abilities grow, so should the game’s challenges. For an eight year old, solving the same levels of difficulty offered at age six is not challenging or stimulating. It’s boring, it’s not fun. As Think Fun’s Bill Ritchie says, “The level of the activity needs to become more challenging as the child's abilities develop. Kids learn to enjoy working a little harder to solve a challenge; they actually start seeking puzzles that will at first stump them. Through mind challenging games, children learn the greater the challenge, the greater the reward.”

Three StonesFor Ages 7 and Up
Cranium Cadoo (Cranium, $19.95, ages 7-11)
Dino Dodg'em (Think Fun, $9.99, ages 8 and up)
River Crossing (Think Fun, $14.99, ages 8 and up)
Three Stones (Enginuity, $29.95, ages 8 and up)

However, as Ruth B. Roufberg reminds us, “Losing should not be considered a defeat, but a stage in testing and evaluating tactics. Indeed, a player who doesn’t lose about half the time may be playing against too weak an opponent and may be missing opportunities to reach even higher levels of challenge and strategic thinking.”

It is important to note that playing mind-challenging games and solving puzzles shouldn’t be treated as homework. Puzzle solving should be fun, not a chore. It’s OK to put the puzzle down and return to it later. Their next experience, Ritchie confirms, “could result in that break-through “A-Ha!” moment.” It’s what we say the moment we’ve discovered something new. And life is all about those magic moments.

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Family Games for Family Fun
If you're looking for family fun, playing a game is a fine start. Our selections offer games of memory, matching, strategy, scavenging -- and old fashioned giggling.

From jigsaws to mazes to mind benders, we offer puzzles that promise to entertain, educate, and stimulate curious minds of all ages.


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