Summer Fun and Games

While this summer break from school is a long time, it doesn’t have to be a brain drain. Sure the pencils and books have been put away in favour of playthings, but as any parent knows learning happens all the time. And what better way to keep the youngsters’ neurons firing than to round them up for some fun and games?

Bingo! That’s where the brain work takes off. Board games are great learning tools. When you sit down together and crack open the box, recognize that your youngsters will be doing plenty of thinking by way of playing.  As director of Wee Watch, Gayle O’Connor knows the benefits of games for all ages.  “They encourage sharing and taking turns and they also work on school readiness skills,” she notes.

“Children are excited to see a board game come out; everyone is involved in the process from setting up and playing to putting it away. And the best thing is, they don’t need batteries.”

Information processing, problem-solving, number sense, reading, fine motor and visual-spatial skills all get a workout. While playing, kids also have to pay attention, focus and follow rules. (Those are social skills, people!) The older they get, the more intellectually and socially challenging the games can be.
As the mother of four, Eira Macdonell points out many other advantages.  “The interaction, when your kids are playing board games, takes them away from interacting with a computer screen,” she points out. “It’s such an old-school social activity that encourages youngsters—and people of all ages—to make eye contact, to speak in full sentences with no abbreviations” and to hone numerous life skills.  LOL, brb and OMG have no part in these interactions. (Eira knows this is a bonus; she has teens.)

And, as general manager of Mrs. Tiggy Winkles, the popular Ottawa chain of neighborhood and online toy stores, Eira also knows more than a thing or two about all the options for playtime over the summer. “There are so many choices for board games,” she enthuses, adding the game-board world has evolved into a vast realm of multiple choices.  There are games that involve teamwork, ones that require cooperative partnerships, ones that target specific skills and subject areas, and ones that involve role playing.  What’s more, she adds, there are many modern games that are designed such that every single time somebody has their turn everybody else has to pay attention in order to advance in the game.

Not only does that sort of setup help stretch their attention spans, it also encourages youngsters to predict the outcome of different moves, to recognize patterns, to learn from mistakes and to plan ahead. It’s all good. 

The more they play and the more confidence they develop, the more kids start to strategize and think creatively.

Ottawa brothers Ben and Mitch Kellar played board games and card games each and every summer as they were growing up. From Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders on the patio and Go Fish on a blanket under a tree, the progressed through many of the traditional games. Trouble, Operation, Pay Day and Connect Four were followed by Cranium, Clue and Checkers. Then there were Scrabble, Monopoly and Small World.  Some Backgammon and Crazy Eights were always thrown into the mix and the Risk game took on a life of its own when they used it as a template to create variations of the rules. Year after year, at cottages, on family trips and on visits to their cousins’ house, the games were on. They played on docks and decks and picnic tables, on hotel room beds and in the games rooms of resorts. At home they played on the front step, on the driveway, on the back porch and on the grass in the shade. On rainy summer days and in the heat of summer afternoons when the temperature hovered over 30 C, they pulled out a deck of cards or a rectangular box. There were countless games with their parents, each other and friends in the neighbourhood.  There were also plenty of negotiations, arguments and lively discussions; very occasionally, in the early days, someone left (often for a brief time) in a huff.

All the while, through fun and games, thinking skills and learning capabilities progressed. Now Ben competes in chess tournaments, but they’ll both still play Crazy Eights occasionally—family-style, with their own creative adaptations. 

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