Preschoolers and Board Games: Getting Started

The kids are home for a long Thanksgiving weekend, so I thought it was the perfect time to talk about BOARD GAMES!!

We are a board gaming family. We go to board game conventions. We have board gaming marathons, and our board game collection has gotten a little out of hand.

If you are new to the genre, and are interested in instituting a family board game night, you might be wondering where to start.

Why start gaming with your kids?

What age is a good age to start board gaming? The answer might surprise you!

The entire board game business has become a really inclusive place. You can find games for kids as young as preschoolers, to games advanced enough for adults and teenagers to play together. When searching for games, the creators make it super easy by posting the recommended ages and number of players on the top of the box!

So, why should you start board gaming with your kids at a young age? The benefits are many and far reaching!

  • Practice basic mathematics (Counting the pips on a die, reading the numbers on a spinner, counting the spaces that their character moves on the board, adding up points)
  • Practice basic reading skills: Reading cards, reading directions.
  • Problem solving skills
  • Team-work and communication
  • Hand-eye coordination

… and the greatest benefit? Its a fun way to spend time together as a family!

How do I get my kids to sit and play with me?

This is a tough one, because all kids are so different. This means that the answer to this question might be different from one family to another.

So, when you want to start board game night with your kids, ask yourself: “What do they like?”

What kinds of things are your kids interested in? Dinosaurs? Dragons? Mermaids? Kitties? Unicorns? Trucks? I guarantee you, whatever your kids current obsession, you can find a board game that will pique their interest.

What kinds of things do they like to do? Are they the kind of kid who likes to build with legos? Play make believe? Run around on the playground? Whatever their preferred play style, you will be able to find a board game that scratches that itch.

If you start with a game that they can get excited about, getting them to sit and play it will be that much easier!

For example, my daughter is a big fan of cats. We have a dozen or so cat themed card games and board games from Cat Crimes to Sparkle Kitty. She is always excited to play them!

She is also a very active kid. Because of this, we are big fans of games that have a physical element to them. Haba games are really great for this. (They are the ones in the yellow boxes). We have Dragon’s Breath, where you have to pick up rings without dropping a pile of gems. In another one, Valley of the Vikings, you have to hit a ball to knock over barrels. These games are great for practicing body control as well!

Get Creative!

Watch your kid as you play. If you see interest waning, that’s the time to reel them back in!

  • Snacks! What is a good board game night without yummy snacks??? Call a time-out and go make something yummy to eat while you play!
  • Get active! If you see your little one wiggling in their chair, add your own physical element to the game. It could be as simple as “when you roll a 6 you do a happy dance” or banging on the table with your fists and chanting as loud as you can when you need the spinner to land on a certain spot.
  • Be silly! Make them laugh. Be overly dramatic when your character is sent back to start. Make up funny names for things. (In Carcassone, we call the tiles with the two city spots on them “double nubbins”. It cracks my kid up every time!) Remember, you’re supposed to be having fun!

Teach Gaming Ettiquette

Okay, this is one that everyone has different opinions on. I will share my thoughts on the subject, but you can tweak this to match your own family.

From the age of 2 or 3 when we started introducing board games, we learned quickly that we had to have some ground rules. The reason being is that it is easier to introduce these rules earlier than later, and it was necessary to preserve my sanity! When they are really little, the rules can be more broad. As they age, you can get more firm on other things.

For preschool age kids, its important that they know a couple of ground rules:

  1. When you start a game, you need to finish it. (No rage quitting!)
  2. No cheating.
  3. It’s okay to lose. The point is to play and have fun.
  4. Whether you win or lose, you end every game by saying “good game” and giving a handshake to the other players.

These simple rules will not only save you a lot of headache. It also teaches your kids sportsmanship, good manners, and the ability to lose gracefully. These skills will serve them well their entire lives.

Should we change the rules of the game?

This is a tricky one that many people I know personally disagree on. My daughter loves to try and change the rules of a game. For example, when we were playing Carcassonne, she wanted to work together to make one big city instead of working against each other.

Some people are in the “never change the rules” camp. They feel like letting kids change the rules of a game is a slippery slope that leads to spoiled kids that don’t think they should be required to follow directions.

Others don’t care about the rules at all. The “It’s just a game” crowd.

I find myself somewhere in the middle. This is something that I look at on a case by case basis. I don’t have anything against “house rules” for games to make them more manageable for younger kids to play. Or my daughter using her creativity to make a new game from an existing one. My criteria for rule changing include:

  • Will it completely break the game? Does the game stop being a board game and become just a game of “lets play with all the pieces”. Does it lose all structure? In that case, the change would not be acceptable.
  • The rule change must happen BEFORE the game starts. This prevents the “I’m currently losing, so now I’m going to change the rules so I can win.” trick. When this is attempted, we explain that this would be cheating.
  • The rule change has to apply to everyone. If it only applies to a single person, the game is no longer balanced and fair. Other kids will not be amused if my kid thinks the rules don’t apply to her!
  • Is this a game you have played before? If it is a brand new game, you should play it at least once with the rules as written. Only then will you be able to determine if a rule change would be appropriate.

In the case of Carcassonne, we did play a co-op game where we tried to make a giant city. It was actually pretty fun! We kept the rest of the rules, and continued to build other things separately, adding up our scores from those things.

The most important thing is that she had fun. Which means, she will want to play again.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

At the end of the day, you want your family board game nights to be a memory that your child takes with them and shapes them. You want it to be a memory that makes them smile. A time when they felt the most connected to you. A time when everyone joked and belly laughed til they cried. Something that they will treasure, and a tradition they will want to continue with their own kids someday.

What better time to start than now?? Christmas shopping season is upon us. And it looks like we are going to be spending a lot of time at home this winter (whether we like it or not!) So, add a couple of board games to their Christmas list. Start the tradition. You won’t regret it!

Published by diceymom

I'm here to share my favorite nerdy crafts, recipes, and decor... and even a few ideas to give your parenting and your gaming life a little touch of magic.

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