Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Play Games?

HOW MANY OF YOU have memories of playing games when you were younger?

Tag? Kick The Can, Four-Square? Monopoly? Candy Land? Hide And Seek?

How do you feel when you think about playing those games? Do you remember the people you played with? Do those memo¬ries bring smiles or tears? Do you have that same intensity of emotion and recall about the books or homework you did in say 3rd Grade?

Today I want to briefly address why playing GAMES is important, whether they be physical games, board games or unstructured and even role-playing games.

An incredible amount happens at the same time when children are playing. They learn to reason, negotiate and problem solve. They develop large and small motor skills. They broaden their language skills and vocabulary. They learn to take risks and develop confidence and competence.

Do you think children today have shorter attention spans than in the past? Can you agree that this is NOT a good thing in a learning environment? Do you feel it is our mission to find toys that lengthen the attention span, not cater to its brevity? Children who are over exposed to electronically-activated toys, television, video and computer games, and dolls that wet themselves probably will have shorter attention spans and less imagination than children whose time with these activities is limited.

Increased attention span is one important benefit of playing games so what are other reasons to invest time in playing games? By playing games, children can learn to: take turns, pay attention to others, be considerate, follow the rules, predict outcomes, determine consequences, think critically, get along socially with others and use their imaginations. Do you think these skills would be useful to them for success in the classroom? How about in their personal and professional relationships?

Social Skills are one of the 4 CRITICAL AREAS OF LEARNING: People skills are probably the most highly sought skill today and are essential to satisfying adult relationships. Give your children a more successful present AND future by providing playthings and play experiences that encourage INTERACTION, CONVERSATION & NEGOTIATION. Board games are excellent in all 3 of these areas.

What is the #1 reason most people are fired from their jobs? It’s their inability to get along with others. Sometimes this is referred to as not being a “good fit” for the job.

What are the old sayings, “ A family that plays together, stays together.” “You don’t grow too old to play, you grow old because you stop playing.” I could go on but I think you know that these aphorisms have been around for a very long time.

Children love playing games. They love it even more when it means spending time with you. Playing games promotes personal interaction and helps create opportunities for open communication. While you play together, your child may start conversations they may not have felt comfortable with otherwise, and you might do the same. Plus, turn-based games introduce and encourage social skills and help children (and adults) learn to win and lose gracefully.

Game playing is not passive like watching TV. A regular game night gives your family a positive structure and an opportunity for connection and communication. Good communication during a child’s early years builds confidence, accelerates learning, and promotes a positive influence that extends through adolescence and beyond.

Use games, competitive or otherwise, in your family to help your children release tension in a safe, acceptable way. Play games together that allow opportunities for expressions of antagonism in a safe context. Play cooperative family games together. Almost any game can be played so that the goal is a collaborative one, be it a board game or a physical outdoor game.

Part of the mission of Discovery Toys is to help parents raise children as peacemakers. I also believe that our company chooses and designs toys that are non-violent, and intentionally create a cooperative game version for most of our games that encourage children to work for a common goal. In this very complex, rapidly changing world, the development of positive social behavior – the ability to deal with others effectively – may be the most important task for parents and for others who care for children. Part of the social competence we want for our children is that of sensitivity, personal concern and empathy for others in a world that in many ways, encourages the impersonal. A child’s ability to be a peacemaker include that sensitivity, that desire to understand and care about another person’s point-of-view, as well as the ability to deal creatively with conflict, make and keep friends and work cooperatively with others.

Games can also be used to teach math, reading, history, science, social studies, geography and almost any other subject you would like…but most of all, GAMES ARE FUN!! This brings us to the next three critical areas of learning—Mentally, Physically and Creatively.

Discovery Toys' skill labels help us understand how our products help develop children Mentally. Thinking, learning, knowing, recognizing, organizing, remembering, problem-solving, drawing references and the list goes on and on. The higher-level thinking a person can do will dramatically affect how many doors will open for him throughout life.

Games and activities with items to sort, classify, compare, contrast and match further children’s learning of simple math concepts and ready them to begin recognizing written numerals and letters. Game play, with turn-taking and use of simple logic skills (such as dominoes) are valuable for recognizing same and different characteristics. Board games and card games also become attractive as children become more comfortable with decision-making and the use of rules.

Games are a great way to learn and practice skills. A well-designed game introduces learning in an exciting, interactive way and is fun for both the child AND the parent. A well-designed game also provides several ways to play including a simple way to get started and alternative options to increase the challenge and fun.

PHYSICALLY: Physical activity is a healthy way that the family can spend time together. Hard exercise lowers kids’ bad cholesterol. Even moderately intense exercise in childhood may reduce the risk of developing heart disease in adulthood. With a firmer grasp on reality, play will no longer be an attempt to create the world in order to understand and learn about it as it does for the preschooler, but rather will take on more of the aspect of recreation and relaxation – as it does for adults.

The 4th CRITICAL AREA OF LEARNING is Creatively: This is not just about being artistic. Expressing one’s originality & imagination are major parts of it but it also includes the ability to problem solve. As our world gets more and more complex, this skill becomes even more important to encourage and develop in our children.

What kids really need is balance in their lives and that includes RELAXED DOWNTIME. It really helps them (and us) unplug from stress and allows them to imagine and dream those “what ifs”. If you can’t dream, you can’t be an effective leader. Anyone can handle the nuts and bolts of running a business. But you’ve got to be able to imagine a better future or way of doing something to find joy and success in what you do.

All these skills however pale in comparison to the real benefit of playing games so let me be very clear about this next statement which is: THE MENTAL HEALTH of our children is related to their ability to play.

So I encourage you to play games with your children – whether they are outdoor-indoor-board games-unstructured play – whatever!

by: Teri Potter, EL (Experienced Mom), from: DT Consultant Connection, Nov. 2009

Cara Retz
Educational Leader, Discovery Toys

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