Got Game? Technology Is A Lifestyle For Today’s Kids, But Don’t Forget About Old-Fashioned Play

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Gabrielle, age 4, zaps her way through the alphabet whenever she finds the chair in front of the family computer empty. She loves the colorful graphics, fast pace, and excitement of computer games, and they make an ideal virtual babysitter when her mom, a school teacher, is busy.

But here’s the catch: These activities are solitary. Experts say 4-year-olds like Gabrielle should be honing cooperative play skills, an important component of school readiness. In fact, kindergarten teachers feel socialization skills (playing well together, sharing, sitting still, etc.) are even more important than academic skills (counting, alphabet and word recognition, etc.) because kids who have social skills learn faster and aren’t likely to impede anyone else’s learning with behavioral disruptions.

But the current overload of technology seems to be upstaging cooperative play venues like board games, leaving them to gather dust on store shelves. According to the Toy Industry Association, while sales of youth electronics grew 32 percent between 2012 and 2013, there was no growth in the sales of dolls and building sets, only a 1 percent increase in the sales of outdoor sports and toys, and just a 2 percent increase in the sales of action figures and role-play toys.

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore two fun, hands-on exhibits focused on toys! Bring the family investigate Toytopia! at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. Also plan for an adventuresome visit to Science Works Hands on Museum in Ashland, Oregon, where you can delve into Toy Science. Find out more in the Exhibits section of our Going Places events calendar. Photos by Tracey Hedge, Firefly Mobile Studios, firefly2u.com.

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore two fun, hands-on exhibits focused on toys! Bring the family investigate Toytopia! at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. Also plan for an adventuresome visit to Science Works Hands on Museum in Ashland, Oregon, where you can delve into Toy Science. Find out more in the Exhibits section of our Going Places events calendar. Photos by Tracey Hedge, Firefly Mobile Studios, firefly2u.com.

Dara Chadwick, mother of two young children, acknowledges that time constraints entice her to allow her 6- and 8-year-olds to play computer games. “Electronic games are easy; they require no effort on my part. Helping my kids find ways to entertain themselves or playing with them requires sometimes enormous effort on my part,” says Chadwick. Whatever good intentions parents have, most can readily identify with those feelings.

While computers seem to be taking over indoor playtime, parenting experts such as Meri Wallace, MSW, CSW, who founded and directs the Heights Center for Adult and Child Development in New York, emphasize benefits to be gained from playing slower-paced, socially-oriented games. “Children learn to play fair, follow simple rules, and lose or win gracefully with traditional forms of entertainment,” Wallace says. These basic skills are important for parents (and grandparents – who account for 20 percent of sales in the $2 billion toy industry) to keep in mind as the gift-giving season nears.

While young children like Gabrielle may learn their ABC’s from computer games or television, they also need interaction with others during play for well-rounded development. Substituting cooperative games (board, card, and parlor) for solitary activities can help preschool and early elementary children stay on track with development of age-appropriate skills.

Here’s a bonus: Unlike solitary electronic games, cooperative games encourage family bonding. “I know from experience that the lure of my sitting down with my children and engaging them on such a warm and personal level is all it takes to get them interested,” says Evelyn Leong, mother of two children, ages 5 and 8.

Jane Boursaw echoes that sentiment. Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, Rush Hour, Trouble, and puzzles are favorites of her children, aged 9 and 6, when enjoyed with mom. “Just spending time together doing something fun is wonderful,” says Boursaw, who has resisted the lure of computer games for her children.

Although Chadwick believes playing computer games has helped her children improve fine motor skills, she recognizes the inherent problems with solitary play if kids engage in computer games too long: “Cooperation, socialization, and plain old conversation take a hit,” she says.

Cooperative games provide many benefits:

  • The ability to play cooperatively can affect future socialization skills like acquiring a sense of fair play, developing patience, and taking turns. These traits of good sportsmanship are important values that Chadwick tries to impart to her children when they play games like Old Maid, Monopoly, and Hungry Hungry Hippos.    
  • Emotional development, such as learning to follow rules and dealing with frustration, is enhanced. Because Boursaw’s son may try to finagle a win and her daughter is inclined to cry if she doesn’t win, game-playing offers opportunities for her to instill characteristics of being a good loser or a gracious winner.
  • Basic language, math, and memory skills are improved by playing board or card games. Naming colors, matching pictures and objects, counting, and classifying are commonly required skills in early learning board or card games – and a 4-year-old should be able to remember and execute a three-step direction.
  • Playing board games can positively affect a child’s ability to concentrate, reason, and think critically or creatively. As a social game, Charades is a good example of play that requires creative thinking and reasoning. Card games like Concentration boost mental strategies.       
  • Higher order thinking skills, such as using symbolic images, expanding memory, and understanding consequences, may be required.
  • Social interaction while playing cooperative games encourages bonding with family and friends. Children can enlarge their circle of friends through cooperative play, and games create excellent memories of “family time.”
  • Interaction also encourages conversation and the opportunity to expand vocabulary, both vocal and unspoken. Learning to use and read facial expressions and gestures from others is another step in improving communication skills.
  • Through parents’ modeling, children can learn to use words of encouragement – “good try,” “maybe next time” – with themselves and others. And you can encourage good manners by saying “please, “thank you” or “I’m sorry,” if someone plays out of turn.
  • Physical learners can incorporate movements into the game. For example, a player could jump up or do a silly dance when giving a correct answer or making it to the finish line.   

If your preschool and early elementary children are staring at video screens for long periods of time – whether they’re learning phonics with Curious George or battling warriors from other planets – you’re probably not hearing the happy laughter that filled the room the last time you rolled dice or shuffled cards with them.

Even more, you don’t want to miss opportunities to foster creativity and to ask open-ended questions. Think about the classic games of your own childhood and the advantages they offer children today that technology – despite all its genius – simply can’t provide.  

Beverly Burmeier
About Beverly Burmeier

Beverly Burmeier thinks playing games with her grandchildren is way more fun than watching them bury their noses in electronics. Plus it reminds her of time spent playing games with their parents when they were growing up.

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