Board games are delicious!

Every good parent has some idea of the qualities they want to instill in their child so that they grow up to be a good person.  I spend a good portion of my time trying to find effective ways to transmit this Good-Person-Soup directly into my children’s bodies for maximum absorption.  My first son, Boden, is 4 and a half now. He is the first 4.5 year old I’ve ever had, so I’m figuring out how to raise him as I go.

Board games as a vehicle for life lessons?

The act of playing board games with your kids can be much more than a simple entertainment, even if your kids don’t realize it.  It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, the bubbles in the bathtub, the candy flavor in their toothpaste, the cookie dough in their belly… wait… that last one’s not — You had me at playing board games. 

Get out your Thinking Tongue. This is gonna take some work!

If you look deeply enough at any game, you can find several examples where it teaches anything you want it to.  You just have to look through the right set of lenses.  I’ve distilled my list down to what I consider the best bang for your buck.  If my children learn nothing else from playing board games with me, I want them to learn the things on this list.  This is just one of many recipes for Good-Person-Soup that I’ve cooked up for my kids.  As with any soup, season to taste.

1. Being a good person is super important.

  • How we play is as important as playing itself. How we treat one another is more important than any game.
  • Play fairly. Share. Take turns. Share the spotlight. Wait patiently. Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t gloat when you win. Don’t throw a fit when you lose. Practice empathy. Be respectful of your opponents. Help each other.
  • Be able to distinguish the player from the pawn. Learn how to shift in and out of play/pretend mode and to separate what happens in the game from what happens in real life.
  • Be thankful.  You’re playing with your friends and loved ones.  Take a step back for a second and realize how lucky you are that you get to do that when so many people in the world do not.

2. You can teach your brain anything.  Just add effort.

Boden’s first board game – Sequence for Kids
  • Practice makes perfect. You will not usually be good at something the first time you try it, but with practice, you will improve.
  • Sharpen your focus onto a single activity or goal. Practice that skill with repetition, determination, focus and enthusiasm. Rinse. Repeat.
  • Never stop learning.  Never stop growing.  Your ability to think, solve problems, deduce, calculate, optimize, plan, remember, pretend, recognize patterns, react, negotiate, bluff and strategize will serve you in all areas of your life.  Leveling up your own brain is one of the most incredibly satisfying things you can do for yourself.  Your brain is your most important tool.  Keep it sharp and well-oiled and use it regularly.

3. Improve your own situation.  Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.

  • It’s easy to pick between a good option and a great option.  Learn how to decide between bad and worse. Do the best with what you have, be okay with that, and have the willingness to persevere despite it.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again next round.
  • Learn from past experience (yours and your opponents’). Evolve. Improve.  Plan ahead and set yourself up for something better.
  • Pay attention. Listen. Observe. Speak up if you don’t understand something. Ask for help.
  • Have a thick skin and learn to adapt. Learn to deal with setbacks. Do the best you can.
  • Even when you figure out that you have zero chance of winning, finish the game with grace. Learn something from the experience and apply it to your next game.
  • Chance favors the prepared mind.  

4.  Play!  Have fun!

  • Games are sandboxes where you can explore and try on new personality traits, behaviors, and tactics.  Some games reward being ruthless and cutthroat.   Some games require active cooperation among all players.  Games come in all sorts of historical and fictional contexts and put players into all sorts of character roles.  Exercise your imagination. Role-play. Get lost in new stories and hear about all sorts of interesting ideas.  Always seek to broaden your perspective.
  • The closest I’ve found in my search for the meaning of life is this: Seek out and share moments of joy with other people.  Make the time to have fun and play.  
Everything is toys!

“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” 

I’m pretty new at being a father so I’m not suggesting I’ve got it all figured out, but it seems to me I could do far worse as a Dad than playing board games with my sons.