Q: Our kids have been asking us to start playing board games together. We used to do this all the time as kids and it was really fun and didn't cost much money. We would all get together and play, eat and laugh. But our four kids are ages 5 to 12. Will their different ages matter? And will they learn as much from playing games with us as they would from playing video games? Maybe we should get some new ones for Christmas. -- H. and B.
A: Games to play as a family are one of the very best of things to give or get for Christmas, and children will learn way more important things from playing real-time games with you than they will from video games.
It's something like the difference between cuddling a toddler on your lap and telling them the story of "The Three Bears" in your own special style before bed, or putting them to bed with a CD recording of the story.
When you interact, your kids learn about who you really are as a person and they learn you can have fun with them and that you love them. CDs can't do that.
Plus, research proves that children learn more from hands-on experience with people-to-people games than from computer or video games.
Taking time to play family games is a very economical pastime; it will also create or restore a family tradition. You'll all have fun and it will help your kids learn life skills as well as educational skills.
Most games focus on particular educational skills like math, spelling, vocabulary, logical thought, memory, record keeping, money management, and even spatial relationships and balance.
But when children play games they are also learning many other things that parents want them to know. Family games teach children patience and perseverance as they learn to wait their turns, wait for a particular card, or come back from a loss. They learn to finish the game, sticking it out to the end, whether they win or lose. And they learn to win or lose graciously.
They learn to cooperate, be honest, play fair, evaluate situations, use critical thinking and strategy. They also learn to make choices for which they must accept the consequences. Accepting the consequences of your choices -- being responsible for them -- is a vitally important life skill.
Best of all, no one has to work at "teaching" all this. It happens naturally while you are having fun together.
Your children's age range won't be a problem. You can always modify a game to suit your family. Set a time limit instead of points to end a game, or use only larger denominations of play money.
Let a younger child have a mentor/partner to help as needed with reading, counting and record keeping, and rotate the partner among family members when you start a new game.
Playing games together gives children "roots" and a feeling of connectedness with the family; it helps them get to know each other as people. It nurtures communication and family bonds that will last a lifetime.
Try it, you'll all love it.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.