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May 5, 2010

Lost in Candyland

I loved board games as a kid, and as a parent I’d been looking forward to playing them with my kids. Typically, though, I forgot that most board games for young kids rely mostly on chance rather than skill.  This makes a lot of sense, of course—they have to walk before they can run, even in two dimensions—but game after game of Candyland or Chutes and Ladders can be mind-numbing for adults. So far, I’ve come up with two kinda-solutions:

1. Indulge and self-delude. My five-year-old loves these games, so let’s face it, it’s incumbent on me to hide my boredom during the 29th consecutive trip through the Peppermint Forest and just enjoy his enjoyment. I console myself with the thought that sometime amid those 29 games, Dash will lose. So he’s learning how to lose gracefully (no, I'm not that competitive!). This, I continue to myself as I flick the spinner somewhat harder than necessary, will help him be a good sport in more involved and complex games later on.

The other benefit is that Dash’s 20-month-old brother, Griffin, can play Candyland with us, too. Sure, I’m spinning for him and moving his gingerbread man for him, and he may have even left the room for good after the first turn, but it’s nice to disregard all that and think, Aww, the boys are playing together.

2. Stretch the boundaries. Dash wants to play every board game he sees. He’d become fascinated with an old Monopoly game we had in the basement, and so one day I decided to break it out and see what happened.

What happened was pretty predictable—the rules were way too complex. (Attempting to explain to a five-year-old what a mortgage is, let alone why it’s relevant in a board game, tends to expose the holes in one’s own knowledge in disturbing ways.) In short order, I was playing for both of us, mainly passing play money back and forth among three piles. Dash was interested only in moving around the board. He also found jail fascinating, but I’m hoping that’s merely a phase.

I soon realized that without the money and real estate, Monopoly is an awful lot like Candyland. Time to backtrack; Dash had also expressed interest in our backgammon set, so I got that out. This was better. While he wasn't ready for the game’s nuances, he was able to grasp the strategy involved—that you had choices of how to move your pieces, and that one choice might be wiser than others. He did win the first game we played (I admit nothing), and heavily coached or not, his delight was multiples greater than it is after a Candyland victory. He was beaming.

Of course, we’re won’t be ready to play “real” games of backgammon, or anything like it, for a while yet, though I’m sure my superiority is ripe for a fall soon enough. But until then, I get the fun of teaching my son something that delights him. I have a feeling I may miss that when the “real” games begin.

Anyone have any other strategies for making the combination of board games and young children more interesting and/or satisfying?

[Photo: Ptkfgs, via Wikimedia Commons]

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