Lately I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my child playing board games at such a young age. I hear a lot of people saying “my kid runs off with all the pieces” or “my child is too hyper to play” and “they get frustrated too easily”. Which are all valid concerns and completely normal for children when they’re starting out.
My child didn’t come out of the womb with a pair of D6 and comprehensive instruction booklet. Like any normal kid she pretty much tears through the house like a giant ferret on crack but if you take a little time and effort to cultivate the necessary skills; your kid can play any board game. So before you start the process, as a family you need to sit down and decided what age your child’s gaming experience will start. Ours started at 2 years old and I’m sure you’re asking me “why such a young age?”. Our goal wasn’t to make a gaming minion (well actually, it kind of was a requirement we needed to fill for all 3 player games) but it was the age she started to show interest in gaming and that’s the most important indicator on when to start. Now that you’ve decided if your child is interested in gaming, what’s next?
Step 1) Build Up Some Table Time
Recommended Starting Game: King of Tokyo, due to larger dice and simple game play.
The hardest thing you’ll have to do when playing games with your child is letting them walk away from the table. Right now it might seem counterproductive but it’s the absolute best thing you can do for them. When we started the kiddo out she would pick out her KoT character. Then we would set the dials together and roll to see who went first. At the time she could only sit there long enough for her turn to come up once and after that she’d run off and find something else to play. She was just happy to be involved in the family event. We would end up finishing the game on our own and put no pressure on her to stay at the table, sit still or pay close attention. All we asked was that all the pretty figures and pieces would be kept at the table.
After several months went by we started to notice that she would come back to the table before the game would end. We wouldn’t immediately let her take a turn but made her wait until her turn came around as normal and she would play another round because when she came back she was always refocused and interested in what was going on. Now I’m not going to lie to you guys, we had to play a LOT of KoT for the next 6 months. Which brings me to the next step.
Step 2) Pick Games You Like to Play
This might seem like a weird step and you might be wondering why we didn’t start her out on “little kids” games. The complete and honest answer to this is that I would have to murder myself if I had to play 20 mind numbing consecutive plays of Break the Ice! Guess what, my kid knows that too and would have less fun with a game I wasn’t really enjoying. That doesn’t mean we ruled out all kids games, as I still get stuck playing MEOW or that stupid ant building game but having genuine excitement over something helps gets your child more excited about it.
Step 3) Don’t be Afraid to Modify the Rules
After KoT the next big step was learning other games like Castellan and Qwirkle. Which we had to modify in order for her to play however each game was changed for a completely different reason. The first being those little hands. For Castellan we reduced the hand sizes and this helped my kiddo in two ways. It made things easier for her to hold and allowed her to focus on just a few choices so she wouldn’t get overwhelmed.
The next was playing with open hands. When playing Qwirkle in the early years we would play with open hands. This would allow my child to see a direct connection between shapes and colors before her own turn would come up. Sometimes she would set down one block or maybe a few but we weren’t concerned about how the game was being played, just that she was working with a small but standard set of rules. Keeping things relaxed but not overwhelming.
Step 4) Let them make their own choices
It doesn’t matter how random their choices might seem. Your child DOES have a plan to win! It might not be the same wining conditions as the game but it’s a giant win in their mind! Like in Agricola my kiddos only concern is collecting every single sheep there is or in Qwirkle her only concern is doing the Qwirkle chicken dance we made when she scores a full Qwirkle. You as a parent just need to relax and not worry about your child’s strategic positioning. All that will come with time and each time you play they’ll learn and test new ways to figure out that puzzle. After all kids are pretty dang smart and you don’t want to feed them answers. Instead you want to encourage their creative thinking.
Step 5) Always congratulate each person on their success
Let’s face it, there’s always a winner in a game and it’s probably not going to be your child for a long while. That’s OK! DO NOT let your child win a game just because they are trying. That’s not what winning the game is all about and everyone at the table should be learning how to exercise great sportsmanship. Also the goal might not be achievable now but your selling your child short if you continuously let them win because they won’t be learning how to win.
At the end of the game I take this time to highlight who did the best at certain things in the game. Who collected the most sheep or who made a really good move in the game. This will show your child that there is value in obtaining and doing other things and it will congratulate them on their own personal win. Then at the very end I say “But it looks like Mommy won because she had the most (Insert game wining item here)” This small gesture will make them feel great but show them they didn’t meet the criteria to win. Then you’ll start to see those gears turning as they realize what is needed to win. Leading them toward a more successful route in the future.
Over all the path is slow but it’s still fun to see your little one blossom into a free-thinker and problem solver. Just remember to keep things fun at the table and if your child is becoming frustrated make sure to have everyone take a step away from the table. Get a glass of water or a snack. Let them know they can do something else for a while and come back later. Sometimes releasing table pressure is all your kiddo needs.
If you’re looking for gaming suggestions for your younger child you can always try my Top 8 Board Games for Children with Gaming Parents article or Games my 5 Year Old Dominates.
As always if you have any questions or comments about your child learning new games please let me know in the comments below!