Playing Games is Serious Business
It sounds strange, but from the perspective of a developmental psychologist, “playing games” is “serious business.” As young children figure out strategies and compete with their peers and parents, they acquire, exercise, and refine a wide variety of critical thinking skills and concepts in several areas of development. More importantly, the fun and excitement they experience inspires them to constantly improve and ultimately leads to optimal progress.
The trick is to make sure the games are well matched to the interests and abilities of young children while simultaneously providing them with a significant challenge. Unfortunately, most commercial games on the market are either so sophisticated, involving purely abstract thinking, as to cause enormous frustration; or so simple, involving just pure luck, as to represent nothing more than a few moments of passive entertainment.
There are, however, a number of commercial products and many free-form activities that are right on target. Preschoolers are just beginning to “use their heads” to deal with the world and are still more comfortable with games directed primarily toward their physical talents. Therefore, something like dominoes or “war” with a deck of cards or the activities featured in Romp n’ Roll classes will entice them to “think” about concepts like classification, numbers, and spatial relationships while allowing them to “strut their stuff” in terms of their sensory discrimination and motor skills. Also, preschoolers are highly “egocentric” and tend to analyze everything strictly from their own point of view. The ample pleasure they get from “beginner” games like “Candy Land” and “Chutes and Ladders” and the activities featured in Romp n’ Roll classes encourages them to patiently take turns and carefully look at things through the eyes of others without inappropriately taxing their growing abilities to do so.
But perhaps the most significant benefits are derived through parent participation. Restraint, tenacity, courtesy, cleverness, and determination do not evolve naturally. They are learned by imitating good role models, and they are learned most effectively by watching how the adults they admire and adore the most conduct themselves in challenging and competitive situations. And it is not only the children who learn. When mothers and fathers play games with their kids, either at home or at Romp n’ Roll, the “fun for all” interactions give them a superb peek inside the hearts and minds of their offspring. The more they learn about their children’s strengths, weaknesses, inclinations, and preferences through such activities, the better able they become to monitor and guide their children’s development with accuracy, competence, creativity, and compassion.