Raising Lexington: The Benefits of Board Games

A timeless family tradition has made its way back into the family room, but do board games make kids smarter?

I haven’t always liked board games, but now that I am older and wiser I know it is because my three older brothers always been the pants off me at most any game we played. My dad was about the only one who “let” me win from time to time.

Now that I have kids we have really gotten into the spirit of board games, I look for games that teach them something no matter how small. Recently, I discovered that with a little coaxing most any board game can be a learning experience for kids.

Very quickly I saw how board games helped both kids learn about taking turns. My youngest was about 3-years-old when we started playing after dinner each night, and he wanted to go first all of the time. We told him if he wanted to play we would rotate who goes first. Took a little while for him to realize we weren’t kidding, but soon enough he would be the one to remind us.

It was about this time that my older child was struggling with sportsmanship. In other words, she was a sore loser. Oh, how she hated to lose. Still isn’t much of a fan, but at least she has some grace when she does lose. Board games were a great foray into the unwritten social rules, be it of board games or games of any sort. When one of us would win we would fuss over them and cheer and dance about. We pretty much ignored any pouting going on and just focused on the person who won. Now, from anywhere in the house, I can always tell when a game is over because I hear loud cheering and laughing all around.

Another big board game appeal in our house was teaching impulse control, especially for my son. He loves to play, but sitting still wasn’t his thing. He would climb on dad, hop around on all fours and roll around the room like a little puppy dog. It was distracting and, frankly, annoying. A new rule soon followed: While we don’t expect you (especially our son, a boy, after all) to sit still as a statue, we do expect you to stay reasonably calm ... unless you win! It was only after my son’s parent-teacher conference that I realized this little rule helped him at circle time, when sitting still for a longer than usually time was expected.

But I think my board game “ah-ha” moment came when we started playing games like Connect Four and Chess. We hadn’t focused much on the strategy behind winning games in the past, but as the kids got older and they started wondering how mom and dad won so often, we clued them in on it. I took the lead and asked dad, “How’d ya do that?” and he would explain his move to me. Or I would inquire, “Why did you put your pawn there?” and watch as the kids lapped up the information on how to win. Soon we had the kids explaining their moves and it wasn’t soon after that we didn’t have to “let” them win at all.

So play board games for the sheer fun of it all, but also, every once in a while, challenge your kids with questions about why they made a particular move, how they hope to win and if they think they can play better next time. I am secure enough with myself to move past the days of “letting” my first-grader win and advance to hoping she does win -- and be in awe of how she did it!


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