Playing… and Learning!

Some of the deepest and most inspirational lessons that we have learned were a result of observation, rather than lectures. It’s simple psychological math that actions always speak louder than words.

Weaving lessons into everyday life, especially fun activities like a game that your child chose to play with you, is a very effective means of education. Here are some ideas to turn an ordinary game into a springboard to impart timeless values for your children.

Integrity: The urge to win a game can become so powerful that we are moved to cheating. You can discuss the benefits of honesty and the detriments of cheating, while playing a board game with your kids.

Here are some winning points:

Winning: It is human nature to feel good when you win, but how did you make your opponent feel? Did you gloat in arrogance or handle the winning with modesty?

Taking advantage of the weak: While playing a game with your child, there are abundant opportunities to take advantage of other players who are younger, less experienced, or not as attentive to the rules. This is a good time to talk about fairness versus aggression.

Be happy with what you have: There is a fine line between striving to become better and being content with who you are and what you have now. Share insights with your children that oftentimes in retrospect the bad things were blessings in disguise.

The glass is half full: Whether you won or lost, you as the parent can use the game as an opportunity to complement your child on a smart move, or getting along with another player amicably. No matter how well or poorly the game was played; you can always find a way to praise an aspect of how your child played.

Here’s to your success!



  1. This is such a great reminder. I have several games my 4 year old and I could play in her closet, but they seldom get used. I will make it a point to get some out this next week!!

  2. Wow, what a powerful lesson to be learned from this short message. We could probably find hundreds of ideas that we could communicate with our children if we start with the notion:
    What do I want to teach my kids?
    How could what I just did affect others?
    what are some of the common traits we practice which are so natual but have to be taught to know them?
    These and others will broaden the relationship between parent and child, and/or between husband and wife, for the better.
    Thanks for pointing us in this direction, Ellen.

  3. Zack has several games in his room, but we rarley get them out and play them. This brings home the point that I need to do this more often.

  4. For Mother’s Day this year each of my children (Willow 9 and Fisher 6) made huge gameboards on cardboard for our family and the two sets of grandparents to play after brunch.

    Watching the kids explain their games, and teach us how to play them was a delightful insight into their personalities.

    Willow’s was highly decorative, organized and creatively worded. It was based on Monoply Jr. and was called Swirl.

    Fisher’s was long, complicated, with tons of rules and was like no other game I have seen in my life.

    We laughed and played their games for a couple of hours. It was an experience I will never forget!

  5. Trish Weeks says:

    Cindy, that is a delightful sharing moment with your children and thank you for sharing it with others. I can just see them. That is wonderful that they are so creative AND confident enough to think the adults were going to cooperate. That tells me a lot about your raising of them.
    I have grandson’s; twins, Kyle and Nickolas, ages 5 1/2 and their brother Joey, 3 1/2. I love to hear about all children, which is why I come on this site.

  6. Brenda Welch says:

    I constantly need to be reminded how important it is to play with my children. I focus on teaching and loving and discipline. I love this article. Every time I play with my kids they love it soooo much and so do I. I know that they learn alot during this interaction. It is so easy to not engage in play — but I appreciate the nudge and am going to do better. Thanks!

  7. Michelle Leggott says:

    I love the idea of kids making their own game, I think I’ll try that with my 5 year old. We’ve been playing board games more and I found that the hardest thing to get through to Elizabeth is that it’s not important who wins just as long as you try your best and have fun. I explain that the way the game works is that sometimes Mommy wins and sometimes she wins. It’s take awhile and she still sometimes has a hard time losing, but it’s coming. I love that something as simple as a board game can help teach your child that cheating is wrong.

  8. May I recommend the Family Pastimes cooperative games? Enough there that parents may really enjoy them, and though doesn’t provide the opportunities to discuss winner/loser idea, the group may or may not be successful. Lots of discussion opportunities. We especially like Growly in the Garden

  9. We played a family game tonight. When my son did not win he said, “It’s not about winning the game but having fun.” He is a terrible loser and I was so glad to see the light going off! He is beginning to mature and he is listeming.

  10. There was something I did when my daughter (a single child) was stil a baby, which was to remind her that the toys she used were for her to use but not “hers”, and that it is fun to share with others.
    I was very consistent on these.
    She’s 11 & 1/2 nowadays and she always conducts herself in a very amicable and happy manner, no matter who wins or looses (which keeps surprising me).
    I have also found through the years, that Jigsaw Puzzles proposed to be done in conjunction with Ur child can have a marvelous effect on their personalities while encouraging them to do the puzzles at their own paces yet being available to “help them” when they get tired or frustrated.
    All projects can do the same.

  11. JL Cauling says:

    We play yahtzee (his choice) with our 9 year old son. He loves having game time. He learned right away that if he’s going to be an obnoxious winner or a poor sport that we won’t play with him. After ending a few games prematurely, we all enjoy each others victories and are gracious in defeat.

    What a treat when at the Pinewood Derby – he was clearly sad to have lost, but was quick to high five and congratulate his friend who won.

  12. I agree that so many lessons can be learned by playing board games. I often place a board game, deck of cards, coloring books and crayons, etc. out on the table or floor just so they’re in site of others. Quite often one of us invites the others to play or be creative. It’s a great forum for conversations to take place as well.

  13. Playing board games together is such blessing for all of us. We grow as individuals and as a family. My husband and I often play more sophisticated board games in the evening when the kids are asleep. This is great for our relationship and our strong relationship is a boon for them. Still, there is nothing better than the growth my children have gone through, learning to follow rules, recognize patterns, colors, numbers, and strategies, as well as moving beyond the self-centered need to win and being able to be good winners and enjoy the game (most of the time)! And, its just fun!!! Really, when we play together in ways like this, we all win!!!!

  14. I agree with the games. Every Sunday we have family game day. We try to play a game with our 4 and 5 year old one night a week too. When we are done playing it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, we all shake hands and say “Good game.”

  15. Two comments:
    1. As an early childhood specialist I wanted to indicate play comes in many forms…not just standard, organized, “pre-made” games such as board games…just responding to your little ones babbling with smiles, return babbling, etc. is play; banging on pots and pans on the kitchen floor and singing nursery rhymes to the beat is play; tickling your toddlers feet with a blade of grass as you watch the wonders of outdoors is play; etc.
    2. Re. board games…my high schooler recently did a unit in one of his computer classes in which they were to design their own board game. As an introduction the teacher had each student take out a piece of paper, and in 2 minutes write down as many board games as they could think of. Most students got stuck after just 1 or 2 games (Monopoly was the primary one listed by all). The teacher had to make my son stop writing! My children received some type of game for every birthday, Christmas, and any other occasion I could work it in.
    Play = Learning…and Fun when any loved one participates 🙂

  16. My 5 year old and I play games and do puzzles quite often while my 2 year old naps. It is a great way to keep things quite for my napping one and great one on one time and quite time for my older child. We also color which is great pratice for the small motor skills (not to mention I enjoy coloring too)! : )

  17. I have found that my visual-spatial 7 yo learner is more willing to play math games (Sum Swamp, S’math, etc) than do worksheets. He seems to learn better, also. We have started playing many learning games – board or dice – as part of our homeschooling. We both have fun as he learns academic subjects as well as values and behaviors. It helps him develop better social skills in many ways. For a child with mild Asperger’s Syndrome this is important. He also loves and benefits from the fun one-on-one time, not that we don’t get that other ways, too.

  18. Great inspiration – again. Thankyou

  19. Lorry Vanden Dungen says:

    I am a Parent Educator with Parents as Teachers. I am hoping that you can help me out. I have a parent who is having trouble with this whole topic. Winning and Losing in games. Her son is 4 1/2 yrs old and is struggling with this. Do you have any thoughts I could share with her?