August 7, 2020 — By Wendy Sachs

Playing games comes naturally to children. They are happy to play group games, board games, simple games or more strategic and complex games as they grow. They make up games with complicated rules and structures and also at times will fall back to the simple fun of hide and seek. Games are more than just fun; games are learning work for children of all ages.  

Interactive games require children to work with their hands or bodies to achieve a goal. This is important work for the toddler set and their developing motor skills. Stacking, kicking a ball, catching a ball, running: all of these movements build muscle strength and help connect minds to body movements. Simple movements provide a base for building more complex movements such as playing on a team, sitting and focusing at school, and perfecting balance.

Games build memory retention. To play even a simple game, you must remember the rules. You must focus on steps and think about what has just happened and what must happen next. Games have built in incentives to keep kids interested and help them to stretch their ability to focus and recall past information.

Games are social. While some games can be played solo, most games involve people. Sometimes they involve negotiating rules or procedures. Playing together means figuring out what teamwork is like and practicing working together for a common goal. When games are more individual or competitive, children must process what it is to win or lose. At the basic level, any game is going to involve practicing communication skills like asking questions, following and giving directions, potentially reading and using new vocabulary.

As kids grow games involve more strategy and mathematical skills as children learn to use dice, keep score, and develop a plan. There are many games that involve deductive reasoning skills and general recall of knowledge such as trivia. Games with puzzle aspects can help children practice their problem solving skills and ability to be tenacious in the search for an answer.

But even babies who play simple games like “peek a boo” or “Where is the….” type games are building executive function skills from the start. These simple games teach kids the simple pattern of back and forth communication with other people. They build trust relationships with their caregivers and they help with social and emotional skills as babies watch their adults they play with and notice the smiles and surprise on your face. Babies play games that establish rhythm, math and social skills.

Most of all games allow children and adults to interact together. At any age, building and maintaining relationships with our kids is a key factor to their success. Regular game play becomes a place for us to connect and communicate. We all benefit from that.