Oh, The Games Families Play

The Pereira-Santos Family

Fun interaction helps kids with cognitive, educational and social skills and strengthens the family bond.

by Julie Bookman

It’s early on a Saturday night and the mom is doing a final wipe-down of the kitchen counters while Dad dries the last of the pots and pans. “Hey everybody!” the mom calls out. “Time for Family Game Night!”
When parents choose to spend part of an afternoon or evening playing games with their kids, they are showing the kids that they put high value on family time and just being with their kids.
“Even in the midst of work demands, financial strain and household chores and responsibilities, the parents are showing that the family unit is still the top priority,” says Nadine Kaslow, a professor at Emory University whose specializes in family psychology.
Jennifer Joiner says that she and husband Randy wouldn’t have it any other way. “Playing games brings us together,” says Joiner, mom to Nathan, 14 and Grayson, 8. “We tried to make every Wednesday night our game night, but that has turned into a big homework night, so now we try to choose another night to play. Then we definitely play on weekends and sometimes invite friends or a neighbor family over to play.” From the “regular” Settlers of Catan and Catan Jr. to Monopoly, Uno, Ticket to Ride and the Monty Python version of Flux, the Joiners own “probably a hundred” games.
“If done well, playing together is good for bonding and connection,” Kaslow adds. “In families that have fun together, there’s a greater sense of satisfaction and of love and warmth. It’s even easier to do chores together –
and you can even turn that into a game.”       
“We all enjoy the nice, friendly competition, and we enjoy each other’s company,” Joiner says. “My older son is all about beating Mom and Dad. His angle is to win, and he even gets cutthroat about trying to beat us. It’s fun thinking of that sly little grin on his face when he thinks he has us beat.”
Just a few games that the Joiners, who live in Tucker, are enjoying these days: 7 Wonders (build your city and affirm your military supremacy in the ancient world); Zombie Dice (get as many little green brains as you can before you get three zombies!); Guillotine (compete with other executioners during the French Revolution for “heads” such as Marie Antoinette’s); and Ticket to Ride (a cross-country train adventure that can be played as a board game and also in a Xbox “live arcade version”).
Joiner grew up in a game-playing family, and her passion for games has rubbed off on husband Randy, who nowadays has his own “guys night out” to play hot-contest games such as Risk. Randy and the boys also have regular, ongoing game nights with other dads and their sons.
A sixth-grade social studies teacher at DeKalb County’s Kittredge Magnet School, Jennifer Joiner also uses games in her classroom such as the much-awarded Settlers of Catan, another strategy game where players collect resources to build things along their road to winning. “Through games, kids can learn teamwork and planning and thinking strategies,” she says. “Games help us with everything from math skills to cooperation.” Game-playing encourages positive social skills and also helps kids with everything from following directions to sharing, negotiating, patience, and taking responsibility for their choices and actions. In addition to blending entertainment with education, lots of games also enhance cognitive development; there are games that reinforce such concepts as problem-solving, sequencing, reasoning and perception, for example, while others help kids enhance their  vocabulary or history knowledge.
Joiner likes family game time for another reason: “I’ve found it to be a natural way to just get your kids talking to you,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s only about the game, but then something will come up and suddenly you’re in the middle of a life lesson. But it’s easier to communicate because you’re already in a relaxed setting with each other.”
Game time doesn’t have to mean “get out another board game,” notes Kaslow. “Peek-a-Boo is a game. Playing make-believe is a game. A family can make up a story together, do a drawing together, get creative. The point is to start having fun with your children early –
and play all the time.” Throwing snowballs at each other qualifies as game time, but when Atlanta gets any sort of real snowfall, better hurry and get out there before it melts.   
Like Joiner, Erin Grismore of Grant Park has kids who are in different age groups; her boys are 12, 6 and 4. “You can’t find a lot of activities that will keep everyone involved, happy and together,” says Grismore. “Games do that for us. We love them all!” Consequently, the Grismores play at least one sort of game every day – even if it’s just a 20- or 30-minute version of Apples to Apples (“the game of hilarious comparisons”).
Grismore always liked games but didn’t get to play them much as a kid. It was a “definite goal” of hers, she says, “to raise a game-playing family.” She loves the fact that playing card and board games “are about the only way to get everyone away from electronics. But also, I love that the kids are learning good sportsmanship. To have your 12-year-old lose a game to your 4-year-old and not get angry – that’s having a healthy attitude about competition.”
A family with kids of varying ages can usually figure out a way to create reasonably balanced teams to play board games, and may need to try a variety of games to find ones that best suit their style and interests. A certain level of competitiveness is normal and healthy, Kaslow says, but parents should still be careful not to let competition rule above all else. “Younger children learn from older children, but you don’t want to put them in a situation where the challenge is so great that they get frustrated.”
These days, Cranium Zooreka is the Grismores’ go-to game (besides Uno, Sorry Sliders, Apples to Apples and both the “Harry Potter” and Disney editions of Scene It!); the object of Zooreka is to collect things such as food, shelter and animal cards in order to build enough habitats – from Insectarium to Hippo Hideaway – to create your own zoo. “We’ve had that game for several years and still play it all the time,” Grismore says.
Roswell’s Denise Pereira-Santos says her family likes games “that make us move around and be silly with each other.” she says. She and husband Chris have an 8-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twin boys. “We’re busy,” she says. “We both work, and with our daughter’s ballet and little brothers taking up a lot of attention, it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind. Playing games forces us slow down, take a step back and just enjoy laughing and being together.”
One favorite game these days in the Pereira-Santos household is Scabs ‘N’ Guts, (the “meducational” game promising “yucky fun”), which is focused on anatomy; players get to choose which body part they will be and sometimes get to act out certain scenarios. Daughter Sophia “loves to ham it up,” says Denise, “and with this game, she gets to do stuff like show us she has bad gas by walking around with a stomach ache. We all just laugh and laugh.”
This mom has even been known to turn mishaps into fun-haps. “Even when the kids spill something or make a mess, it is what it is – no big deal,” she says. You can even turn the cleanup into a game “because do you really want your kids to see you angry and frustrated all the time over little things?
“I do think that as adults, we can sometimes forget to have fun,” Denise adds. “Playing games reminds us how to have fun. And having fun with your kids – well, you can’t get any better than that.”

Family Board Games

Thanks to the many Atlanta Parent readers who told us which games their families enjoy playing together. We’ve done a little research ourselves to add to their recommendations. The “Here to Stay” games are younger than the old standbys (or the “Tried and True”).

Tried & True:
Monopoly
Scrabble
Life
Parcheesi
Rummikub
Operation
Pick-up Sticks
Candyland
Chutes and Ladders
Clue
Battleship
Risk
Trouble
Sorry!

Here to Stay:
Apples to Apples
Cranium
Trivial Pursuit
Jenga
Connect 4
The Settlers of Catan
Scene It!
Blockus
Rush Hour
Scattergories

Catching On:
Quirkle
Beat the Parents
Hedbanz
Scabs ’N’ Guts
Where’s my Water?
Angry Birds: Knock on Wood
Spot It
Rory’s Story Cubes
Cranium Zooreka!
Ticket to Ride
I Spy Eagle Eye
Fibber

Early Games for Kids:
Hullabaloo
Sonny the Seal
Cootie
Memory
Hi Ho Cherry-O
Elefun
Busytown-Eye Found It!
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Zingo
Super Why ABC
Letter Game