Parents and two children enjoy a board game in their living room

It is that time of year when many of us are buying gifts for our kids. And, while they may be asking for the latest electronic game, we should not forget the wealth of people-powered games that are out there that can promote language and literacy learning while having fun.

Those “old-fashioned” card, board, and other (e.g., charades, categories, starts with the sound, story building) games have an important place in my therapy sessions. Aside from being fun, games have a lot to offer relative to a child or teen’s development. Why? First, games are social. We developed language because we are social beings. Children are active learners and they learn through engaging in practical activities within their social environments (psychologist Lev Vygotsky). Through these interactions, children develop reasoning and higher cognitive functioning skills. Games can promote many skills, including turn-taking, attention, problem-solving, memory, flexible thinking, and negotiating.

To be successful in society, like it or not, we need to learn to follow rules. Games have rules. Playing games promotes many useful skills, including learning life’s lessons such as being a gracious winner or a good sport when you lose. Games also help to strengthen family ties and are a cost-effective means of family entertainment.

When choosing games for younger children, choose games that will help them become more self-confident and ambitious. Older children will like more cognitively-challenging games that challenge their literacy, language, math, and thinking skills.

Don’t be afraid to tweak a game to support your child’s learning. Decide what your focus is (e.g., vocabulary, expression, decoding, spelling, etc.) and adjust the game accordingly. When a game is too difficult to be played by the rules, adjust the rules. Just be sure that the rules are communicated to and understood by everyone. My dyslexic clients are always thinking up alternative ways to play an old favorite game!

Most importantly, the time you spend playing games should be enjoyable to all. This holiday season the game table will be set up at my home, and there will be a group around it much of the time – old and young, enjoying the competition and laughter. I hope you can create some ‘game time’ during the school break weeks, enjoy the company of family and friends, and have some old-fashioned fun! Happy New Year!

*This piece is an excerpt of a talk titled “Developing Language Skills in Children Using Daily Activities” that my colleague Dr. Lauren A. Katz and I gave to the Washtenaw Learning Disabilities Association in November 2015.