Thursday, October 24, 2019

Book Nook: The Board Game Family

Young people are growing up in increasingly digital environments and, as a result, some are now left with impaired social skills, sleep deprivation and, in more serious cases, technology addiction.

Most parents recognize the problem but feel powerless in the face of the relentless march of technology. Just imposing restrictions doesn’t sort out the problem by itself. When we take something away, we need to fill the void with something else. We need to develop families’ offline world to keep pace with their online world.

I had a chance to review The Board Game Family. In this book, teacher Ellie Dix makes a case for the benefits of board games - interpersonal skills, confidence, memory, decision-making, and more. She shares tips and strategies parents can use to incorporate board games into regular use within the family. Not only will this build skills, but it can help create a stronger family.

I had a chance to interview her to learn more.

Why I wrote the book:
  • I feel really strongly about the benefits of playing board games together as a family. There are lots of families that don't play board games regularly and I know they are missing out on brilliant family experiences. The benefits of playing board games are far-reaching: develops social skills (compromise, communication, negotiation, risk-taking, team-working etc), develops learning skills (memory formation, cognitive skills, critical thinking, spacial reasoning, problem-solving etc), helps us learn from failure, allows children to be equal to parents, lets parents model tackling new situations, sparks conversation, improves family relationships and has physical and mental health benefits.
  • Many people have a misconception about what board games are like - based on their knowledge and understanding of mainstream games (Monopoly, Clue, Risk). There is so much more available now. There is a huge variety to choose from. I wanted to give people a bit more of an insight into the world of board games.
  • The use of screens and reliance on devices causes problems in many households. Parents want to restrict screen time and phone use, but often don't really know how. I feel strongly that if parents concentrate on providing great offline options, then there will be fewer arguments about time online. We need to make the offline world irresistible so it rivals the online one. Board games are a great way to draw kids into an unplugged activity. Board gaming is really inclusive - people with physical limitations can still play on the same level as everyone else. Each game is a complete experience on its own - quick to set up and pack away.
  • I think that my experience of teaching, behaviour, playing games, game design and gamification puts me in an ideal position to help other parents to introduce board gaming to family life. 
  • There's more about each of these points in the introduction to the book.
Why is it so important for families to share non-screen entertainment time?
  • Screen-based activities have sound effects and music built in. The sounds fills the space and people talk less. In non-screen based activities you can stop and chat whenever you want.
  • When screens are on, people look at the screen, not at each other. This is huge.
  • Screens dictate the pace and structure of the activity. 
  • On the screen you are interacting with virtual people, not real ones. Even if you're playing with someone else, you might forget that person is sitting next to you.
  • Children are at risk of thinking that the only way to relax or be entertained is through screen-based activities, which is a massive shame and a detriment to their development. They need practice of other activities so that they are able to draw on these experiences as they grow. We need to help our children to become well-rounded and multi-faceted.
  • Non-screen entertainment boosts social skills more than screen-based activities.

How can parents encourage a new family activity to kids who may be resistant?
    • Learn to love it yourself. Your enthusiasm will be infectious and rub off on your children. With board games - Play with other adults. Immerse yourself in it. Find games you like yourself. Go to a board game cafe with some friends. Watch videos… buy games second hand… Listen to podcasts in the car. Set yourself up to be discovered when you play.
    • Employ stealth tactics. Get yourself started in the activity and set yourself up to be discovered. Make sure it looks appealing. With board games - set up a game on the kitchen table when there is lots of traffic through the house. Don't make a big thing about asking the kids to join you, make sure you focus on the game. They'll be intrigued. Dish out cards with dinner. Take them by surprise. They don’t necessarily know what they’re missing. Don’t always give them time to think. Interrupt the digitally obsessed teen. Have games available at moments that you can distract them - in the car, on the bus, while waiting for the microwave.
    • Make the activity important in the house. With board games - Give games space - clear shelves, put things on display, put games on a coffee table. Make sure they are not out of sight. Give games time - regular game nights, planned. Invite special people to join you - make it a destination that others want to come and do with you. Create rituals - preparation music, special snacks, mascot, game chest.
    • For games... Invest in some great games that look good on the table. There is no need to play terrible games! Nobody enjoys games where there is a runaway leader. Nobody wants to play games that are too hard or too easy. Loads of great games are available, make sure you have a few.

    A teacher and educationalist, and former co-owner and director of Pivotal Education, Ellie Dix has been obsessed with board games from an early age. Ellie firmly believes that board games have positively influenced her ability to solve problems, manage failure and experiment with multiple paths to success – and she now puts her teaching skills, understanding of behaviour and experience with gamification to use by helping parents to introduce board games
    to family life.

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