Playing Board Games with Children

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Playing board games with children is good fun and educational.  You don’t need to overthink it, jump right in and play!

Yet, if you want some tips for a better experience, keep reading.

It Must Be Fun

There are so many activities that you can do with children.  From watching films together to going on a bike ride. So you need to choose activities that are fun for them, and ideally, for you.

If the board game is too difficult, or they’re just not enjoying it–why bother?  Choose something more interesting.

On the other hand if you find a particular board game dull, then perhaps try to play that one less with them.

Play at a Table

Well this one will depend on your own age and flexibility.  Young children are happy to sit on the floor and play.

Most adults will find sitting on the floor for a long time uncomfortable.

Of course it’s harder to move the board, and keep the pieces in place, mid-game.

A building board game at the table

I recommend playing at the table if you can.  It doesn’t make a big difference to children but is more comfy to adults.

Plus it makes it harder for an errant foot to accidentally knock everything over!

Keep them at the Table

Perhaps it’s the teacher in me but I don’t cope well with children “coming and going” when we play board games.

Is it really that bad?  I think the difficulty is that they are coming and going because they’ve lost interest in the board game and are playing with other things.

This drags out the game even more as you have to wait for them to pause playing with their toys in order to come back to the table and have their turn.

If it gets to this point, I suggest asking them “Do you want to carry on, or would you prefer playing with your toys?”  Explain that carrying on means staying at the table.  It’s an EITHER / OR choice.  EITHER they play with their toys OR they continue with the board game.

Playing Junior Monopoly at the table

They can then choose what’s more interesting for them.

You can still play with them if they prefer toys to board games.  Engage in some “imaginary play” and construct some fun pretend scenarios with their toys.

What if one wants to carry on and the other wants to give up? Either declare take the one giving up out of play (as is they’d lost), or “play for them.” 

Setting Up

As much as possible I ask my children to do the set up work.  Here’s why:

  • They are the ones choosing the games and what they want to play, so they should do the prep work needed.
  • In general, in life, you need to prepare for things.  It’s good to learn this at a young age.
  • There are sometimes learning opportunities in preparing, e.g. counting the money.
Setting up the Frozen Game

Setting up includes finding the board game, clearing the table and setting up the actual game.  

Of course there are exceptions! I don’t always have my board games as organized as I should do.  So if a board game is buried beneath a pile of other games, it can be a good idea to get it yourself.

Youngest Goes First

Many board games have a rule: throw the dice and whoever gets the highest score goes first.

Yet if going first gives an advantage then a better rule is “Youngest goes First.”

When you have two children or more children, you may want to make this fairer by saying “Take it in turns to go first.” But in that case the adults never go first.

I also sometimes say that the loser of the previous game goes first.  Anything to give both of my kids a fair crack at each winning some games!

Don’t Apply Harder Rules to Youngest

In Rhino Hero you stack cards in the shape of a building, moving your hero up until someone knocks the whole house (of cards) down.  Whoever was highest, and didn’t the building down, wins.

This game has something called a Spider Monkey which you sometimes need to place on the building.  They are quite hard to place.

So I have a rule:  – My youngest doesn’t need to place them.  It makes the game a bit easier for her, which helps level things up a bit.

Equally the younger ones will be less patient.  So if they get “stuck” and can’t move, it might be worth letting them roll the dice again rather than miss a game.

Whatever you do, agree to these rule variations with the older children BEFORE the game starts.  Otherwise they may perceive it as unfair.

Throw Dice in a Lid

How many times have I had dice fall on the floor and roll under a cupboard?  When playing with adults; rarely.  When playing with children: often.

Dice in a board game lid

There’s a simple answer to this: Roll the dice in the lid of the game.

Older Children Negotiate Better

In some games, for example, Monopoly, players can swap or trade with each other.

This can be great fun and a nice learning experience.

Yet, younger children will often misunderstand the value of what they hold.

When you have an older child negotiating with a younger one, in fairness you need to “supervise” and make sure they are both getting a good deal.

Point out to them why a deal is bad for one or the other so they learn how to value things better themselves.

Age is a Good Guide but not a Hard Rule

My children always play games that are too “old” for them.  My son believes he can play up to two years above his age.

Age is a guide but not a rule.  When playing games for older children, it might be the case that the adult has to help more.

Yet there are often “Junior” versions of popular games and these can be great introductions to a game.  “Junior Monopoly” is a much simpler, and quicker, version of Monopoly for example.

Make sure They Put the Game Away

Putting the game away is absolutely the responsibility of the children who partook.

Bronco game packed away

It’s for similar reasons as it being their responsibility to set up.  In this case, though, they may be less motivated to do this.  It’s very important you make sure they pack the game away properly.

What Next?

Fancy playing some board games with your children?  Get out your games and start playing?

Don’t have any games?  Then make some! Check out my DIY board games article.