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August 29, 2009

Bored kids content with board games


We've shopped for sneakers and backpacks and stockpiled 15-cent notebooks and glue sticks.

Now, as we count down to earlier bedtimes and new routines, my kids are getting a little stir-crazy, and I'm running out of creative responses to my 5-year-old's perpetual question: "What can I doooo?" If not for board games, we'd be climbing the walls. Fortunately, we've got a large and varied collection that has served us well on rainy camping trips and long summer afternoons.

There's a reason why the tradition of family board games has survived the cultural changes America has seen since 1934, when an unemployed heater salesman sold handmade copies of his version of Monopoly (which had existed in various forms since the early 1900s) at a Philadelphia department store, getting the attention of Parker Brothers and officially launching an international phenomenon.

Board games are affordable, portable, durable and incredibly versatile. There's a board game for every age, skill level and attention span. Board games can be played one-on-one, in teams of two or in large party groups; in serious competition or just for fun; to pass a few minutes or a few hours.

Board games are also a great way to get kids ready to go back to school, because they combine entertainment with learning, teaching kids everything from counting and colors (think Hi-Ho Cherrio! and Candy Land) to more-complex logic, reasoning and spatial skills (a la Mastermind and Blokus).

During a recent game date with Grandpa, my 5-year-old daughter, Allie, read the rhymes on the Uncle Wiggly cards and added up Yahtzee dice. Big sister Abby honed her powers of deduction in a game of Clue, and we all brushed up on geography with 10 Days in Africa.

And that's just a sampling of the skills and knowledge kids gain from board games. Games like Scrabble and Boggle help kids build vocabulary and practice spelling; others teach them about history, economics and even science. Who knew that the reason ladybugs are bright colors is so their enemies will know they taste bitter? That's one of many facts I learned in a recent round of Allie's Bug Blast! game.

Of course, games also teach many important life lessons, from teamwork and taking turns to playing fair, following the rules, being patient, and losing (or winning) gracefully.

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I come from a family of game players.

As kids, my sisters and I passed many Saturday afternoons playing games; now it's what we do at family get-togethers.

We have every kind of game player in our family: the super-competitive "" and the player who cares more about having fun than winning; the player who only likes complex games of strategy "" and the one who prefers games with simple rules; the player who is up for any game, any time "" and the one who only plays on occasion, when the mood strikes.

For me, part of the appeal is the nostalgia that comes with passing on family game traditions: teaching my kids to play the games I remember loving at their age; watching them progress from Candy Land to Sorry to Scrabble; being genuinely amazed when Allie creams me at Concentration, just like my dad was when I used to beat him.

There's also the fun of learning new games. My sisters are more serious game players than I am, and they bring their latest favorites when they visit and get me hooked.

Even in the digital age of 24/7 entertainment, there is demand for new games. The folks at Mattel, University Games and Hasbro seem to be pretty busy creating new diversions, as well as variations of old favorites, such as the Anti-Monopoly Game, the Apples to Apples Bible Edition or Clue Harry Potter.

Curious about which games are the most popular, I checked out the Board Game Ratings.com website and found that half of the top 20 were games I'd never heard of, let alone played. On the Amazon.com bestseller list, there were only five games I'd played in the top 10.

Whether it's a brand-new game or an old favorite, board games have been a win-win-win for my family this summer. They lure my 12-year-old away from the phone and give her little sister something fun and educational to do.

Best of all, they get me out of playing Barbies.

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Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@hotmail.com.