Nothing is quite as serious at our house as game time.

And while football reigns supreme in my part of the world during this crisp time of year, I’m referring to another kind of game.

The board game.

My family loves a good board game. Whether it be one requiring skill and strategy (“Risk” – I’m looking at you), or one involving flexibility and strength (think “Twister”), or another that causes a lot of “Trouble,” someone in our house is almost always “game.” My family has its favorite games, but this post isn’t an advertisement for specific board games or card games or any one game. Just a suggestion for one small brick in the construction of our kids’ characters…and our own. While board games may seem ordinary, they have given my family the opportunity to make lasting memories, to fill each other’s buckets, and to unpack meaningful character traits.

  1. Making Memories

Board games require focused time and attention. At least, they do if you want to win! And focused time means no cell phones (for my older kids…and me!) or screens (for my younger kids…and maybe my husband!). Sometimes the games are fast-paced, others involve more strategy and thinking. But all of the games we play require that we talk to each other, ask questions, laugh, and remind each other who’s turn it is. 

And our whole family benefits. These memories become part of our family culture. We begin sentences this way, “Remember that game where Dad blocked my move?” Or “Remember the time we played this game? I liked…” Making shared memories is one way to give kids a firm family foundation. It sure can be fun to tease them about the times you’ve beaten them also!

  1. Fill Each Other’s Buckets

Cardinal Rule Press has teamed up with Bucket Fillers to offer books that specifically address caring for others. With books like Will You Fill My Bucket? and Best Bucket Filler Ever!, these stories equip kids and parents to talk about what loving others every day means. One way that our family fills each other’s buckets is by agreeing to “twists” in the rules of the game. These rule adjustments allow for our youngest child to have a chance to win. Or these rule changes encourage all of us to look out for others

For example, in the game “Ticket to Ride,” players can end the game whenever they have two game pieces left. They can block other players’ moves with their pieces. They can cause havoc and confusion on the gameboard by placing their pieces in no apparent order. In our family, we ask before we end the game, and often take extra turns to accommodate others. We talk openly about our next moves and ask before we place our pieces. It is open and communicative, instead of ruthless. (Though I’ll admit, there are times when I want to play ruthlessly and see how it goes!) Hopefully, all of us are helping the others see that we care more about them than winning at all costs. 

  1. Unpack Character Traits

Perseverance, patience, and sportsmanship are qualities we want for our kids. Being a good sport means following the rules of the game, encouraging others, and taking turns. Our kids love team sports and have played many different ones – from soccer to swimming – but rarely have we, as their parents, been able to play the game with them. We cheer them on. We coach. We support and encourage. But, let’s face it y’all, we’re old. Both my husband and I have been injured in the last few years playing pick-up sports. (This doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying, but we do think twice before joining in these days!) 

Board games give us the opportunity to play with our kids. Some of these games are cooperative – we’re all on the same team. Cooperative games remove the competitive edge of playing games, allowing parents to focus on helping their kids learn to take turns, play by the rules, and work toward a common goal. Games require patience as well. For example, waiting for another player to take their turn. Or not skipping ahead to finish the game. All of these are character traits that will help in school, on sports teams, and, much later, in the workplace.   

But don’t overlook competitive games. They take unpacking character to the next level. Now, you’re in competition with people you care about (in the case of family). Does that change how you play? Are you willing to keep the score close and not win by a huge amount? Can you cheer for someone else when he or she wins? Dealing with disappointment, cheering for someone else who got what you wanted, continuing to preserve until the end (even if you may not win) – these traits are difficult for adults. Playing with your kids allows them to see how you handle situations (good and bad) and gives you a starting point for healthy conversations. They also allow you to address issues that may prevent your kids from being good team players in other aspects of life, but in a setting that is controlled and private.

As the weather changes and the days get shorter, our family will turn on more football games…and play more and more board games. We’ll argue and fight and get frustrated with each other. We’ll cheer and encourage and laugh with each other. Next time you’re looking to spend quality time with your kids, consider a game. Be prepared for some fun, some great memories, and the opportunity to unpack character…

…in yourself and your kids.

Heather C. Morris writes books for kids full of science, wonder, and imagination. She has multiple fiction and nonfiction titles releasing in 2023 and 2024. She is a member of SCBWI and the 12×12 picture book challenge community, and her short stories and poetry have appeared in multiple arts journals and anthologies.