Monopoly JusticeImage by mtsofan via Flickr

As a child I loved board games. I dissected Monopoly, trying to find the best strategy. I taught myself chess from a book. I loved Sorry, and Life, and eventually Trivial Pursuit when it came out. But the problem was that I didn’t have anyone to play with. As an only child, I used to try to play them myself, being two or three different people at a time.

My mother and step-father played with me occasionally, but it’s hard as an only child, trying to amuse yourself. Maybe that’s why as an adult I have made such an effort to have family games nights with my kids.

When children are little, games are hard because, quite frankly, most kids’ games are boring. I could only take Candyland for so long. But as they grow, you can start playing REAL games. Before real games were possible in our house, we often put puzzles together, because that can be fun for the whole family, and at least it’s a little challenging for you! Have the kids work on the edge pieces or the pattern pieces while you work on the hard clouds or something.

Boardgames - Settlers of CatanImage by pinkiesblues via Flickr

But now we do games. And not just typical ones, either. If you want the best games, you need to go to a specialty game or toy store. Wal-Mart just doesn’t have all the good ones. Some of our favorites are Bohnanza, a card type game that even 7-year-olds can play, but we still play with only adults; Carcassone; Blokus ; The Settlers of Catan; and Ticket to Ride. They’re really fun!

Last weekend we visited our former pastor who now heads up another church. He asked my husband and I to come and give the sermon on communication in marriage, and it was a ton of fun. Afterwards we relaxed at their house, talking for a few hours before making the trek home.

And we started talking about communication in families. I made the point that many kids no longer know how to be friends because they spend their lives texting each other rather than talking to each other. The other couple wasn’t sure that was the case, since their kids text all the time but are still very socially aware. “But you guys eat together every single night!” I said. “Do you know how rare that is?”

And it’s true. Children tend to learn communication skills from sitting and eating at the table. You can then expand that time to build real family memories by making one night of the week a games night, where technology stays off and everybody tries to be home. Some families do family movie nights, which can also be fun, but I strongly recommend a games night, because when you’re watching a movie, you don’t talk. When you’re playing a game, you do.

My husband wasn’t the biggest fan of games nights growing up, because his family was very competitive, and he didn’t like the stress. As much as possible, try to minimize too much stress for your kids who can’t handle it, but I do think it’s good to learn to lose. Last night my 12 year old could not get good cards to save her life. Usually she plays very well, but it didn’t work out for her yesterday. Yes, she was frustrated, but she still laughed a lot, and it was so much fun to connect.

I know it can be hard to have a games night with older children while you still have younger ones, but you can take turns entertaining the baby or the toddler, or set up special toys they have just for that time when the rest of you play a game. But do have a special night, every week if you can, when you eat together and play games. Family routine matters, and if you decide to make it a routine, it will get done. And then your kids will remember the togetherness, they’ll remember the laughter, and they will feel much more connected to you and to each other!

And don’t forget: Board games are also great options as a date night for you and your husband! Here’s a list of 2 person games that you can play together.

Now you tell me: what games do you enjoy as a family? What works well with little children? What did you like growing up? We want to know!

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