Games are not only fun for all children and the whole family, but they address important developmental skills. Just to name a few:
-Watching others and social awareness
-Early math skills
-Early literacy skills
-Other academic concepts like colors and shapes
-Fine motor skills
-Early problem solving and strategy skills
-Early predicting skills
You don’t necessarily have to wait until the ages indicated on the box to introduce simple games to young children. You know your child the best, so use your best judgment. I first started Hi Ho Cherry-O with my daughter when she was two. The box says for ages three to six. I knew she had a new interest in numbers and counting and had the fine motor capabilities to spin the spinner and manipulate the cherries appropriately. I also thought she would love the little cherries, trees and buckets. It was a hit! Now this doesn’t mean to disregard games’ age recommendations all together. They are set for safety reasons. My daughter is always supervised with this game for safety. If you are unsure if your child is ready for a game, you can always try the game and see how it goes. If your child isn’t ready, you can store the game away and try again in another month or two. You can also ask your child’s teacher, daycare worker, nanny or grandparent on their opinion since they may know your child very well.
In order to introduce games to young children (about two years old and up) and to make the game playing experience as minimally stressful and as enjoyable as possible, there are simple strategies you can try:
Let your child explore if new
If the game is new to your child, let them explore the pieces before you even attempt to play. This is completely fair and age appropriate. Your child will be less likely to fidget and be distracted by the pieces when you play the game.
The adult controls the pieces
This is huge! With many games there are several pieces and parts. If your child has free range to these items during game play, it is pretty much guaranteed that the pieces will be all over the whole house and you won’t get much actual game play done. For instance, Candy Land has a huge stack of cards. Have the adult hold the cards and feed off the top card for your child to choose when it is their turn. Hi Ho Cherry-O has a spinner and tons of cherries. Let your child have their 10 cherries only and make a rule that they can only touch their cherries. Have the adult hold onto the spinner and be in charge of passing it around during the turns. For the Honey Bee Tree game, have the adult hold all the leaves after each leaf is taken out of the hive. Your child can touch or hold their bees only. This will set up your game play to be successful and not a stressful disaster!
Hands in lap song
If your child is tempted to play with the game pieces (which they will be) or if they try to play out of turn (which they will), try a “hands in lap” song. There are a couple we like and find that work. “Put Your Hands in Your Lap” is sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”: “Put your hands in your lap, in your lap. Put your hands in your lap, in your lap!” The other is called “Open Shut Them”. Use hand gestures as your sing, “Open, shut them, open, shut them, give a little clap. Open, shut them, open, shut them, put them in your lap.” These songs will work much better than the adult simply repeating, “put your hands in your lap,” “no,” or “don’t touch” over and over.
Use simple turn-taking language and a visual
During the entire game, use the vocabulary: “person’s name + turn” (“Mama’s turn,” “Daddy’s turn,” “Olivia’s turn”). “My turn” and “your turn” are great, but speaking in third person with turn-taking language is so much better and easier to understand for young children. Try it, you will be amazed! You can also use a turn-taking visual by passing it around to whoever’s turn it is. You will be amazed once again! Visit http://www.autismspot.com/blog/Strategies-Learning-Turn-Taking for even more information on turn-taking.
Sing a simple waiting song and use a visual
It can be hard to wait for your turn! A fun “waiting song” and waiting visual will help tremendously. Try singing, “Waiting *clap, clap*, waiting *clap, clap*, waiting *clap clap*” while showing your child a waiting visual. Also see http://www.autismspot.com/blog/Strategies-Learning-Turn-Taking for more information on turn-taking and waiting.
Faces on game pieces
This can take a little time to prepare, but it is worth it! For a game like Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders where each player has their own piece they are moving along a game board, it can be tricky to remember which person is which color or which person is which character. Tape a little picture of each person’s face on the game pieces and this can easily help! For a game like Hi Ho Cherry-O, you can tape each person’s picture next to their bucket and tree.
This one is SO helpful! Many games have tons of little pieces and parts. If your game box doesn’t have little compartments for pieces, use Ziploc baggies. Less clutter means fewer distractions. Fewer distractions means more focus on the game and better game play overall. Also when you are setting up your game, put any unnecessary pieces aside and out of reach along with the box and the instructions.
Your child is young so they will likely need some help especially at first. Initially, try the above strategies paired with pointing and showing to help your child play. There is nothing wrong with a little gentle hand-over-hand assistance if they need a little extra help. Make sure you are keeping it fun for your child and you aren’t forcing them to engage. They may not be ready for the game. If they tolerate the hand-over-hand well, then keep on playing!
Let your child play when the game is over
Once you have played your game, you can always play again but if not, allow your child to safely manipulate, explore and play with the pieces on their own without interference from an adult. My kiddo loves to count and play with the cherries within Hi Ho Cherry-O and also loves to pretend with the Candy Land people all around the game board. This will give your child a positive pressure-free association with the game.
We hope you try some of these tips to help your child have a fun and successful game playing experience. They will learn a whole lot and you will create a game playing foundation that will last when they are older (family game night anyone?)!
Also, games make wonderful gifts and are often not that expensive. Here is a list of our favorites for children ages two and up, just in time for the holidays:
Memory *for little ones, use only a few of the cards*
Chutes and Ladders
Hungry Hungry Hippos
The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game
Don’t Spill the Beans
Don’t Break the Ice
For more information about playing games with kids check these out:
Our Speech-Inspired Favorite Things blog: http://www.autismspot.com/blog/Our-Speech-Inspired-Favorite-Things
Board Games: fun and learning go together video: http://www.autismspot.com/videos/Board-Games-fun-and-learning-go-togethe...
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