Future Reflections                                                                                         Summer/Fall 2005

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Perspectives on Parenting: Playing Games

by Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed. D.

Reprinted with permission of the author from Pediatrics for Parents, volume 19, number 10.

Editor’s Note: In Future Reflections, we focus almost exclusively on blindness-specific topics. We assume that our readers have an abundance of resources on the psychology of how children learn and parent tips for everything from how to discipline your children, when and how to commence toilet-training, how to talk to your kids about drugs, and so forth.

However, once in a while something “generic” comes to my attention that is a perfect fit for a particular issue. This article is a good example. Dr. Meyerhoff’s comments about playing games is an excellent companion to the piece in this issue by Barbara Pierce called “The Jacks Tournament, Turning Double Dutch, and Other Excursions into Society.” Here is Dr. Meyerhoff’s advice to parents about the value of playing games:

Elora Garcia of New York enjoys playing games with her mom, Maria. Maria Garcia is the president of the New York Parents of Blind Children.
Elora Garcia of New York enjoys playing games with her mom, Maria. Maria Garcia is the president of the New York Parents of Blind Children.

It sounds strange, but from the perspective of an educational psychologist, “playing games” is “serious business.” As young children figure out strategies and compete with their peers and their parents, they acquire, exercise, and refine a wide variety of critical skills and concepts in several areas of development. More importantly, the fun and excitement they experience inspires them to steady improvement and ultimately leads to optimal progress.

The trick is to make sure that the games are well matched to the interests and abilities of young children while simultaneously providing them with a significant challenge at different stages of development. Unfortunately, most commercial games on the market are either so sophisticated, involving purely abstract thinking, that they cause enormous frustration; or so simple, involving just pure luck, that they represent nothing more than a few moments of passive entertainment.

There are, however, a number of commercial products and many free-form activities that are right on target. Preschoolers are just beginning to “use their heads” to deal with the world and are still more comfortable with games directed primarily toward their physical talents. Therefore, something like dominoes or war with a deck of cards entice them to “think” about concepts like classification, numbers, and spatial relationships while allowing them to “strut their stuff” in terms of their sensory discrimination and fine motor skills.

Preschoolers are highly egocentric and tend to analyze everything strictly from their own point of view. The ample pleasure they get from beginner games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders encourages them to patiently take turns and carefully look at things through the eyes of others without inappropriately taxing their growing abilities to do this.

During the elementary school years, children become much more capable of complex problem solving that includes their own increasingly intricate thought processes and incorporates a much greater awareness and appreciation of the thought processes of
others. But new capacities for analysis, memory, focus, and innovation do not arrive in complete form or all at once.

Children need plenty of time and practice, both on their own and in conjunction with playmates. The abundant enjoyment they get from games like Go Fish, checkers, Battleship, Simon Says, etc. supplies them with a very effective continuing education in all sorts of complicated “intellectual” and “interpersonal” subjects.

But perhaps the most significant benefits are derived through family togetherness. When mothers and fathers play mutually challenging games like gin rummy, Hangman or Parcheesi with their children, or when everyone watches Wheel of Fortune or Who Wants to be a Millionaire? together, the kids have the chance to observe incredibly important behaviors and attitudes in the people who have the greatest influence over them. Restraint, tenacity, courtesy, cleverness, and determination do not evolve naturally--they are learned by imitating good models.

Similarly, employing both victory and defeat as inspiration to continued improvement, as opposed to wallowing in either unpleasant gloating or unproductive complaining, is something children learn best by watching how the adults they admire and adore handle such situations.

And it is not only the children who learn. When parents spend time playing games like Monopoly, Scrabble, I Spy, chess, or 20 Questions with their kids, the “fun for all” interactions give them a superb peek inside the hearts and minds of their offspring. The more they learn about their children’s strengths, weaknesses, inclinations, and preferences through such activities, the more competent they become to accurately monitor and guide their children’s development creatively and compassionately.

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed. D., is executive director of The Epicenter Inc., “The Education for Parenthood Information Center,” a family advisory and advocacy agency located in Lindenhurst, Illinois. His email address is <epicntrinc@aol.com>. He welcomes your thoughts and comments.

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