Games are for Playing

This post was originally published on an earlier blog under the title “Does it Draw You In?”  I shelved it while I got this blog up and running, but I’m bringing it back so we can continue the conversation about board games!

Living Books

Recently I’ve been inspired to learn from the writings of Charlotte Mason – a pioneer in educational thinking.  One of the ideas I’ve been exploring is the concept of Living Books.  The Living Books Library wrote about What’s in a “Living Book” or Why We Collect the Books that We Do.  Another post, complete with examples and illustrations, called Is New Always Better?.

Leah Boden, host of “The Charlotte Mason Show” wrote What is a Living Book?.  Boden points out that, though tastes and interests vary between families and children, there are certain characteristics that can help one identify a “living book” when reading the first two pages.

Here are a few questions to ask during your two page test:

  1. Does it draw you in?
  2. Does it engage the emotions?
  3. Do you want to read on?
  4. Could you narrate from the section you’ve read?
  5. Is the writer passionate about what they are writing about?

Writing for Readers

I came across this same line of thought as it relates to teaching children how to write.  Julie Bogart, author of The Writer’s Jungle: A Survivor’s Guide to Writing with Kids talks about the story behind the development of this material in her blog post In Defense of the Writing Process.  She says that as she examined other writing curricula available,

The manuals I read showed “sample paragraphs” that weren’t even well written (organized, yes; but dull, lifeless).

In her Periscope “The Secret to Breakthroughs in Writing with Your Kids,” Bogart says,

So many writing programs had really crummy model paragraphs to go with their assignments.  I was looking at them and it’s like “I didn’t even enjoy reading that paragraph.  How in the world can that be a good model for my child?”  If you don’t like the model paragraphs in your curriculum, don’t use that curriculum!  It means that they haven’t actually understood that writing is for readers. [emphasis mine]

All of this reading (and listening) has been very informative, refreshing and delightful.  I feel inspired to seek out excellent and enriching reading material for our family enjoyment.  But it occurred to me that we do our children a great service when we teach them to seek out and identify the beautiful and the excellent in any field of study … or even a field of entertainment!

Beauty in Board Games

Our family is an avid board game family.  This isn’t simply because we like to play board games (though we do!).  It stems largely from the fact that my husband is a board game enthusiast, perhaps even (if I may be so bold) a board game connoisseur!    He not only enjoys buying and playing board games; he enjoys following the board game industry, game designers, game publishers and reviewers and the history of board gaming.

We have had many a conversation about the excellent, high quality and engaging board games that are available to those who know where to look for them, as compared to the sort one typically finds on the shelves of department stores.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard or read comments from parents talking about consenting to play a board or card game with their children, and then putting up with it as long as they can stand it for the sake of “quality family time”.

Although I can’t claim that enjoying and investing time in family board games rises to the level of importance of embracing excellent reading material or developing your own voice in the writing process, there are some parallels!  If you are struggling to make it to the end of the board game, if you dread being asked to play it and if you think that board games in general are something one must endure in order to make kids happy, you might not have experienced a really excellent family board game!  Why not set before your children board games that are well-designed enough to engage you?

Play for the Sake of Play

Recently this article went viral on Facebook.  The author talks about how she dislikes the idea of “play based learning” because it robs the actual value of good, simple child-directed play.  Instead it commandeers play for something else – instructional time.  So many of her thoughts struck a chord with me and the thoughts I’ve had when I hear people talking about “educational games”.

I’m not looking to pick a fight, but board game design is an art and a science geared towards maximum engagement and enjoyment.  And, by the way, plenty of intellectual development is happening when we play board games that are just plain fun.  But when we commandeer board gaming to meet specific educational objectives (like, say, memorizing multiplication facts) we miss the whole point!

As I began to mull over these thoughts, an idea took shape in my mind.  I shared  my musings with my husband.  I asked him to brainstorm with me about the concept of “living” board games.  How would one go about describing or defining beauty and excellence in a family board game experience?

What he said delighted and surprised me; it was an inspiring encapsulation of what it looks like to enjoy a true masterpiece of a board game.  In the next few days, I will be putting up a new page on the blog entitled “Living” Board Games!  I’ll include Matt’s description of how to recognize an excellent family board game.  And in that space, we will collect posts about wonderful family board games, including tips on how to use them with a wide range of kiddos.  Who knows – I might even be able to convince my husband to ‘Scope with me!

“Wrong Chemistry” with Mr. Right.


Lynna Sutherland is a homeschool mother of eight always-homeschooled kiddos ranging in age from high school to kindergarten. She loves to encourage parents in the freedom and flexibility of homeschooling and offer creative ways to manage a large family and a multi-age homeschool!

  • I would be so grateful for a list of recommended games! I have a board game enthusiast, and we've Monopolied ourselves to boredom. Life is intolerable. Rummy and checkers and chess and Battleship are good choices, but we definitely could use some new material!

  • Haha! OK, Karis, more ideas than you ever wanted coming your way!

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