Games are great for kids for different reasons at different ages. For preschoolers, they’re a fun way to learn how to “follow rules, focus, take turns, and defer gratification, which helps with self-regulation, the basis of problem-solving and thinking creatively,” explains Peter J. Pizzolongo, the senior director of professional development at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Board games also get bonus points for bringing families together (especially if family dinners are a rare occurrence) and for luring grade-schoolers away from the Wii. And all kids get lessons in decision-making (“Should I buy Boardwalk or save my money?”), consequences (“Ooops—no more cash!”), and strategic thinking (“If I swap two railroads for Boardwalk, I can start buying houses”).
So should you set up regular times to play or let your child set the agenda?
“Both,” says Pizzolongo. “Let your child come to you, but setting aside a special evening or afternoon gives her a ritual—and predictability and routines are important for kids.” For ideas on what to play, read on for the games that get the highest marks from experts.