The Games People Play

When we lived in Boston, one my favorite stores to visit was, and still is, Games People Play. They sell puzzles and games (maybe a bit overpriced). I have spent countless hours in places such as Games People Play looking through their collections of puzzles, board games, and wide assortment of random, but clever games. Professionally, as part of cognitive retraining, I have worked to invent creative games and play-like procedures to help people change their behaviors. Over the last 20 years, I have a sizable collection of these brainteasers and cerebral treasures which I tend to bring out after periodical hibernation. As you can imagine, these professional games spill into my personal life.

We are a family that plays games, card games, fun games, made-up games, or imaginative challenges. When my children were younger, going to a restaurant was never dull or stressful. We used to play this math game where I would give my then eight and ten-year old a budget of a fixed amount and compel them to order items to meet that exact number. For example, I would say to them, “You have to order the entire meal that adds up to $16.32 each.” The interesting thing about this type of math game was that the kids would collaborate with each other. They would ask one another if they would split an entrée. They would ask the waiter what the price would be if they added mushrooms or took out the chicken. Finally, both the kids would work through difficulties that came about during disagreements because the rule was that conflict had to be dealt with in quiet and polite discussions.

Playing games enriches language proficiency, communication skills, and social ability. The language proficiency I’m referring to relates more to the complex organization of thought, sequencing, and several other skills related to linguistics nuances. It enhances communication skills because while playing games, one must practice turn-taking, topic management, and conversational repair skills that are not taught in school or at a summer camp for example. Finally, playing games provides practice in the art of negotiation, conflict resolution, and standing up for one’s views and beliefs, leading to a solid interpersonal social ability.

Here are a few simple games you can play with your kids or students to help them enhance their language, communication, and social abilities:

  • Have everyone write down the estimated total dollar amount (including tax) for the meal after eating dinner at a restaurant or in the cafeteria; then discuss why and how you came up with the answer.
  • At a restaurant or a mall, or in a classroom, guess what people are thinking about based on their facial expressions and their body language.
  • Connect three random words and make a story out of them (for example, connect the words bread, plumber, and hike).
  • Persuade someone to change their mind by either saying that what they want is less desirable or what you want is far better.

The epitome of Executive Functioning ability is having a purpose or being intentional. Bringing focus to mental planning and using games as a vehicle can set the tone for playful, as well as, mindful engagement in “thinking ahead” while looking at the world with a peculiar curiosity like Sherlock Holmes. Getting students to cooperate and see the benefit in doing such intentional game-playing can be hard work, but it pays off in the long run. The games we play can lead to stronger Executive Function and the ability to set and achieve our learning goals in school, and in life!