Bringing Back Family Game NightTVs, tablets, video games and cell phones…These days, there are more ways than ever for your entire family to stay entertained – without anybody even looking at each other! But it wasn’t always this way.

Although your children may find it hard to believe, there was a time long, long, loooong ago (like when you were a kid) when families used to gather around the table, look one another right in the eye, and play real-life, interactive games together, well into the night.

And as today’s researchers are now discovering, all of that light-hearted play actually led to some serious child development benefits. So we think it’s high time to bring family game night out of the past and into your immediate future! Here are five big research-based reasons why:

1. Games are good for motor skills. 

Every time your little ones roll the dice or shuffle the cards, they’re developing their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills – which can lead to later success in sports, playing instruments, writing and more.

GAMES THAT BUILD MOTOR SKILLS: Operation, Jenga, Jacks, Anything with Cards (Such as War)

2. Games can lead to better grades. 

Many games build specific skills that are useful in your kids’ academic careers – like math, spelling, vocabulary and general knowledge, to name just a few. Research from Carnegie Mellon shows that even a small amount of practice playing academic games can lead to big results in the classroom. One study found that preschool-aged kids who played a simple dice-rolling and token-moving number game for just one hour over a two-week period had measurable gains in number skills like:

  • Identifying printed numerals
  • Counting from 1 to 10
  • Comparing numerical magnitudes (“Which is bigger, 4 or 6?”)
  • Estimating number locations on a number line (“Where would 8 go?”)

These results are important because children’s early number skills are highly related to later math achievement in school. So remember, a little family game time now can lead to some great academic benefits come report card time!

GAMES THAT CAN BOOST GRADES: Chutes & Ladders, Uno, Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Qwirkle

3. Games help your kids solve problems. 

Researchers from the University of Florida have found that kids who practice strategizing and solving problems with their parents end up having better memory techniques and more success at solving all sorts of problems on their own.

Playing strategy games with your kids is one way to give them valuable practice at solving problems. But even more importantly, it also gives you a chance to demonstrate effective problem-solving techniques that your kids can learn from and emulate. When you play games together, be sure to share information about how you approach each problem to be solved – explain how you break problems down into steps, how spending time planning before acting can benefit success and how your thought processes work as you solve a problem. These conversations will give your kids useful insight into their own thinking that can bring them greater success in real-life problem-solving situations later on.

GAMES THAT PROVIDE PROBLEM-SOLVING PRACTICE: Blokus, Connect Four, Keekee the Rocking Monkey, Trouble
For older kids: Risk, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Chess

4. Game night is family bonding night. 

No matter what games you play, the simple fact that family game night forces you to spend quality time interacting with your kids can help contribute to all sorts of positive outcomes for them. Numerous studies have shown that children from families who maintain strong lines of communication through frequent get-togethers like game nights and family dinners enjoy benefits to nearly every aspect of their lives, including:

  • Larger vocabularies starting at age two
  • Higher reading scores in elementary through high school
  • More motivation in school
  • Better relationships with peers
  • A more positive perception of the parent-child relationship
  • And better emotional well-being and life satisfaction

GAMES THAT HELP YOUR BROOD BOND: Just about anything that requires you to be in the same room together. (So maybe not Words With Friends.)

5. Games are just plain fun! 

Granted, this is a different breed of fun than what you got used to during your carefree, kid-free college days, and it’s surely different than what your kids will be calling fun in just a few short years. But for now, while everybody’s still hanging out in the house all together, make the most of it – by making some amazing memories!


Now that you’re totally inspired to bring family game night back to your house, which games do you plan to play together?

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  • Eric Steiger

    You’re almost there, PBS. All of the things you said are true, but some of your examples are…pretty bad. Chutes and Ladders may help children identify numbers and help with counting, but there are better games that do the same thing, and AREN’T dead boring for anybody over the age of 3. Similarly, the only thing the game of Life teaches you is that you have no control over anything and that arbitrary events determine how much money you end up with. Not a great message.

    Fortunately, there is a SLEW of great games out there that are interesting, educational, and fun for all ages…if you know where to look for them. For hand-eye coordination, I recommend Gulo Gulo, a German game (Germany has a 60-year tradition of innovative board games as a result of their media intake being restricted during the Cold War) of picking wooden eggs out of a bowl.

    Settlers of Catan is a great recommendation, but there are a lot of others where that came from – “Hey, That’s My Fish”, Coloretto, and “No Thanks!” are just a few small, fast-playing games that can help with counting, decision-making, and basic math skills.

    • TheDoctorAndTheDad

      Thanks for the fun suggestions, Eric. We’re always looking to add to our family game collection!

  • Rodney C. Davis

    How about suggestions for families with teens?

    I know at that age it’s hard to tear them away from their 4-inch screens and joysticks. But that’s exactly when we need to compete with that screen most urgently. I’m reminded of an article recalling the research about the pruning of brain cells that aren’t utilized as much, beginning right around the mid-teens. Sad part is that it’s an irreversible process.

    What’s the good part? Well real life experiences and games that give the pre-frontal cortex a good workout will thereby minimize the pruning of brain cells required for that particular skill set. Since the PFC is the last to develop, teenagers only have a small window of time.

    So bring on those teen games we can challenge them with at home without having them pick up their mobile devices.