● By Wendy Sipple
Photo by Dante Fontana
Children living in the 1800s played games like Hide the Thimble or Catch, which is played with a ball made from spare string, wrapped around a rock and covered with fabric.
In the early 1900s, children entertained themselves with Hide-and-Seek, Tag or baseball. Children in 1935 enjoyed Parker Brothers’ classic board game, Monopoly. Risk followed in 1957. What games do children play in the 21st century? According to a Pew Internet Project study in 2008, 97 percent of teens ages 12-17 play computer, Web, portable or console games.
Spacewar was the world’s first video game, written by Steve Russell in 1961. I’m sure that he never imagined the incredible growth and popularity of the video game industry as it is today. However, video games are not without controversy. Some feel that they can cause aggressive behavior and social isolation in children.
A study done by a brain-mapping expert in Japan revealed that the popular video game console, Nintendo, only stimulated activity in the areas of the brain related to vision and movement. Arithmetic, on the other hand, stimulated brain activity related to learning, memory and emotion. On the plus side, video games are interactive, and complex topics can be simplified through this type of learning. And, since teens often play video games with other people or groups, they learn how to work together.
Strategic thinking games are based on skill, logic and problem solving. According to the Fayette County Public School Web site, fcps.net, “Strategic games...have been proven, through more than 50 years of exhaustive research, to improve critical thinking skills, to raise math and reading scores, to raise self-esteem, to improve behavior, and to improve school attendance.”
Games like chess, Risk and bridge are perfect for teaching strategic thinking. According to New York-based Chess for Children, chess teaches children to be analytical thinkers, motivated learners and critical problem-solvers. Ann Campbell (Chess Life, October 1997) claims that chess improves concentration and teaches patience and sportsmanship.
Val Williams of the Folsom Bridge Center, believes bridge does something for kids that video games do not. “It teaches a child trust in a partner. It teaches teamwork. It absolutely builds memory skills,” she shares. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have given one million dollars to start a youth movement for kids to play duplicate bridge – a very sophisticated form of card playing that requires a partner. There are 52 cards in a deck and 13 in a suit, and over 500 million possibilities of how those cards get distributed. “It is a very complicated game that constantly changes because it has so many variables,” Williams says.
How do you know if your child is a good candidate for bridge? Williams says a child who is competitive, is interested in problem solving and math, especially Algebra, will enjoy the game of bridge...because it is a fun way of applying those concepts. Junior high is the ideal place to start, but some players are as young as five years old. An additional benefit of strategic-thinking board and card games is that there’s no electricity required, and the ages of their participants range from children to seniors.