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BY Diane

Angry Birds or Checkers: What should your child be playing?

Summer time offers so many more opportunities to play games with our children. But with the advance of smart phones, tablets, netbooks, and computers, our kids are beginning to play many games on these electronic devices by themselves.  Let’s face it, in the car, on a vacation, Monopoly is a lot easier to play on an iPad than laying out the board, passing out the money, keeping your token on your property, and adding houses.  One quick turn left, and the game is on the floor of the car!   Angry Birds keeps kids quiet during waiting room time. Nintendo DS engages kids with the wide array of role playing and puzzle solving games. The Wii engages us with the physicality of play, and the mental engagement of sports, yoga, and gaming. We are bombarded with an “endless flood of engaging electronic input” and there is a downside.

How The Brain Works

We know that children’s brains are responsive to flashing lights, colors, attractive sounds, and movement.  While this may have been helpful in our human evolution, we need to be aware that a continued diet of visual and auditory electronic stimulation has the potential for changing brains.

British psychologist and biologist Aric Sigman has completed research which has shown chemical and biological effects resulting from excessive “screen time” suppresses melatonin release, necessary for sleep, puberty onset, and the immune system.  Coronary heart disease markers were elevated. Changes in hunger and satiation were noted. Elevated blood cholesterol was identified, and an increase in dopamine (needed for learning and concentration) was noted.  Our kids get used to elevated levels and have difficulty maintaining attention with “normal” dopamine levels. Many studies noted changes in children who spent two hours a day with TV and electronics.  You can get the details from Dr. Sigman’s February 2007 article from Biologist, Visual voodoo: the biological impact of watching TV or read more about Dr Sigman’s work on his website.

The Advantage of Physical Games

The key is always moderation. Use electronic games sparingly. Break out those old board games from the closet.  Don’t the wooden tiles in Scrabble give you tactile pleasure?  Clicking the dome when you play Trouble forces you to look and listen to the dice as they change.  Children learn one-to-one correspondence as they move their markers and count the boxes for Chutes and Ladders.  They learn their colors and flexibility with Candy Land. The chunky, heavy tokens in Monopoly always have someone declaring “I want the car!” Old time games like Parcheesi, Checkers, Sorry and Aggravation support turn-taking, strategy building, and patience.  There is no prompt that provides a cue, clue, or suggestion on how to win.  Board games don’t have to be completed in ten minutes.  Sustained attention and waiting for others to complete their turn, anticipating your own move, and tasting both victory and defeat with real people who have real responses during the game are important learning opportunities.

Social Involvement

Board games are great for a hot summer afternoon, or a cool, gray rainy morning. Good loser or bad winner, all are teaching moments.  When you play with your children, you help prepare them to play with others.  They will have the chance to respond to real people, watching facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and the timing of their opponents.

Board games are great to touch, see, and hear.  There is power in moving your token, and hope in spinning the spinner.  The best part about playing board games is the pleasure of playing with another person.  Sometimes, winning isn’t the goal.  You are making memories with your children. Being together is the best part!

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Written on August 11, 2011 by:

Diane Nancarrow is a speech-language pathologist and director of adolescent programs at the Kafuman Children's Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor & Social Connections, Inc. in West Bloomfield, MI. Her experience includes auditory processing disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, developmental speech and language disorders, LINKS to Language, Picture Exchange Communication Systems, extensive experience in neurological communication disorders, adolescent language disorders, language to literacy, Fast ForWord® Family of Language Training Programs, The Kaufman Speech to Language Protocol, use of technology to facilitate learning, and application of ABA/ therapy techniques. She also facilitates the social language skills groups at the KCC.

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