Sarah Simpson

Sarah Simpson Column: Snakes and Ladders full of ups and downs

Board games produce big feelings in little people

In some of my more recent columns, I’ve talked about technology and screens and the iPad. I think I’ve done a half-decent job at balancing those with stories of our family’s outdoor adventures as well as our journey reading our way through Roald Dahl’s works during this pandemic. (We’re on Going Solo now, the last book in the collection, and we’re not sure where to go next. Thoughts?)

Board games are the most recent addition to our growing list of family activities.

Not too long ago the children were running wild and, in all honesty, they were hard to control. I had a Zoom call I needed to take without distraction so I headed to the basement half-pumped to be leaving the zoo, but also feeling badly. It was one of those times when you look at your spouse and genuinely apologize for the chaos that they’re about to be left alone with.

In an attempt to calm the storm, I told my son that maybe he’d like to pull out the checkers and see if he could still beat his father. To my surprise, my six-year-old jumped at the chance to sit still next to our giant checkers carpet and school his dad.

They played happily the entire time I was downstairs. Nine times out of 10, the boy beat his dad. And not just because his dad let him win either. For some reason my son tends to beat everyone he plays. I’m not saying he’s a prodigy or anything; it’s checkers not chess, after all. He’s just pretty good at it apparently.

The positive experience led me to take another shot at board games a few days later. I asked my son if he wanted to play Snakes and Ladders with me.

“Sure,” he responded, to my amazement.

Now, I need to tell you it isn’t sunshine and butterflies playing anything with that kid. He’s got a temper and he hates to lose. He’d totally cheat if he thought he could get away with it, but, he’s receptive to strategy tips and hopefully one day he will realize rolling the biggest number on the dice isn’t necessarily the best roll. Sure you may get to move a lot of spaces, but you could find yourself sliding down a giant snake as a result.

In any event, he followed the rules, albeit not without grumbling, and managed to beat me twice in a row because the universe is on his side, I guess. He beat me fair and square, too, and now believes he’s unbeatable at both checkers and Snakes and Ladders. I’m going to have to start carrying a pin around to pop that giant head of his if it gets too big.

In contrast, I pulled the game out to play with my four-year-old while her big brother was at school one day. My experience could not have been any different. OK, well the truth is it was very similar with me having to keep saying: “It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s about having fun playing together, It doesn’t matter who wins!”

This time, however, my darling daughter was upset that she kept hitting the ladders and I kept hitting the snakes. She seemed deeply hurt that she was leading in the game and tried to take every opportunity, legal or not, to get my game piece closer to, if not ahead, of hers.

She was devastated when she won. With tears in her eyes and a how-could-I-do-that-to-my-own-mother look of angst across her brow she climbed up on my lap and apologized.

Who knew board games cultivated such big feelings!? Even so, we had a great time and it’s prompted us to trying other games as a family.

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“Playing games brings people together, it’s spending quality time, it’s bonding, it brings laughs, healthy competition, skill building, it practices patience, perseverance, problem solving, and it’s just a lot of fun,” explained The Fort’s Emily Lavender. “You work together to overcome challenges and you grow together.”

The Fort is Duncan’s retro-gaming hang-out spot where customers can dive into the days of old, and experience gaming life as it once was.

Those big feelings my children have while playing games — and their parents’ reactions to them — are what it’s all about.

“Now we play games on our phones alone, but our souls need human connection,” Lavender said. “Back in they day, board games and retro video games were all about playing together with your friends or family, or even fellow gamers at arcades,” she said.

With the pandemic continuing on and winter on its way, I’m glad my family has a number of alternatives to our screens. I’m glad for this unique way to bond. Even if it does come at the pride-inducing but soul-crushing cost of getting vanquished by your kid at whatever board game we seem to bring out.

Cowichan Valley Citizen

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