Tuesday 25 October 2016

Can playing poker with your children really make them smarter?

Many mathematical and problem-solving skills go hand-in-hand with card playing. The experts reveal all about Snap, Gin Rummy and some other old favourites

Yasmin O'Connor and her three children; Leah (8), David (4) and Sabrina (1)
Yasmin O'Connor and her three children; Leah (8), David (4) and Sabrina (1)
Jacinta Leigh, her husband Cormac and twins, Quinn and Faye (7)
Sean Flanagan

When I was growing up, many an afternoon was whiled away with a deck of cards - Beggar my Neighbour, Snap and Gin Rummy were just some of the games which not only kept us children amused but also encouraged family time, because most of the games were easy enough for kids to play but had just enough skill to keep parents from running for the hills.

Nowadays however, the chance of finding a group of children playing cards or even a board game is relatively slim. According to a new study from Barclaycard, only 44pc of children under the age of 14 know how to play these traditional games as most would rather spend time transfixed to an electronic device.

The fascination with gaming and social media which seems to have gripped this generation will not only hasten the demise of games which have been around for the best part of a millennium, but will also see a reduction in the many mathematical and problem-solving skills which go hand-in-hand with card playing.

We spoke to two Dublin mothers to find out what games their children like to play and also to an educational psychologist to see whether or not he believes card and board games are beneficial to modern children.

Yasmin O'Connor lives in Castleknock with her partner Billy and their three children; Leah (8), David (4) and Sabrina (1). The mother-of-three who blogs at www.glittermamawishes.com says, while she grew up playing board games and has tried to encourage her children to do the same, they lose interest very quickly. But she hopes as they get older, their concentration levels will develop further so they can all enjoy playing together.

"My kids are quite active and love being outside rain, hail or shine. I love to see them out playing and using their imagination as I notice more and more kids cooped up inside playing video games.

"Leah and David actually both love playing Snap as they got the gist of it very quickly. They also have the Uno game which is really just a fancy version of snap - but I would say they have only really played it once or twice.

"Leah has played draughts but she didn't have enough interest to want to play again. The same goes for Snakes and Ladders - both she and David got browned off after a while and wanted to be up on their feet and moving. Maybe when they are older they will enjoy these games a bit more, but at the moment they are too full of energy and want to be up and about. Mind you, they both enjoy colouring and drawing so I might try Junior Pictionary with them next.

"When I was young I loved Snakes and Ladders, Draughts, Monopoly, Guess Who and Frustration. I would spend hours hassling my nana and grandad to play them with me over and over again. I think it's sad that the old board and card games are losing popularity but maybe the kids are playing something similar on their iPads.

"We don't play many games at the moment, but I do hope to have family game nights when my children are older and can understand the rules. In the meantime, we make do with jigsaws as they can be a really relaxing thing to do before bed - not to mention that everyone is a winner when the jigsaw is completed. I just hope that my children will enjoy the games as much as I did when I was growing up and won't wonder how us oldies ever thought they were so much fun."

South-west Dublin-based textile designer Jacinta Leigh runs her own business called www.scatterpillardesigns.ie transforming children's drawings into cushions, softies and embroidery on canvas. She and her husband Cormac have seven-year-old twins, Quinn and Faye, and while both children are very active, she also makes a point of playing traditional games with them as she believes it is a great way for the family to spend time together.

"We are an outdoors family and are lucky to have a lot of parks near to us, so we would spend a lot of spare time outdoors. My husband and I go jogging and have encouraged the children to ride their bikes or scooters alongside us. They both play football, my daughter plays camogie, they are learning how to swim and they also like running.

Jacinta Leigh, her husband Cormac and twins, Quinn and Faye (7)

"They do have Leap Pads, which they got for their birthdays about two years ago, but very rarely pick them up to play with. We have a movie night on Saturday evenings, where we have pizza and popcorn because during the week the TV is turned on for only about half an hour in the evenings as it depends on what after-school activities are on.

"We started buying board games about three years ago at Christmas and have Guess Who, Connect Four and Monopoly. On rainy days we pull them out and have lots of fun playing together. I think it's a good way for them to learn to deal with losing, persevering and about fortunes changing. They also love getting one over on their dad and mum.

"And as I grew up in a household that played poker, my parents have recently shown them how to play.

"These games are great as I feel it connects us as a family when we play together. In contrast, when they watch TV, they have a vacant stare and no-one talks or communicates. But I suppose you have to have everything in moderation so this is why I personally think a movie night is great because we are with them and we can talk about what's happening and are all together.

"I suppose with so many games and apps online, it's inevitable that interest in traditional games will begin to fade. But for now, our children don't really ask to play online games, as we haven't encouraged it. Maybe this will come as they get older, but hopefully, they will continue their love for the outdoors - and have an interest in traditional games too."

Educational psychologist, Sean Flanagan agrees and says the lack of interest in card and board games can be attributed to developments in technology, but says parents should make the time to teach their children about traditional games as they can be very beneficial for their development.

Sean Flanagan

"Video games, Xboxes, PlayStation and even app games for tablets and smartphones appear to have overtaken 'traditional' board games," he says. "Parents tend to be a bit more lax about these games as it is much easier to allow a child to play a video game than it is to set up a board game, find enough players, supervise fair play and rule understanding, and take the time to actually play. Video games are, by their nature, highly stimulating, with flashing images and loud noises. This makes them more attractive to children whereas, board games, on the other hand, are stereotyped as being dull or boring when in practice, they are actually great fun."

Flanagan says board games can greatly assist in the development of important social skills such as turn-taking, teamwork and emotional literacy and can help in many other ways too.

"Card and board games can promote oral language skills, problem solving, vocabulary development, assertiveness and other reciprocal exchanges," he says. "There is also an educational benefit to games such as Scrabble, Monopoly, and 30 Seconds. So the decline of board games is a concern, particularly when the alternatives (video games) offer none of these.

"I would encourage parents to have a look at board games in the toy shop. Too often this aisle is ignored by parents in favour of toys that are 'more attractive'. But many parents don't acknowledge the benefits of board games, while many others just don't want to put in the effort. Part of the reason is that parents may have negative experiences of board games from their own childhoods, not realising the wide range of attractive, modern options.

"If children can be involved in the choosing of the game, they will have more ownership of it and be more likely to play."

The education expert says there a number of ways in which parents can encourage an interest in traditional games which will benefit their children's development:

• Designate one evening to be family board game night and do it, even if only for half an hour. You'll find that the children will be shouting "Let's play another game" and it will be a foundation of quality family time.

• Scrabble helps with literacy and spelling.

• Monopoly helps with numeracy, forward-planning, and problem solving.

• 30 Seconds helps with general knowledge, numeracy, and processing speed. Chess/draughts helps with problem solving, spatial awareness and planning ahead.

Sean Flanagan is an Educational Psychologist who provides anti-bullying talks in schools and is taking bookings for September 2016. He can be contacted by email at cyberbullyingtalksireland@gmail.com or Facebook.com/cyberbullyingtalksireland

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