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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Had kind of a humorous conversation with my wife (who is 8 months pregnant) the other day while driving home from the store with our 4 year old and 2 year old being annoyingly noisy in the back seat of our minivan.  The conversation started with “So, why did we have kids again?”

I jokingly say that we had our first kid because we were bored, our second kid because we didn’t want to have an only child, and we aren’t exactly sure why we are having a 3rd kid.  There is some truth to all this, though; we were sort of bored 1 1/2 years into marriage when we decided to have Sienna, and we definitely didn’t want to have an only child so we were always going to try to have at least 2.  It’s hard to say why exactly we are having a 3rd kid other than we love family and the richness of relationships between children within healthy families.

Certainly I believe children are a blessing, but I also believe children (like marriage) help to keep selfishness in check.  Nothing against people who choose to remain unmarried, or couples who choose not to have children, but I have definitely noticed that people who lack these sort of family commitments can easily trend toward selfishness.  When no one is competing for your time or money it’s natural to spend it all on yourself and your own interests, which over time can become a lifestyle pattern that is difficult to depart.  Not that there aren’t plenty of exceptions to this but it’s certainly something I’ve seen in a lot of people and something I can easily see happening in myself had I chosen a life that didn’t include marriage and family.  So the wife and kids help constantly give me a reason to look beyond myself and my own needs and desires in order to sacrifice my time and resources to help meet their needs and desires.  It’s a costly cycle but one that I have no doubt is making me into a better person than I otherwise might be.  As a quote from one of my favorite pastors goes, “guys are like pickup trucks; they run better with a load”.

So how does this apply to gaming?  (Because this is, after all, a gaming blog…)  It means the amount of time I have to sink into games is pretty low right now, and with a 3rd kid on the way it is about to become even more limited than it has been.  This in turn means that the focus of gaming for me will continue to revolve around games that can be played in small groups or solitaire in short sessions and still provide a rewarding experience.  When I do get a chance to game the time window is usually quite small.  It also means that I will continue to have a minimal presence in computer gaming, particularly MMOs of which EVE is central.  Though this isn’t completely a bad thing as I am frightened at how much EVE Online I would play if I had more time for it.

Of course, in a sense having children is a sort of long-term gaming investment.  The idea is that eventually if my kids end up growing up to be gamers (to my wife’s horror) I will have a few new very accessible gaming buddies.  Family gaming is something I have very fond memories of growing up, particularly playing wargames with my dad, so I see this as something to hope that my kids can someday enjoy.  With boardgaming going through something of a renaissance right now I think there is a strong possibility for boardgaming to become a more substantial sub-culture than it already is by the time my kids get older, something that I think would in general be good for society.

In the meantime I am gearing up to change dirty diapers and spoon babyfood at the expense of time spent gaming, but I recognize this is just a season of life to be appreciated for what it is and that future seasons may include family boardgame nights where I can enjoy teaching my children some my favorite games from my collection.

Sorry to wax all philosophical on you guys there.

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My mom got my wife and I a package to take our kids to Great Wolf Lodge which we finally cashed in earlier this week.  Indoor waterparks are pretty awesome to begin with, but an indoor waterpark in the Puget Sound area with its notoriously bad weather is basically a cash cow.  And trust me, they know.

We read a ton of reviews before going trying to discern what it would be like, particularly for a family with real young kids, but the stories were all over the place so it was hard to put together a full picture.  So we booked 2 nights and hoped for the best.

On the positive side, the waterpark itself was pretty cool.  It featured 4 large waterslides, a couple medium slides, a wave pool, an activity pool targeted at older kids, and a decently large kiddy pool.  There is quite a bit to do in the waterpark for younger kids along with a few other activities elsewhere in the lodge to fill in the gaps.  Magiquest, in particular, looked like it could suck many hours and most everyone I saw doing it looked like they were having a good time though paying for multiple kids to play could easily cost a small fortune.  They also have an ingenious wristband microchip system where your wristband counts as your room key and your waterpark pass, meaning you never have to worry about losing it or leaving it behind as its always on your arm.  The in-lodge dining wasn’t bad, I thought, though fairly pricey.

On the negative side, I found the water to be slightly cold, despite the warm air in the park.  But our main problem was that our kids were just too young and/or too wimpy to do much in the waterpark.  My 3 year old daughter was too afraid to attempt even some of the more mundane kiddy pool slides, although she did enjoy the wave pool and spent many hours in there.  She was technically tall enough to go down all but the largest slides but just had no interest, she’s too cautious.  My 1 year old son would usually be in a good mood till he got splashed in the face and would then pout for a while.  Overall I think they both had fun at times but it was interspersed between bouts of panic attacks and general unhappiness related to splashing or spraying water.  Bottom line is, if you have kids 3 or younger there are things for them to do there but I would only take them if I was also taking older kids as well or if they are exceptionally adventurous.  Though I did get some sweet pictures of my daughter crying by the side of the kiddy pool that will probably be priceless when she’s a teenager.

The rooms are ok as long as your expectations aren’t too high.  They are decently large and well furnished but the beds and bedding are poor quality; I think they know parents are there for the kids so they can scrimp on the accommodations for parents and get away with it.  As for the prices, pretty much every single thing is overpriced by a fair margin from the rooms to the dining to the gift shop.

I would say overall we had a good time, and thanks the package from my mom we made off without too large of a hit to the wallet despite staying 2 nights and eating several meals there.  However, I would put off visiting again till my kids get more outgoing about this sort of thing.

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I’m going to kick off this intermittent series with the well-known classic, Candyland.  Believe it or not, Candy Land was first published in 1949 so this venerable title is over 60 years old and easily one of the best known and most recognizable family games.  It’s also a very common gift so if you have young kids you may end up with a copy whether you like it or not.

I’m going to structure these posts like so:

– Component quality

– Story/Setting

– Mechanics

– Developmental Opportunities

– Overall recommendation

So here we go…

Components

I’m specifically reviewing the “My First Games” edition.  Candyland has had about a zillion editions, but the common mass-market editions are all designed around a very low price point so don’t expect too much in terms of quality.   However, it’s passable enough.  The box art is very colorful and evocative, obviously designed to appeal to both parents and kids.  The board is mounted and the art is good.  The cards are simplistic and are a paper stock that should hold up to a moderate amount of wear and tear but can easily be bent.  My daughter has a hard time taking a card off the top of the pile so often I need to help her or make it so the top card is sticking over the edge of the pile.  The player pawns are little plastic colored gingerbread men, which is odd since in the art the player characters are clearly young children, but whatever.

Story/Setting

The game is a simple race along a one dimensional track to be the first person to Candy Castle… very straightforward and easy to explain.  The super-colorful board covered in candy imagery is easy to get kids excited about because, hey, kids love candy right?  There is a villain in the form of Lord Licorice, who has laid traps on three of the squares.  More on that later.

Mechanics

All player actions in Candy Land are 100% determined by a random card draw.  Almost all cards have 1 or 2 colored squares, which allow the player to travel forward to the first or second square of that color.  The net result is about equal to a 2D6 roll on average.  However, a few cards (6 out of 64 cards) have icons for special locations on the map; these force the player to travel to those icons, which means all progress they have made up to that point is completely pointless, though obviously a 3 year old won’t recognize this.  These can result in huge swings of player movement, including sending a player very far back towards the beginning.  The game rules offer an alternate method of play where you can’t be sent backwards by those cards, which helps prevent the disappointment and speeds the game up.  There are also several squares which have paths leading to other parts of the board, so that if you end on these squares you get bonus movement.  Kind of fun and thematic.  There are also 3 space with crossed licorice, meaning if you land on these squares you lose one turn.  Now I remember as a kid Candy Land being a lot meaner; if you got stuck on those squares, you lost every turn where you didn’t draw that color… so they’ve really toned it down quite a bit, which is fine I guess though it means these squares have only minimal impact on the game anymore.  However, my daughter cautions me not to land on them on a regular basis, so apparently they still have the desired effect.

Developmental Opportunities

Since there are no player decisions, each turn the player is just executing what the card tells them.  All movement is color based so this is a great game to work on colors with.  While there is technically no counting required (which is presumably why the color scheme is used in the first place) you can still teach your child to count the number of spaces they move if you like.  Turns flow very quickly but can also get little monotonous so its important to point out the various landmarks on the board your child is passing through to help keep them interested.  Drawing an icon always leads to great excitement, but you have to decide if you want to allow the icons to send players backwards.  That’s how we play it right now and it works pretty well, sometimes I explain it to my daughter as “oh, the Candy Cane guy wants you to come back and visit him” so that she isn’t too saddened.  Since there is a clear winner/loser, this is also a great game to work on sportsmanship with.  My method is to carefully congratulate the winner and then allow the loser to also come to the castle to share in the candy… it’s always a delicate balance as you don’t want to make winning meaningless, but there is lots of story to work with in this game.

Overall Recommendation

Since if you have young kids you are going to likely end up with a copy of Candy Land anyways, you might as well make the best of it.  It’s actually very well adapted to the 3 year old development level.  If you are still working on colors this is a great way to practice those.  The biggest downside is the repetitive and sometimes boring turns, so its important to make the most of the exciting events that do occur; keeping your kid interested may require a little more work than some games but I think the payoff is good.  Best of all, this is a great game to work sportsmanship into the story at the end so don’t miss that opportunity.

Fun Fact

My daughter actually beat me 5 times in a row when we first played this, which is pretty amazing when you consider it.  What can I say, she’s a natural.

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My 3 year old daughter is off to a great start as a boardgamer.  She already has her own game collection of 7-8 games and loves playing long sessions with me, often playing multiple games.  Usually as soon as we finish a game she wants to either play it again or run and get a different one from her room.  I think this is great; gaming at that age has a huge amount of positive developmental benefits.  Think about all the things you can use a board game to teach a 3 year old:

1.  Taking turns.

It is incredibly important for a 3 year old to understand the concept of taking turns, and games are a great way to do this.  It helps that turns in games targeted at young children tend to be very quick.  A kid who can learn to take turns learns patience and respect for order which helps improve behavior and self control.

2.  Sharing.

After all, everyone is playing the same game together, sharing many components.  Setting up and taking the game down together also provides a nice opportunity for cooperation.  Even deciding which game to play can be an opportunity to work on sharing and selfless behavior.

3.  Counting.

Almost every young child game involves some form of counting, often counting spaces on a board for movement or something similar.  Depending on the game there may be other opportunities to work on counting and simple arithmetic.  Since kids learn counting and numbers far better in an applied environment, games are a great way to work on this.

4.  Sportsmanship.

Winning and losing a boardgame provides a great opportunity to teach your 3 year old about correct behavior in sportsmanship situations.  Ultimately, the goal is to help them appreciate that the game is about the experience and fun of playing together, not who wins or loses.  Ideally they can learn to appreciate that trying to win makes the game more fun, but not linger over who won or lost.  It can be tempting to let your child win all the time, but its important to recognize that when your child loses you can show them how a proper winner should behave.

5.  Spatial Awareness.

This applies especially well to boardgames.  Being able to look at a board and understand the game situation, i.e. understand where they are, where other players are, and where key features is similar in many ways to reading a map.

6.  Shapes, colors, letters.

Again, depending on the game there may be many opportunities to work on various useful skills that 3 year olds need to master, often without them realizing they are even in a learning environment.

7.  Simulation/Storytelling.

Most games have some sort of story involved, so the kids can understand what they are trying to do.  Even if the story in a game is non-existent or weak, its easy to embellish it to make the game more exciting.  Turning the game into a story also helps them appreciate the game as an experience, rather than purely as a win/lose contest.

Bottom Line

The KEY here is to recognize the benefits and spend time playing a game with your kid.  Often kids will get boardgames as gifts from well-meaning friends and family, but like many toys, if you don’t take the time to show them how to play with them they will likely just sit on a shelf in a closet somewhere.

Now, certainly all games for young children are not created equal… some are much better than others in terms of design and development opportunities.  I will be writing a few more short posts about specific games that I like or don’t like to play with my daughter that might perhaps help another parent to find games to play with their young child.  Even if you don’t have young children, chances are you know someone who does and perhaps this can help inform your gift buying.

Perhaps most important of all, boardgaming as a hobby, which I believe has many more positive impacts on society than negative, is dependent on raising the next generation to appreciate boardgames.  So by teaching your young child to appreciate boardgames and the value of the constructive shared experience they can provide you are making a small investment in the future of our society, even if your child doesn’t grow up to be much of a boardgame hobbyist themselves.

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Connor is 11 Months!

Ok so initially I promised no cute kid pictures but I just can’t resist.  Connor is turning 11 months today so to celebrate, cute kid picture of him in the pumpkin patch we visited last week.  Kudos to Karina for coming with us and taking some great pictures!

Also, it gives me an excuse to practice uploading images.

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