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All I want for Christmas is ... family fun and games!

All I want for Christmas is family fun and gamesHas your family Christmas become an endless round of cooking and eating interspersed with hours slumped in front of the TV? Then bring back the fun with some cheap and cheerful traditional games, suggests behaviour analyst Judi James.

Many of us already have a selection of board games lying neglected in a store cupboard or under the bed in the kids’ rooms. But even if you don’t, traditional games cost relatively little to buy new – or you can save money by seeking out second-hand versions at car boot stalls or on auction websites.

It’s not just kids who enjoy games at Christmas, Judi points out: everyone’s spirits can be lifted by the laughter and light-hearted competitive spirit that family games invoke. According to Judi, "Christmas games provide the ideal opportunity to create some genuine family socialising, instead of the sort of lower-level rapport that’s created by slumping in front of the TV."
 
In addition to being a fun way to pass the time, traditional games provide mental stimulation for people of all ages, notes Judi, and can help youngsters improve important skills such as spelling or counting.
 
"As well as the empathy boost of a shared recreation, all of the most popular games on the market contain a complex number of benefits," explains Judi, "stimulating everything from competitive skills to the more straightforward learning advantages of games that require spelling, acting or drawing competencies." 

“First word, first syllable, sounds like…”

Here’s Judi’s guide to just some of the social, physical and intellectual benefits of playing a selection of popular traditional games:

• Games like Charades foster team-building, as well as developing the vital skills of creativity and communication. The individual performance aspect of Charades is also helpful in dealing with shyness. People who would normally struggle being the centre of attention can find this a non-challenging way to take centre stage at a social event, helping to boost their confidence and performance skills.
 
• Board games like Monopoly project a much more individual sense of intellectual confidence, as the game pits you against everyone else. Small children are introduced to the idea of strategic thinking in a ‘go it alone’ style that reflects the type of survival training that all animals introduce their offspring to in the wild. Small animals have to learn how to fight, kill and compete by themselves, and games like this produce a much softer version of the same set of competencies.
 
• Monopoly also stimulates an entrepreneurial spirit! Although the game is dictated by the roll of the dice, the financial planning and property empire-building develops a unique part of the brain.
 
• Games like Scrabble and Pictionary are a fun way of developing the writing, spelling and drawing skills of the entire family. They have always provided a brain workout for the kids, but with our increased reliance on PC-based spellcheckers they’re a useful way for adults to hone these skills, too! 

“Colonel Mustard, in the kitchen, with the rope…”

• Games like Cluedo require lying and bluffing competencies that can help with the soft skills of lying that we use as part of image management in the workplace. They also force competitors to become far more perceptive than normal. They make us question issues of trust in a very safe environment, and help prevent friends and family members from taking each other for granted or making assumptions about one another in the way we tend to throughout the year.

• Trivial Pursuits stimulates general knowledge, and the game is strategically created to provide speciality questions that allow every member of the family to win. Because the questions vary from children’s subjects to themes that older family members would excel in, there’s no obvious advantage for any age group. This gives a unique opportunity for children to beat their parents in a game of intellect, which can help them build confidence.

• Games like Jenga hone skills of physical and spatial intelligence, as well as helping to develop qualities like patience and planning that are often under-used in our highly stressed society. By pushing one wooden block out without upsetting the rest, you get to practise skills of hand and eye coordination and manual dexterity, and learn that rushing and impatience can often scupper success.

Finally, remember that, while everyone is playing games, there’ll be less time for family squabbles or arguments about what to watch next on TV – that’s surely reason enough to make this a Christmas filled with fun and games! 

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