At Katie Pugh's house, the kids don't ask to play Guitar Hero or watch yet another princess movie after the family eats dinner.

Instead, her 6-year-old son, Jake, and 3-year-old daughter, Josie, are thrilled to play a board game before bedtime.

"They're way into it," Pugh said. "They ask for it every day."

So the Pughs break out Chutes and Ladders, Hullabaloo or Guess Who? at least three nights a week — and sometimes during the day, too, said Pugh, a third-grade teacher. During her summer days at home, a board game can be an easy alternative to messy arts and crafts projects.

"It's a low-energy, quick-cleanup, fun way to spend your time together that allows you to talk through things and get some educational value out of it," said Pugh, who started playing Cranium Hullabaloo, a color- and shape-classification game, with her son when he was about 18 months old.

Like the Pughs, many families with young children have begun embracing what was a tradition in their parents' and grandparents' homes: family game night. Hemmed in by financial pressures, many parents are cutting spending on takeout, movies, vacations and lavish toys, but are spending more money on board games they can play with their children at home.

The toy industry has seen spending drop by nearly 2 percent since April 2008 — with youth electronics and vehicles showing particularly steep drops of 12 percent and 13.5 percent, respectively. But sales of board games have increased by nearly 5 percent during that period, according to researchers at The NPD Group.

Toy stores that normally stock a half-dozen copies of several brands of board games have been selling out, reordering and selling out again. And that's not just during the winter holidays, when such games are usually most popular.

Some sales are for travel-sized board games and card games for road trips to the beach, but many are traditional board games such as Monopoly and family games for young children, such as Hungry Hungry Hippos.

"During recessions, people stay home more and are less active and I think they're looking for more family-oriented things to do," said Angel Stahl, owner of Angel's Toy Barn in Greensburg, Pa. "We tend to slow down when things get tight, and I think a lot of people are trying to find ways to reconnect with their families, to sit down and talk, because everyone is so busy."

Other parents said they sit down to family game night not because they need to save money, but because they are trying to show their children that life exists beyond video games, computers and text messages. Others want to teach kids how to wait their turns and demonstrate good sportsmanship.

Many plan game nights simply because their kids think it's fun.

"We'll do anything to get their minds going, but mostly we do it because they enjoy it," said Angie Brautigam, 40, a nurse whose children will enter fourth and fifth grade this fall. "Sometimes they prompt us to do it."

For some parents, it's a rare chance to sit in one place and actually enjoy their children's company.

"If you can make any time at all for family game night, I would do it because it's so much fun to watch them grow, to watch their minds work, and see some of the quirky things they come up with playing games," she said.

Research shows that, amid all that play, children might actually learn from certain board games.

Psychology researcher Robert Siegler, a professor of cognitive psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, has studied how playing board games affects low-income preschoolers' understanding of math concepts such as recognizing, identifying, comparing and estimating numbers.

In 2007, he looked at 88 4- and 5-year olds from 10 Head Start centers whose families had income of less than $17,000 a year. He found that playing a linear board game like Chutes and Ladders a total of one hour over two weeks — made a noticeable difference in math ability. Estimating skills improved by 40 percent. Skills at comparing numbers, such as whether the number 4 or 6 is larger, improved by 20 percent. And identifying numbers improved by 13 percent.

For parents and teachers, he said, playing linear board games would be an easy way to teach math skills to young children, at little expense.

"It's quite a striking effect, and it occurs very quickly," he said. (…)


Source: Scripps News –