Can you make a career out of playing Snakes and Ladders? If so, I think our three-year-old will qualify for a hefty entrance scholarship.
She’s some kind of Snakes and Ladders prodigy. She wins every single time, even though she can barely figure out how to roll the ridiculous foam dice. My husband and I think it’s hilarious. But you know who doesn’t find it funny? Our five-year-old son, also known as The Big Brother Who Believes He Should Get To Win Sometimes, SO THERE.
We started Family Game Night as our Sunday evening tradition, and we have quite a collection of kid-appropriate board games. Of course, the kids go through phases of wanting to play the same (very boring) games over and over.
There was a dark period when I thought I would have to secretly donate “Hi Ho! Cherry-O” because my clumsy fingers couldn’t stand to pick up any more of those miniature plastic incorrectly-shaped fruits.
I have played a lot of games, with our own kids and our friends’ kids. I may have gotten carried away with the board game collecting, but I really believed that knowing how to play games was an important skill. I still think that! I want to raise kids who are good sports, not sore losers. I just didn’t realize how painfully tedious it would be to teach.
Simple skills, like rolling a dice, do not come naturally to little kids. No, you don’t drop it accidentally-on-purpose to get the number you want. No, you don’t whip it across the room so Daddy has to go pick it up. No, not under the table either!
A lot of kids’ games come with spinners, and those little plastic-and-cardboard contraptions are even more frustrating than the dice. Pudgy uncoordinated toddler fingers will struggle to spin them. They will tap it and poke it and jab it, and the spinner will not spin. Then the older kids will turn it into a competition, and see who can flick it the hardest while the little ones cry.
Once the dice are rolled (on the table, not across the room) or the kid finally figures out the spinner, it’s time to “help” them move their playing piece. Without a doubt, they will insist on moving it all by themselves, which means you have to carefully count out loud while they struggle to move it. You’ll fight hard to resist the urge to guide their chubby little fist as they dart their playing piece up, down and all around.
And the cheating! I didn’t know toddlers would instinctively know to cheat at a board game until I saw it with my own eyes. But you have to watch them closely, or they will veer around snakes and inch themselves closer to ladders. Don’t even get me started on the sneaky basket maneuvers in “Hi Ho! Cherry-O.”
When our three-year-old inevitably beats us all at Snakes and Ladders, our eldest is always crushed. He whines that she always wins, and why isn’t it his hurt to win a game?
We remind him that we play board games for fun, and that it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. We all shake hands and say “Good game” after each round, and we stop the littlest when she gets gloaty and does a victory dance. I’ve said the words “Remember to be a good sport” more often than I’ve played Tic Tac Toe.
I think — I hope? — there will be a day when Family Game Night doesn’t end in tears. Until then, we will keep playing and keep repeating the importance of having fun and being a good sport.
We’ll also keep researching Snakes and Ladders career options, because this kid is ready to go pro.