If your kids are anything like mine, they’re always eager to play games. And while playing those games, they seem just as eager to get into crying, screaming, punching, kicking, hair-pulling fights over winning. (Fortunately, the biting has been tapering off. )
Still, along with books and music, games should be a third essential resource that you diligently collect for your home. Suitable games that parents can play with kids, and kids can play with one another, are a fun and effective strategy for boosting exposure to the minority language.
If your minority language is English, you’re in luck—there are many, many great games in English. And some of those games—some of my favorites—are cooperative games in which the players aren’t competing against each other (the source of those pitched battles I just described). They’re working together, as a team, and all the players share in the final triumph or defeat.
Emphasizing cooperative games
Now I’m no extremist when it comes to competition. I recognize that competition is a part of life, and can be a healthy thing. We have plenty of competitive games on our shelves as well, which I’ll also share on this blog.
But I can tell you, unequivocally, that emphasizing cooperative games, particularly for younger children, not only provides the English exposure we seek, it also makes life at home far more harmonious. If all you have are competitive games, and their branding of winners and losers, the bruised feelings that are commonly the result may eventually make you reluctant to play the games at all—and then your aim of using games to promote language exposure goes right out the window. (This is exactly what happened with several of the competitive games I own. Because Lulu wound up in a puddle of tears every time she lost, I’ve had to pull those games out of rotation. I won’t try to use them again until she’s a little older.)
So all this sounds good, right? Get some cooperative games, increase their exposure to the minority language, foster positive values of unity and teamwork, and have fun to boot.
The problem is: Where do you find great cooperative games? Aren’t cooperative games all kind of wimpy and lame?
A goldmine of games
That was pretty much my own attitude until I stumbled upon a small family-owned business in Canada when I was a teacher at Hiroshima International School. The games looked intriguing, so I ordered several from the company, called Family Pastimes, for my classroom…and I’ve been a huge fan of their products ever since.
For 40 years Jim Deacove and his family have been creating what could be the best cooperative games in the world: imaginative, inventive, fun to play, well-made, eco-friendly, and reasonably priced. And their catalog is extensive: they have dozens and dozens of games for all ages, from those geared to small children to others designed for older kids and adults.
I currently own ten of those games, and all of them (though I naturally have favorites) have been used successfully with my students and with my own kids. It’s hard to choose, really, but Harvest Time, Round-Up, and The Circus Comes to Town are particularly fun and exciting—even for adults. Lulu says that her favorite is the playful jaunt to Granny’s House, while Roy enjoys the “scary” adventure found in Caves & Claws.
The full catalog of games can be browsed easily at the Family Pastimes website, according to age group. One thing to keep in mind is that the website shows no prices (I think they want to avoid repeatedly updating the site), but you can receive the current price list by email if you zip them a message: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The website isn’t designed for online selling, either, so to order the games, you would again handle this via email. With the list of the products you want, and your location, the Family Pastimes staff can then determine the shipping costs, too.
Family Pastimes is a goldmine of cooperative games. Their games have been an important part of my efforts to promote the English ability of my children and my students in an enjoyable, effective, and sanity-saving way. I feel very fortunate that I came across Jim Deacove’s exceptional work, and I hope this post will help spread these very useful resources far and wide. (This recommendation is affiliate-free, too!)
Another wonderful cooperative game is Busy Town, based on Richard Scarry’s characters. My 5 year old loves it and it is challenging as well to adults with failing eyesight and memories; I just can’t seem to remember where all the little objects we have to find are. But it’s fun to beat the pigs before they eat all of the picnic food.
Roger, thanks for the great suggestion. If it’s good for failing eyesight and memories, it sounds like the game for me!
We like Richard Scarry and have several of his books. One particular favorite is a book of silly stories called “The Great Pie Robbery and Other Mysteries”—it’s a classic!
Hi Adam, I just discovered a great game for multilingual families, which is non-competitive and can be made into a cooperative game as well. Between this and the French monopoly (I know it’s competitive, but it was the Bourgogne edition of the game after all…-), we’ve had lovely, multilingual holidays!
Annika, I agree, I like Rory’s Story Cubes and I use them regularly with my kids and my students.
Another good storytelling game is called Tell Tale Fairy Tales, which consists of colorful cards with fairy tale settings, characters, and objects. I got it just recently and it’s been a hit in our house!
Peaceable Kingdom http://peaceablekingdom.com/Departments/Games/Cooperative-Games.aspx has an entire line of cooperative games for everyone from ages 3 to adult!
Many of their games are 100% green and all of them have the players working together as a team against the game.
Tara, thank you for adding this useful resource. These look like great games, from a great company.
Brain Box can be a lot of fun http://www.brainbox.co.uk/