Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Monopoly Junior: Old-Fashioned Family Fun

In a day and age where entertainment for kids is dominated by tablet screens and handheld gizmos, we often overlook the effectiveness of the old-fashioned board game. Mummy recently got her hands on a set of Monopoly Junior to 'teach' Mathematics and Money to the kids. It was an instant hit and has been the 'hot-item' on our list of things to do on lazy post-supper cum pre-bedtime family bonding nights.

All ready to go!

The board resembles a half-sized version of the original, perfect for arm-lengths of the 5 to 8 year old children it was intended for. Science tells us that the attention span of children is about 3 to 5 minutes per year of the child's age. The key changes to keeping the game to the 30 minutes required for our six year-old seem to be opportunities for cash to be lost and elements to keep the game moving. For example, picking up a Chance card usually means a free Ticket Booth which allows you to plant your 'house' at the designated address for free! More 'houses' means players lose money at a faster rate. A shorter circuit serves the same purpose by making players land on each address more frequently. If there's a house there that's not their own, they lose cash more frequently too! Similarly, you get sent to the railway to roll again, keeping the game moving. There are no jails, missed turns, and other delays such as Community Chest cards are omitted. I noticed there are less opportunities to 'collect' cash from the Banker as well, passing Go! being one of the few exceptions. After all, we want the game to end in 30 minutes right?

Despite the modifications, the game meets its intended objective of good, clean family fun. Adults my yawn at the predictability of the modified game, but the game was made for kids. Our six year-old was kept at the edge of her seat, anticipating where she might be sent by the next Chance card, excited by who she gets to collect cash from, and at the same time experiencing the agony of having to 'pay' her little sister for landing on her property. There were plenty of opportunities to learn as well.

The nature of the game allowed for plenty of adding and subtracting. When A. ran out of $5 notes, she had to figure out how to make $5 using the smaller denominations she had. If she passed 'Go' and collected $2 pocket money but landed on someone else's property requiring her to pay $3, what was the net change? If she needed to collect $2 but was handed a $5 note, how much would she have to return?

The game was also an opportunity for character development. For example, when our 4 year-old took longer that expected to figure out how much money to pay, the older girl got impatient and we had the chance to talk to her about being gracious. The competitive nature of our girls also meant that losing was sometimes difficult to swallow (losing to Mummy and Daddy wasn't so bad, but losing to your sister was a different matter!). We took this as a teachable moment and emphasized sportsmanship. Similarly, I recall that there was a point in the game last night where it looked like one of the girls was going to lose. She had a spate of 'unlucky' moves and was left with a measly $4 in her hand. "I'm going to lose!" she bellowed. Well, at the end of the game, she wasn't the first to run out of cash, and we reminded her that if she didn't have the resilience to carry on despite her circumstances, she would never have known that the end was much better than she expected.

Board games provide opportunities for interaction with visiting friends as well!
However, we have to agree that the main thing we gained from sitting around the game was an opportunity to talk, laugh and learn from each other. It was a chance to deposit into the emotional 'bank accounts' of our children, and build family identity and trust. In the midst of our busy schedules, family time is precious. As parents, we learnt that such opportunities had to be intentional. If didn't plan for it, it just wouldn't happen. To make it happen, we had to do the other things 'more efficiently' or push the less important things later, so that we'd have time to enjoy each other.

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