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The Dad Game: The gentle art of teaching others to play

John Kaufeld, author, family geek, and all-around chief elf, writes "The Dad Game" to connect fathers and children through the love of boardgames. (Courtesy photo for The News-Sentinel)
John Kaufeld, author, family geek, and all-around chief elf, writes "The Dad Game" to connect fathers and children through the love of boardgames. (Courtesy photo for The News-Sentinel)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Saturday, June 07, 2014 12:01 am
There it was, sitting on the shelf of your friendly local game store — the new game you wanted to buy next because you heard that it's absolutely awesome and would be perfect for your family.The game called out to you and you responded. You plunked down the money and took your new purchase home.

You sliced the shrink wrap, unpacked the box, punched out everything, took inventory, and read the rules. You figured out how to set things up and how to win. You even challenged yourself to a demo game.

But now, real people face you from around the game table. Excitement is in the air. Things are real.

It's finally time to play. Or, more to the point, it's time to teach everybody else how it's done.For many people (myself included sometimes – just ask my gaming group), the hardest thing about teaching a new game is figuring out exactly where to start. Luckily, you have that one covered thanks to the time you invested in figuring out the game.

The people you're teaching will need a framework to understand the game, just like you did in last week's column. The big difference now is that you're interpreting and explaining everything instead of getting it from the rules.

If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about your teaching skills, you can always use a video overview to introduce the game. There's no shame in using visual aids – teachers do it all of the time. Go ahead and show the video to everyone. This works best if you have the game pieces out of the box and set up on the table. That lets everybody make the mental connections between the explanation and the actual bits they'll play with.

From there, walk them through what they need to know just as you learned it yourself. “Show and tell” explanations work perfectly for board games. Explain how things work, show the pieces, parts and board locations involved, and give quick examples or demonstrations to make everything clear.

Take comfort in the fact that you don't have to explain everything before you start playing. It's better to give a quick overview, introduce the key concepts, mention how to win, and then dive into playing. Getting hands-on experience with the game will keep everyone's interest high and their excitement engaged. You can always look up things when you need to as you play.The first few times you play a game, always keep the rule book handy. Questions will invariable come up. Getting the right answer for them is important, especially when learning.

When you trip across a question, grab the rules and look up the answer. That makes sure you're doing things right.

Don't try to impress everybody with your command of what's in the book. You'll forget stuff. Really, you will. And that's okay; it happens to everybody.

Unless you are absolutely, positively, 100% sure you know the correct answer, it's much better to say, “That's a great question, let's look that up in the rules,” instead of popping off an I-think-I-pretty-much-know type of answer.

If you make some mistakes while teaching the game, don't fret about it. We all screw up sometimes. It's the joy of life. Whether it's an overlooked rule, a bad explanation, or goodness only knows what else, just roll with it, apologize and make a mental note for next time.One of the best things you'll ever experience as a parent is letting your child teach you how to do something. It's also one of the best skills you can help your children develop, because it will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Learning a new game makes a perfect opportunity for a child to take the lead and learn how to teach. It's a safe, protected environment with a supportive audience (that's you and the rest of the family, in case you wondered).

Exactly how this process works depends a lot on your child's personality. Some children will dive head-first into the opportunity to teach the family a game. Their first attempts may or may not work very well, often because they start in the middle of everything and then throw out random factoids and tips as they go. Others want to go slow, looking for help (and backup) from you at every stage.

You have two jobs at moments like this.

First, be patient. Approaching the whole teaching experience with calm patience is your most important task. Don't be short, cross or critical as your child teaches. Instead, listen and focus. Give your child your full attention.

When things go awry in their explanation, ask questions. When you feel it's appropriate, coach your child on ways to explain things differently. Let them practice. Praise them when they're doing well. Learning to teach is a process. They're just learning.

You probably don't remember the first time that “youthful you” taught someone else how to do something, but the odds are good that it didn't go very well. Your skills grew as you figured out better ways to explain things, but it took practice. Now, you get to help your kids do the same thing and walk through the same process.

Give your children the benefit of your time, attention and support. It's one of the best steps you can take toward building a deep, solid relationship with them. And the smiles and laughter along the way will make your time together really awesome. Trust me.


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