The Evolution of an Idea

Or, Why a Board Game Store for Education?

Playing PandemicLike most of us in Generation X, I grew up living in two different but complimentary worlds. The first of these was steeped in the typical daily grind of the 70s and 80s, reading books, playing outside, slogging through school, and trying to decide what my Cabbage Patch Kids would be when they grew up. The second reality was one of digital awakening. While our parents were out working in the typing pool or on the factory floor, we were adapting to the new reality hurtling toward us like a freight train. Apple vs Microsoft. Big Blue. Mosaic, Netscape and dot com. Perhaps it is this perspective, from a childhood in the MTV generation, that gives me a unique view of education and the importance of both analog and digital approaches. (It could also be the fear of repeatedly dying of virtual dysentery on the Oregon Trail.)

Reality Bites Back

Majoring in Fine Arts was, perhaps, not the wisest of decisions. For those of us entering the job market in the mid 90s, we spent more time blasting companies with resumes than finding gainful employment. Graphic design was a cutthroat career field and upstate New York was not the place to pursue it. Then came Y2K and the dot com bubble. What to do? My answer was a teaching degree. I packed up my belongings and spent 18 months earning my MAT.

This answered the employment issues for me. I spent 6 years teaching and took maternity leave when I had my son in early 2008. I had fully intended to return to my career and work, but sometimes life throws too many curve balls. Then the “Great Recession” and subsequent housing market collapse hit. At the same time I was finding out that parenting was going to be far from ordinary.

When my son hit 4, we knew there were issues. He wasn’t talking, instead, babbling conversationally. This speech delay caused him to get frustrated with his peers in preschool and would result, occasionally, in physical altercations. Beyond this, he had a wild streak, and was ridiculously willful. We were told by his preschool coordinator that we’d have to find somewhere else for him, despite his affinity for learning (especially math) and blossoming giftedness. Nothing feels like more of a failure than having your child kicked out of preschool.

The years continued on and we juggled life with a twice exceptional child. It was, in itself, a full-time job to manage him with speech, physical and occupational therapy 3-4 times a week along with his precocious tendencies to learn at a ridiculously rapid pace. Like most children he took to electronics, computers, and video games like a fish to water. I knew, however, that we couldn’t let him live in that world 24/7. I’d seen too many of my fellow Gen-Xers get sucked under by technology, falling to digital addiction and depression. So, while I have a healthy respect for technology and know that the future is digital, I also knew that my son needed analog interaction and learning to succeed.

Cue the board games.

Both my husband and I have been avid “gamers” for decades. From Axis & Allies to Dungeons & Dragons, the hours whiled away with friends and family have been invaluable to us. These games have also been the foundation for much of our own learning and creativity. There’s nothing quite like battling a Demogorgon with your troupe of adventurers to create a bond between friends (thank you Stranger Things) or trading wood and sheep in a game of Catan at odd hours of the morning (thank you Big Bang Theory). These seemingly silly games helped us to develop social skills, critical thinking, and often led to deep research in related subject matter to add to our ongoing adventures.

And so, I set out on a path to find games to play with my differently-abled son.

It was also at this time that the board game industry began exploding. No longer were our choices limited to what gamers deemed as Ameritrash games, roll and move games, or Eurogames. Now there were far more choices available in innumerable genres and age categories.

Game on, my friends.

Our son turned 12 last month, in the middle of a once in a century pandemic. I’m glad we introduced him to board gaming early on. We spend our evenings rolling dice and laughing instead of binge-watching Netflix. After his schoolwork is completed, I often find Aidan playing a game of Axis & Allies against himself. I look forward to introducing him to games that can be played solo (a new advent in the board gaming world). And for a time, he puts aside the electronics to engage with us, or his relatives via Zoom or Google, to play a game and socialize.

Last night we played Dixit. Tonight we’ll play Evolution: Climate and we’ll talk about carnivores and herbivores and the effects of climate on the evolution of species. Maybe we’ll even touch on Darwin. Either way, we’ll have fun, bond, and maybe learn a bit more than we knew.

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