Peaceable Kingdom’s Donna Jaffe on what makes games fun for kids
Kids of all ages love games. But if you’ve ever watched a checkers board get upended in rage, you know not all games are alike! Wouldn’t it be great if kids could play fun games together in ways that make them feel great, help them get along, and boost their emotional development along the way?
That’s the philosophy behind Peaceable Kingdom, which makes cooperative games, puzzles, and gifts for kids. Make that award-winning games with catchy names, like the popular Hoot Owl Hoot! (for ages 4 to 8), Snug as a Bug in a Rug (ages 3 to 6), Count Your Chickens (ages 3 to 5), and Cauldron Quest (ages 6 to 10). New this year (2017): Mole Rats in Space, by noted game designer Matt Leacock (creator of Pandemic and Forbidden Island), and several games for 2-year-olds, including Bunny Bedtime, that focus on meaningful moments of connection between a parent and their child.
Company president Donna Jaffe says being a mom has influenced her work in many ways. “Before I was involved with Peaceable Kingdom, when my son, Sam, was in preschool, I was active with a local parenting organization of 1,000+ families,” she told us. “There were several women who ran the organization, and it was from them that I truly learned how to work with people, how to bring people together, but also how to run meetings and understand members’ needs and develop resource materials by committee. In some ways, watching these smart, creative, and caring women gave me the deepest insights into how I wanted to run a company.”
We asked Jaffe, pictured above, for her play insights and parenting faves:
How I define cooperative play: Playing for the good of the group. Playing as a way to bring people together. Traditional games or competitive games definitely can do that, but they also have the potential to make players feel frustrated or angry. I remember plenty of times letting my son win a game when he was little so we wouldn’t have any tears! There’s no need for that in cooperative games.
I often describe how to play a cooperative game using musical chairs as an example. When you play cooperatively you never eliminate kids on each round; you only eliminate chairs. By the end of the game you have 8 kids all helping each other “sit” on one chair!
What cooperative games teach kids that traditional games don’t: Cooperative games teach kids teamwork, of course, but they also teach kids what it truly feels like when you work together—that feeling of respectful connection, of empathy for others, of it being acceptable to need help.
What makes a game compelling for preschoolers: The best thing a game can do for young kids is give them a way to be with a parent for a set amount of undistracted time. Of course, a favorite theme—like dinosaurs or mermaids—doesn’t hurt! But even a favorite theme needs to have an engaging play mechanism behind it. It should be playful and energetic, and just challenging enough to hold kids’ attention even if they lose.
What makes a game compelling for older kids: I think it’s really some of the same things as for preschoolers. The play mechanism can be more complicated, but it’s about the way you can enter this other world for a bit of time and share a fun experience with others.
My favorite Peaceable Kingdom game: I don’t have favorites! I love playing all our games at different times and with different people!
3 things (large or small) I wish all parents knew:
- Listen more. Talk less.
- Let your kids fall and fail and then rise on their own.
- Say “I love you” when they’re teenagers. A lot. Even if you have to whisper it.
A family ritual we love: Hiking! When my son was little we’d put him in the backpack and walk—just about every weekend. As he grew he hiked with us, but occasionally we’d have to bribe him up the trail with chocolate. By the time he was in middle school, his dad and I could barely keep up.
My 3 favorite children’s books of all time:
- Pancakes for Breakfast
- Where the Wild Things Are
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Classic board game played the most at our house: Boggle
A surefire birthday gift for a 3-year-old: Dress-up clothes—to encourage imagination.
A surefire birthday gift for a 5-year-old: The Peaceable Kingdom game Race to the Treasure—for learning game strategy in a cooperative environment.
A surefire birthday gift for a 10-year-old: A book—choose wisely for a reluctant reader and you’ll help open a kid’s world.
The best thing for a kid’s imagination is: Unstructured time and new experiences.
The worst thing for a kid’s imagination is: Having someone tell you there’s a right way to do something.
The best parenting advice I ever got: “Relax!” (I got it a lot and wish I had taken it to heart earlier.)
My motto as a mom: I try to encourage my son to live with an open heart and a curious mind.
Photos from top: Donna Jaffe and kids/Peaceable Kingdom; Hoot Owl Hoot! A Cooperative Game by Peaceable Kingdom/YouTube