Mario vs. Monopoly: The Battle for Kids’ Attention
7 Tabletop Alternatives to Video Games for Kids
In a world where Mario Kart races against Monopoly’s speedster, the ultimate showdown for kids’ attention unfolds. Board games and video games collide in an epic battle. Many parents wonder, are board games better than video games when it comes to improving their childs' attention? Well, hold on to your dice because we’re about to explore why classic board games like Monopoly, Scrabble, and Sorry!, might just be the champions of both entertainment and education. Plus, we’ll recommend some of the best tabletop games for kids from around the world.
Round 1: Exercise those Brain Muscles
Sure, video games like Super Mario might sharpen reflexes, but can they boost your kids’ vocabulary like a heated game of Scrabble? While some video games build a variety of skills beyond eye-hand coordination such as problem-solving and cognitive skills, as well as cooperative play (looking at you, Minecraft), handling 3-dimensional objects during game play, not only builds fine motor skills, but also records information in the brain in more than one location embedding it deeper in the brain. Using manipulatives might also make ideas more memorable. “Young children learn initially through their senses, so their learning environments should provide opportunities for them to be hands-on—to see, hear, touch, and connect with their surroundings. This process is how young children master the basics of learning readiness.” 
Board and card games are the secret mental boot camp you never signed up for. The National Institute of Aging applauds board games for boosting cognitive function and short-term memory, while some video games might just have your child jumping down pipes and collecting imaginary coins.
For another fun brain-boosting card game to play with your kids, try…
How it works: See if you can find the word hidden in one of the colored rings. First one to shout out the correct word, wins the card. The player with 10 cards wins!
Round 2: Screen Time v. Family Time
Picture this: a family huddled around a board game, trading fake properties, and negotiating power plays. Now, imagine a kid staring at a screen, lost in a virtual world. Board games encourage face to face interactions, laughter, and, let’s not forget, the occasional good-natured argument about who owes rent. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry encourages limiting screen time to create more opportunities for family bonding.
For an exciting card game that will get the whole family smiling, try…
How it works: Too many cooks in the kitchen? This culinary card game from Spain is won by the chef who collects all of their recipe’s ingredients first, then shouts, “The kitchen is closed!”
Round 3: Strategy v. Button Mash
In the red corner, we have the strategic maneuvering of Risk, where every move is a calculated risk (hence the name). In the blue corner, we have button-mashing, joystick-twisting, and finger-cramping video games. While video games offer adrenaline-pumping action, board games teach patience, critical thinking, and the art of planning several steps ahead. The American Psychological Association nods approvingly at board game’s role in honing strategic thinking.
For a card game that will teach your kid to think and plan, try…
How it works: Stealing is all in good fun with this fast-paced, sheep-swiping card game from France. You must protect your herd from the wolf and sneaky siblings while snatching other players' sheep. The player with the most sheep wins!
Round 4: The Sneaky Way to Learn
Monopoly, the board game everyone loves to hate. But guess what? It is a crash course in economics! As kids wheel and deal, they’re learning about money management, negotiation, and the unforgiving nature of a ruthless capitalist world -- while arguing over who gets to be the top hat. Meanwhile, video games teach you how to defeat virtual monsters, but most won’t prep you for real life practical financial skills in a safe space where failure doesn’t mean you lose your home.
Reinforce math skills without it feeling like homework with this clever game from Canada…
How it works: Draw tiles and build equations in this Scrabble-like game. First person to run out of tiles wins!
Round 5: Creating Memories that Stick
When was the last time a kid reminisced about reaching level 37 in a video game? Now, how about the time when grandpa accidentally knocked over the table during a few heated rounds of Uno? Board games create stories, jokes, and moments that become the stuff of family legends. Psychology Today highlights the role of shared experiences in creating lasting memories.
For a great board game to bond the whole family, try…
How it works: Two clever board games in one! Before there was Parcheesi, there was Ludo. Roll the dice to move your pieces around the wooden game board to get to the center before the other players do. Then flip the board over for a rollicking Game of Goose. Roll the dice to move your goose around the board. The first player to land on 63 wins. These games are a super sneaky way of reinforcing number recognition, counting, and addition skills.
Round 6: Operation: Screen Break
As the referee counts down to the final round, here’s the clincher: board games offer a much-needed screen break! In a world consumed by screens of all sizes, board games provide a refreshing alternative, allowing kids to unplug and engage in real tangible play. The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of reducing screen time to promote healthier lifestyles.
Give those eyeballs a break from staring at screens up close with this hilarious family game…
How it works: This game gives players different challenges to launch the ping pong ball into the bucket. Builds strategic thinking skills, as well as real-world experience with velocity, precision, and spatial reasoning.
Round 7: Emotional IQ Boost
While video games help with social-emotional development, whether it is teaming up to defeat the big boss or learning to cope with betrayal, playing games in-person allows your child not only to learn to regulate their emotions, but to learn to read non-verbal communication. Whether a little sister is sitting with her arms crossed, or mom won’t make eye contact, learning to read people’s body language helps to build more sophisticated emotional intelligence.
In addition, it helps them learn to behave in socially appropriate ways during challenging situations and consider how their behavior affects other people. They might even catch a big bro sneaking an extra $100 bill from the bank.
For a cooperative game that helps build emotional connections, try…
How it works: Sushi chefs team up to stack ingredients as indicated on the drawn card. It is harder than you think when your partner is not holding up their end of the bargain.
Round 8: Effects on Physical & Mental Health
Now it is time to talk about the elephant in the room – no, I am not talking about Phan Phan. Video games are designed to be addictive. Separating the addict from the object of their desire leads to meltdowns. There is even a new diagnosis: Electronic Screen Syndrome. “Children with ESS exhibit symptoms due to chronic hyperarousal that cause significant dysfunction in school, at home, or with peers.”  Typical signs and symptoms include emotional dysregulation, poor executive functioning, aggressive behaviors, sleep disorders, and poor school performance. 
Additionally, repetitive movements of the upper limbs, if performed excessively, may promote strain injuries. That and a sedentary lifestyle is one of the contributing factors to musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, gamer’s thumb, tendonitis, and/or synovitis  in children.
To mitigate the development of these issues, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to 30-60 minutes a day on school days for children over 6 years old, and to 2 hours on non-school days. Children between 2 and 6 years old should spend less than 30 minutes a day in front of screens. You can set a rule that gaming is allowed only after homework and chores are completed. They also recommend that some days every week should be video game-free.  Using technology designed specifically for kids, that includes screen time controls, such as SoyMomo’s tablets and smartwatch phones can make the task of limiting screen time for your kids easier.
In conclusion, are board games better than video games? Well, while video game play can be developmentally beneficial, board games should be the clear winner in the battle for kids’ attention! The strategic thinking, family bonding, mental exercise, social-emotional development, and nostalgia that board games provide make them the real heroes of playtime.
So, gather your troops, roll the dice, and relish the sheer joy of old-fashioned board game revelry. Mario might have his charms, but Monopoly’s taking up all of the real estate!
1. Blaustein, Mari. “The Basics of Learning Readiness.” (2005).
2. Editors: Young, Kimberly S PsyD and de Abreu, Christiano Nabuco, PhD, Internet Addiction in Children and Adolescents Risk Factors, Assessment, and Treatment (2017).
3. Tholl, Chuck; Bickmann, Peter; Wechsler, Konstatin; Froböse, Ingo; and Grieben, Christopher. “Musculoskeletal Disorders in Video Gamers – A Systematic Review.” (2022). https://bmcmusculoskeletdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12891-022- 05614-0
4. Foothill Sports Medicine Physical Therapy, “Surprising Wrist, Thumb, and Elbow Injuries from Gaming.” (2022). https://foothillsrehab.com/blog/video-game- injuries/
5. Petry, Nancy M. PhD. “Healthy Limits on Video Gaming: How to Prevent (or Overcome) Problems with Gaming.” Child Mind Institute. (2023). https://childmind.org/article/healthy-limits-on-video-games/
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