Transforming boredom into board games: How board games can foster connections near and far during self-isolation |

Transforming boredom into board games: How board games can foster connections near and far during self-isolation

Playing board games at home during the COVID-19 pandemic can help pass the time while also opening up new ways to connect with one another.
Mackenzie Hicks/staff

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the midst of a statewide stay-at-home order to help flatten the curve of coronavirus, it’s important to take stock of all the tools available that can facilitate as positive a self-quarantine as possible. Today, we explore different ways of using board games to create positive experiences and outcomes for you and your crew, near and far, during this period of self-isolation.

Board games with kids

Sophie Berkley is a licensed professional counselor and a registered play therapist at Growing Potential LLC in Steamboat Springs. She’s been utilizing board games both professionally and personally for years, in counseling sessions and at home with her own two children.

Within board game play, Berkley points to several essential skills children can learn and practice alongside the fun.

“Some huge pieces of board games are practicing turn-taking, connecting with others and measuring ‘How well can I do this?’” she said. “There’s trying, learning how to lose and dealing with a really wide range of emotions that can come up during a board game — excitement, happiness, frustration and disappointment.” 

Since social distancing began, Berkley has transitioned from play therapy sessions with children at her office to holding phone and video coaching sessions with their parents, who are suddenly home, working remotely or out of work, and with their children all day, every day.

“That’s been a blessing of the coronavirus: more parent engagement and parents connecting more with their children,” Berkley said.

But with infinitely more time for parent-child engagement, parents are also finding an increased need for guidance in their kids’ social-emotional learning. Berkley notes she’s found many parents hold a common misconception about this.

“We often think that teaching kids social skills is telling them what to do, but really, it’s how we model what to do,” she said. “Kids learn by watching the caregivers around them.”

So during a board game, when you land in jail or have to draw four, Berkley recommends acknowledging the tough emotion — ”Oh man, that’s a bummer” — then taking a deep breath and moving on gracefully.

“We want to teach that you can have that emotion without becoming that emotion,” she said. “Have that emotion, and then let it pass, like a wave.”

No matter who wins, what skills are practiced or which emotions come into play, Berkley emphasizes it’s the quality time the players spend together that matters most.

“It’s not just about playing the games themselves,” Berkley said. “It’s the connection with others, the interplay of relationships through board games, that’s important.”

Favorite games of Sophie Berkley, LPC, RPT-S
  • Candyland (for young children)
  • Chutes and Ladders (for young children)
  • Uno (for most ages, or for a group of children of multiple ages)
  • Apples to Apples (for reading practice)
  • Boggle (for spelling practice)
  • Yahtzee (for math practice)
  • Scrabble (for spelling practice)
  • Rummy Cube (for math practice)
  • Ticket to Ride (for older children)

Board games for adults

When Steamboat Springs resident Izzy Sucha packed up her truck last week to ride out the rest of the pandemic at her childhood home in Montana, between her suitcases of clothes and supplies for working remotely was a stack of board games. Soon after she’d completed the 13-hour drive, Sucha brought out Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails for a game night with her whole quarantine team —both of her parents plus her brother and his partner, who also returned to Montana to isolate.

“I tried to start out with the easiest game but teaching my family how to board game was probably the most stressful part of my quarantine so far,” said Sucha, who is a literacy specialist at Mountain Village Montessori Charter School. “I played my dad’s game and my own, I answered the same questions 30 times, and it’s a very long game, so I was also the voice of motivation.”

The players decided to abandon their efforts before the game was finished, but even so, Sucha said it was positive because the family spent time together. And the family hasn’t given up all hope of board gaming together. They’ve adapted the rules of Monopoly to involve more “personality” as well as the occasional wrestling match. 

Sucha has always been a board game enthusiast. Before social distancing, she often hosted board game nights and brunches for friends, and last year at Mountain Village Montessori, she taught a class of elementary schoolers to play cribbage and to build their own cribbage boards.

“There’s time to get out the games that were your favorites, as a kid, and try them out,” Izzy Sucha, a literacy specialist at Mountain Village Montessori Charter School, said. “Now, there’s the time to be nostalgic.” 
Mackenzie Hicks/staff

But now, being at her childhood home for self-isolation is bringing an element of a full-circle cycle to her board gaming. 

“There’s time to get out the games that were your favorites, as a kid, and try them out,” she said. “Now, there’s the time to be nostalgic.” 

Video games and games via video conferencing

While some classic games have held true through generations — Uno, Checkers, Chess and Monopoly — this period of self-isolation also highlights a major difference between the way adults played games several decades ago and the games their children play today. 

“I’ve been having lots of conversations with parents who get frustrated that their kids just want to play video games, not board games or hiking,” Berkley said. 

Her advice? 

“I’m asking parents to play 20 minutes of video games with their kid,” she said. “If you don’t want to — that’s exactly how your kid feels about going on a hike. But if you have them teach you about the video game, you’re connecting and really being open to what’s important to them. It can be an incredibly bonding time.” 

Berkley has also heard from many parents who let their kids spend time in front of a screen so that the parents can get their own work done — and feel guilty about that. 

For either instance, Berkley notes that limited screen time — say, an hour per day, with the potential for earning a bit more by doing physical activities — can provide a balance that works well for everyone. The kids can connect with their friends from afar in their video games, their parents can get their work done or have a few minutes to themselves, and at the end of the screen time, the kids get practice in “unplugging.” 

“It’s about regulating the system,” Berkley said. “(At the end of limited screen time,) kids practice turning off the screen, which can create a more regulated child, and parents can let go of their guilt about letting the child be plugged in.”

Up in Montana, Sucha is using video conferencing technology to expand her pool of potential board game players.

“I’m going to try to put a game of (Settlers of) Catan or Photosynthesis together, since my friends and I both have copies of those,” she said. “I just got dice for Farkle. And Battleship could work well, even just over the phone.” 

Back in Steamboat, Berkley had a similar thought. She’s planning to purchase a second game of Battleship and send it to friends who are quarantined in Vail, so the families can play each other.

“Getting to hear someone’s voice and see their face (over video) really does fill some social networking needs,” Berkley said. 

In addition to playing board games, Sucha is on the lookout for an open lumberyard, where she can get materials to build a fleet of four-player cribbage boards for herself and friends. Next, she plans to mail the boards to friends across the country so they can play each other via video conferencing. 

The thought of building a new board of Settlers of Catan — a more complex project than a cribbage board — has also crossed her mind.

“Let’s see how long we’re in quarantine for,” Sucha said.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User