Games give kids a taste of real life


My adolescent sons had a friend over the other day. While I was getting their dinner, I overheard them in the living room all adither over political unrest.

"The whole world is just so weak," one said.

"It's ready to collapse," said another. "We need better strategies."

Apparently concerned with a number of vulnerable attack points in Asia, my sons' friend, Ben, had developed a political alliance with Tyler. Yet he didn't want to jeopardize his tenuous relationship with Jonah as he attempted to defend his acquisition of Australia by heavily fortifying Siam and Indonesia.

My mental response went something like this: "Huh?"

Trying not to seem doltish, I asked if they'd like me to buzz Hillary Clinton for a diplomatic intervention. Ben said he is not all that impressed with her management of the situation in Iraq, so no thanks.

Besides, they were just playing the board game "Risk."


The boys' spirited banter stirred in me a torrent of memories from my own childhood. I spent countless hours on the living room floor with friends, cousins and siblings playing board games. I relished the thrill of sleuthing for Col. Mustard with the lead pipe in the billiard room, or of seeing an opponent get sent directly to jail without collecting $200 or passing go.

I remember the Christmas my sister got "The Game of Life." I was enamored by its plastic hills and buildings and its whizzing spinner. And, oh, those cars, with teensy holes for little pink and blue peg children. I was too young at the time to really play the game, but I'd sit and watch my older siblings chart courses as doctors and artists and eventually roll into retirement. When they finally tired of "Life," my brother Jay and I -- the youngest two of five -- would jump in for a chance to wrangle with the icons of adulthood.

Just as "Risk" promotes a rudimentary consideration of geography and political affairs, some of my favorite games provided a simple entre to the world of money management.

One of my all time favorites was the Parker Brothers game "Pay Day." I remember carefully placing my monthly wages of $325 in thin stacks vertical to the playing board. I felt so pleasingly grown-up as I plodded along the calendar days. Making deals, earning commissions, and paying bills and discarding them in the mail stack satisfied me.

I was amused by postcards from my imaginary children at camp, and happy to take a quiet break on Sweet Sunday.

When I learned how to figure percentages in school, it gave the game new life. I got to start using that wondrous purple-shaded debit and credit pad I'd seen the older kids clutch, adding 10 percent interest on savings or paying 20 percent on loans.

It's never too soon to get kids started thinking about money and using it wisely. It's important for children to consider where dollars come from and where they go.

There are plenty of games that open the door to money matters. Some are as basic as teaching the values of coins and bills. Others delve into investment and stockholding.

Crown Financial Ministries sells an "ABC Learning Bank" for young children online for about $15. Classics like "Life," "Pay Day" and "Monopoly" sell for $25 or less at toy stores and department stores. The strategic investment game "Acquire" for older children is easy to find online for less than $30. Lesser known money-themed games are sold at educational stores.

There are free online money games like "Road Trip to Savings" and "Ed's Bank," and a variety of games at

As for clever quips about Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner ... I'm open to suggestions.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is

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