What Kids Learn at the Video Arcade


Today is Big O’s 5th Birthday.  Yesterday I overheard him telling a friend’s mom that I was taking him to the water park today…what??!!  I’m not sure where he got that idea from but it made me begin to wonder what I could do special for him today.  Birthdays are definitely celebrated in our house, but not as BIG as in some families.  We have parties for the kids and (most) years I will cook them their favorite meal (or take them out to their favorite restaurant).  O’s party was last saturday and the only thing he asked for on his birthday was a pumpkin pie.  So in thinking what else I could do special for him today it came to me.  I could make his (random) wish come true!  So after preschool pick up, off we went to the “Splash Zone” at a local family fun center.  He enjoyed it…mostly.  See, he hates water in his face.  Naturally a “Splash Zone” wouldn’t be his favorite destination.  I knew this.  He had to figure it out.  So much to my surprise (not really) after an hour of getting squirted in the face he agreed to leave.  Wow!  That was easy, I thought.  Then he mentioned the arcade.

On the way out we had to pass through the arcade.  My kids love these kinds of places.   Personally , I feel they are a waste of money and provide little benefit except sensory overload!  But none the less, it was HIS special day.  So I cashed in my $5 for a handful of game tokens.  He was in birthday heaven!  As I  maneuvered through the blinking lights struggling to hear my own thoughts over the noise, I began to wonder, “Is there any benefit to this type of place?”  (aka How can I feel better about allowing my kids to indulge in this type of “fun”?)  Hmmm…why yes!  Yes there is!!!


These are the thoughts that entered my mind:


1.  Kids learn to recognize numbers at arcades.  O had to read the number on each game to tell me how many tokens it took to play, he then had to count out the correct number of tokens.  This was a good test for him and enlightening for me.  He can definitely recognize 1, 2 and 3!

2.  Kids learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division at arcades.  When it’s time to cash in those tickets for those wonderfully coveted plastic treasures behind the counter kids have to count, divide and decide how best to trade up what they have earned.

3.  Kids learn how to handle disappointment.  Often times my kids want the big, purple, stuffed monkey on the wall that costs 5,000 tickets.  Does anyone really win those things???  Quickly they learn that the amount of tickets they have will only earn them the few dollar store items in the glass case.  Such is life…you win some, you lose some.

4.  Kids learn patience and perseverance.  When my kids are sad that they don’t have enough tickets to get the dusty monkey off the wall, I remind them they can save their tickets up if they really want the monkey.  We have yet to have this happen, but it is a good opportunity for them to practice perseverance. (If only the monkey were a bit more enticing!)

5.  Kids learn patience.  Just like at many kid themed attractions, kids have to wait their turn.  Thankfully today, due to the sweltering heat, the arcade wasn’t very busy.  The crowd was mostly outside in the water park.  But there have been many other times where my kids have had to patiently wait their turn to play a favorite game.  Or they’ve had to endure the shoving and pushing at the prize counter to wait their turn to claim their treasure.  Both good lessons in patience.

6.  Kids learn to respect limits.  Sounds a bit contradictory since this post has mostly been about how I indulge my kids at places like these but my husband and I always set a limit before we enter the arcade.  Whether it’s a time limit or a token limit, once it’s over, it’s over.  And following suit today, Big O was okay with leaving after he played his 5 game limit.  Shockingly we even left with some tokens in his pocket.  I think that’s his insurance plan to return someday soon 😉


Maybe next year, buddy!  Especially now that mommy can justify our trip as more than just overindulging, wasteful, sensory overload!!


Happy 5th Birthday, O! I love you!

Dear Parents…

Dear Parents,

There is something I need you to know.

Your children really need to play.

Why, you ask, do I care?

I care because I work with infants and toddlers and have two elementary aged daughters. I see every day as an early childhood professional and as a parent what our society is doing to children and families. I’ve been there….where you may be. Sitting in a friend’s playroom with your two year olds. Looking at the 40 different toys that sing the alphabet and count in 4 languages. I’ve stared at the items labeled with site words around the room and the shelves of books and flashcards teaching letters and sounds. I have had the pang of panic. I’ve heard that little voice in my head, “If she can’t recite letters or shapes or…will..she.. EVER be ready for Kindergarten?”   “If she can’t sit through story hour…how will she EVER sit through circle time?” “If she can’t recognize her letter get into HARVARD?”

What you need to know.

PLAY builds brains. Simple as that. 40% of the neural connections in the brain at birth are “extra.” Babies prune out what they don’t need and strengthen what they use. Flip flashcards in front of their face and yes, they might be able to recite back that small amount of information on cue. Let them make shapes out of stones, turn Play doh into pictures, and count while throwing blocks into a bucket and they will LEARN and REMEMBER.  Why? Because REAL LEARNING occurs in context. Children learn through all senses…engage them and it becomes permanent for them.  Your child can’t sit still? GOOD. They shouldn’t be able to! Learn while MOVING through PLAY! Jump, climb, dance. This is what small children should do.

How this applies to you.

Your parent gut screams to you loud and clear what your child needs. So tell it to stare that message that society is sending you down, and tell it to ZIP IT. Your actions and decisions as a parent matter for your child. I don’t say this to stress you. I say it to EMPOWER you. Breathe. Your child needs you and time and space to PLAY. How can this look for your family? SCHEDULE unscheduled time. Don’t sign up for so many (or any) “classes” for infants and toddlers. Go to the park or join a play group instead. Looking for daycares or preschools? Search for ones that have less “curriculum” and more play. Don’t ask the teacher “what did she learn today?” Ask, “What did they play today?” Because the answer to the second question will tell you WHAT SHE LEARNED. Don’t feel like she didn’t get the whole experience you paid for if there is NO WORK SHEET at the end of the day. I have an 8 year old. Trust my journey if I have come before you…you will get enough worksheets in your child’s lifetime to wallpaper 4 houses. If you are handed an art project that looks different than the other children’s EMBRACE IT. It means your child is learning to express themself individually. If it appears your child spent all day JUST PLAYING… EMBRACE IT. It means he had time to build his own interests, socialize with friends, learn to resolve conflicts, and release stress. It means he was able to keep his body healthy and sensory system regulated.

The good news? 

Do Less. Enjoy more. Be in the moment. Just say no to the craziness of it all. You will be happier. Your child will be happier – and healthier & smarter too. 


So enjoy your kid. Go PLAY!



For more information on what REAL development looks like (no reading at 18 months is NOT TYPICAL) and ways to support development through PLAY – click here)