Family games night with a difference

Jun 2, 2017

While at 4 year-old kinder last year, my son went to two different Minecraft themed birthday parties. He'd never even heard of Minecraft but these other 4 year olds certainly had! By age four, he was apparently already out of the loop of the electronic game craze sweeping the nation.

This didn't phase me. I am very mindful when it comes to the amount and type of screen time that my children have and the idea of them sitting at a computer alone, staring at a screen, just didn't appeal to me. So, thoughts of my son also playing Minecraft were shelved.

That was until recently, when I was contacted to see if our family would like to experience the role that Xbox could play in our home - particularly for family bonding. This was an interesting concept as gaming consoles weren't really on my radar at that point, but family time and family bonding is always a big priority. With an enthusiastic thumbs-up from my husband and two children (aged 5 and 8), we agreed to give it a whirl.

Xbox One S system

As it turns out, some game consoles are not just game consoles these days. Where have I been? 

The Xbox One S system is a multi entertainment unit that you can use not only for your game playing, but for all your entertainment needs, including watching films, TV,  streaming Netflix, Stan, live TV, Foxtel Go, YouTube or Twitch. It's got it all, and better yet, with the Xbox One S, you can view a range of ultra-high definition 4K HDR content from specific BlueRay disks, a variety of content on Netflix and other apps, or select Xbox One games. What this means is that we are finally seeing the full capabilities of our television in 4K, and can I say, it is SO clear. 

I can't wait to get some new BlueRay movies and see the difference with ultra-high definition. Family movie nights just got a whole lot clearer!

Bring the family together for the ultimate family games night

We love family games night. We have a number of different card and board games that we rotate through regularly, and I love the different learning we can do together (often maths, problem-solving, reading, speaking and social skills), and most importantly, the family bonding that comes from spending time together. 

Of course, we all know that playing games can result in tears and tantrums (and not just always from the young kids), however, I think that working through conflict (sibling rivalry anyone?) and not always winning, are important parts of what children can experience and learn, from playing games together

Parents playing along with their children are at an advantage to be able to model and demonstrate how to deal with not coming first, things not going our way, being outwitted, outplayed and more. Social and Emotional skills are very important areas that children need to work on and develop over time.

Teachable moments while playing games together include:
  • how to lose gracefully 
  • how to be a respectful winner
  • how to work together 
  • how to solve problems
  • how to encourage others
  • how to play just for fun

With an Xbox One S in our house, one could be worried that this time and these teachable moments could be lost to the call of the screen, but quite to the contrary, we can still use it to bring everyone together. The difference is that instead of the children playing games alone, we all play together. We learn the games together, we come up with ways to include everyone, and we have a brilliant time together with all of the teachable moments of a traditional board game night.

When playing games together on the Xbox, there are 2 main formats that you could choose to play in:
  • Single player pass and play: Where one person plays at a time while the other family members watch and offer tips and encouragement.
  • Co-op mode: Where 2 or 4 players play together at the same time with their own controllers and characters.

Together as a family you can work out what sort of format is going to work best, depending on the game you've chosen to play. 

Minecraft Family Play

Our first foray into a family gaming night was with the ever popular, Minecraft. Finally I was going to get a bit more of an idea of what I've heard so much chatter about both online and at the school where I teach. I admit that I was curious to see the potential for learning and education within the Minecraft format.

Minecraft is an open-world game that promotes creativity, collaboration and problem-solving in an immersive environment where the only limit is your imagination. 

Using Minecraft from an education standpoint, could include anything from visiting an ancient civilisation and creating a setting for a story, to exploring math concepts using Minecraft blocks, practicing collaboration, problem solving, digital citizenship and leadership skills while designing experiments and demonstrating mastery. A platform like Minecraft can definitely inspire children and students to explore, create and learn.

Fun tips for playing together as a family in Minecraft:

Create family roles and responsibilities
– Have one person play the builder, one the miner and one the harvester. This helps to ensure everyone has a role to play and can teach important social skills around working together, collaboration and sharing. Mix it up regularly so everyone gets a chance to try something new.

Set a challenge – In creative mode (that's where we started), you have the freedom to do whatever you like. Having limitless opportunity can be overwhelming, especially at first so it's best to set a challenge of building something either separately or together, a train, a giant pumpkin or even a castle. Compare ideas and work together to find a solution to challenges. By working together kids can learn a range of problem solving skills.

Challenge idea: Work together to build the ultimate family home in just one hour. Have different people playing the roles of builders, miners and harvesters.

If you are all completely new to Minecraft (like we were), you will probably spend about an hour together just going through the tutorials, working out how everything works, what you have to do, how to control your characters, etc. There's plenty to read and to navigate so playing together as a family is great for assisting with all of this.

The next time you all play, then you can start with some family challenges like those suggested above.
Occasionally we let the children play together for a set time, under supervision and the agreement that cooperation is key and the game is over if they can't cooperate. The teamwork, encouragement and cooperation that's being displayed has been great and it's amazing how when children really want to do something, they are able to pull out all the stops!

Other family game ideas on Xbox One:

Lego Batman
With Lego Batman, you dive into the DC universe and experience the world in Lego. Here you need to work together to solve problems which require collaboration and talking, go on an adventure, fight evil characters and be the hero! Go family co-op with this game to solve the riddles of Gotham together and save the city of Gotham.

FIFA 2017
Set up the ultimate family tournament in FIFA 2017 by selecting teams, the stadium and favourite players and then battling it out to take the family crown!

Take it to the next level by connecting with friends and family around the world by setting up your own private club. With Clubs, you can create your own small gaming community of people you trust. This would really take a family game night up a notch (especially if you can convince your elderly overseas relatives to get on board too!).

Managing play time

And lastly, if I'm talking about screen time, then I have to also mention managing screen time. For me, it is important to be able to manage screen time for my children, so I am happy that this is nice and easy with Xbox. 

Through our Microsoft family account online, I am able to manage my children's account, including restrictions on games they'd be able to play (based on age, etc.), internet access and enforcing screen limits on both the hours and times of day that my children can play.

I can also get emails that update me on my children's use, allowing me to keep track of it. The picture above shows one of our Saturday night family game nights.. which I can see went over by 16 minutes, haha. Certainly makes it easy to monitor (and to prove to the children when they don't believe their time is up).

Do you play Xbox together as a family?

Happy playing,
Debs :)

{Disclosure: this post is brought to you by Xbox Australia. We were gifted an Xbox One S pack for our review. As always, opinions expressed in this post are my own and my families'.)

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