Games with Rules

Games with Rules

Games with rules is a level of play that imposes rules that must be followed by the players. It requires self-regulation by the children who play, so they can successfully follow the rules and curb their own personal ego needs. Games with rules are often characterized by logic and order, and as children grow older they can begin to develop strategy and planning in their game playing.1

Jean Piaget developed a theory of three levels of cognitive play. He felt the highest category of play was games with rules emerging in children between the ages of 7 and 12. Lev Vygotsky, however, believed that much younger children actually were able to follow rules in play as they engaged in role play and pretend play. Preschool children are also able to participate in simple games with rules, such as matching games and board games with spinners.2

School-age children develop understanding of social concepts, such as cooperation and competition, and are able to think more objectively. They are able to grasp the concept of the game having a clear beginning and end where they are required to take turns and follow certain procedures to complete the game. Breaking the rules carries specific penalties. The rules are the essence of the game and must be honored to successfully engage in the play.3

When children initiate their own games with rules, they realize the need to determine rules for playing the game as well as the rules for social interaction as they play their game. They may modify an existing game to their own rules or the game might be a game of competition in a motor skill, such as jumping, with rules to determine a winner.4 As children develop the concept of their game, they need to negotiate with each other to make the game enjoyable for all players with various skill levels. Adapting the rules to make the play fair for everyone makes the game more fun.5

School-age children are often found on the playground playing games with rules at recess. They could be enjoying a game of marbles or jacks, playing hopscotch or foursquare, or chasing each other playing tag.6 Team sports require very specific rules that must be followed that promote cooperative play and teamwork. Whether children play a game of softball on the playground or a Little League game in uniform, they must follow the rules to play effectively.

Board games help children develop reasoning strategies and skills when playing games, such as chess, checkers, and Chinese checkers. In strategy games they must consider both offensive and defensive moves at the same time to succeed.7 Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, and Hasbro have for many years supplied board games for children of all ages with games, such as Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly, and Scrabble.

Many board games have been adapted to be played on electronic media. New electronic games are being developed all the time for children of all ages including toddlers. The games require practice to master the challenges and often allow children to imagine they are in a fantasy world as they play through the game. While electronic gaming was usually a solitary activity in its earliest days, there are a lot more opportunities for group play in today’s gaming world.8

  • 1. Frost, Joe L., Pei-San Brown, John A. Sutterby, Candra D. Thornton. The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds. Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International, 2004. p. 25.
  • 2. Frost, Joe L., Sue Wortham, Stuart Reifel. Play and Child Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001. pp 170-172.
  • 3. Nichols, Steve. “Game Psychology: Part 1.” The Game Cabinet. < > 24 March 2011.
  • 4. Op. cit., Frost, Wortham, and Reifel. p. 226.
  • 5. “Jean Piaget’s Genetic Epistemological Theory of Development.” King’s Psychology Network. < > 24 March 2011.
  • 6. Op. cit., Frost, Wortham, and Reifel. p. 226.
  • 7. Fernie, David. “The Nature of Children’s Play.” KidSource Online. < > 24 March 2011.
  • 8. Op. cit., Frost, Wortham, and Reifel. p. 101.