It’s board game season for family friendly time that doesn’t involve staring at a screen.
Angel Liang of Pleasanton, educational psychologist, is an avid supporter of board games.
“So many technologies these days are erasing human interactions,” she said.
Board games benefit brains of all ages, she points out, improving language skills and sharpening focus. They help small children learn to identify colors, count spaces and improve their dexterity, and they also teach patience as children learn to take turns and follow the rules. And young players can learn to be good losers.
To help kids learn another important life skill – empathy – Liang and her friend Tina Wong from Dublin have spent the past three years developing a board game called Empower Empathy in which players work together.
“It’s a collaborative game,” said Wong, a designer with management training. “The goal is to bring a bunch of superheroes across town.”
“Kids love superheroes, superpowers and villains,” she added with a laugh. “We’ve incorporated a lot of techniques that make kids want to play the game.”
The two were friends in high school and at the University of Texas, then didn’t see each other for 15 years, although they continued to share on social media. When Wong posted a photo of herself at an outdoor concert, Liang recognized Lions Wayside Park.
“Where are you?!” she inquired. They discovered that they lived only three miles from each other and that they had a lot in common. Soon they had resumed their close friendship.
“We were talking about raising children and what is really important in our society,” Liang recalls. “We talked about what we can instill – character development, socialization skills, and mental health awareness instead of just IQ or academic activities.”
Eventually, they came up with the idea of an interactive board game.
“There is so much contention in this society right now – as parents, we can’t help but worry,” Liang said. “I wanted to bring evidence-based strategies from my clinical and research settings to a practical way for families to teach children emotional awareness, socialization skills, and the power of empathy.”
“She had non-traditional ways of teaching children to think rather than giving them the answers,” Wong said. “There is a lot of information on how to teach children with problems – why not teach children to deal with things before they have problems? “
Empathy is a skill that “you use or you lose,” she added, and kids need to build their empathy muscle over time.
The game teaches four principles that teachers have used for years, Wong pointed out.
First, it puts players in the shoes of another.
Second, the cards ask players to name three things they are grateful for and help them personalize an emotion.
Third, the game uses facial mimicry to internalize emotion.
Fourth, players take the lessons to the real world with accompanying guide activities.
Empower Empathy has received critical acclaim, winning four major children’s game awards, including the Tillywig Brain Child and Creative Child Magazine Game of the Year award, as well as the Family Choice and Hot Diggity awards.
Liang and Wong launched Empower Empathy last month with a Kickstarter campaign that runs through December 15 for a minimum of $ 59, which will include the game. It can also be purchased from their website, www.mytinysprouts.com, as well as on Amazon, and they hope for deliveries in March.
Traditional therapy games start at around $ 200, they noted, and parents easily pay $ 400 for a football season, so they think the price is right. They donate 10% of the proceeds to build schools around the world.
They spent a lot of time testing the game, including on their own children. Liang, who is married to engineer Stephen Jang, has three sons: Maxwell Jang, 6, at Valley View Elementary; Gabriel Jang, 13, at Harvest Park College; and Austin Jang at Amador Valley High. Wong is married to a doctor, Taiyo Shimizu, and has two sons: Takumi Shimizu, 3; and Kanata Shimizu, 9, at Kolb Elementary School in Dublin.
“They love to sift through different scenarios,” Liang said. “It’s heartwarming to see them use prompts in games to talk about how they felt inside.”