If you’re one of the more than three million people who’ve tried the word game Wordle, you’ve likely played it alone. But parents might have figured out a secret—that the digital game, which has swept the world since its launch in October 2021, has hidden benefits when you play as a family.
Jessica Goldstein of New York City is finding that it spurs not only academic benefits but creativity as well. "My almost six-year-old begs me to wait for her so she can help out,” she says. “She’s learning that a lot of words are not spelled the way she expected! My four-and-a-half-year-old likes when we get three or four greens—then it’s a rhyming game.”
Katie Houser Durham of Sacramento finds her kids are developing good sportsmanship and teamwork. “We play separately but all compete,” she says. “My older girls and I usually do it together in the morning and talk strategy.”
And Catherine Silvey, who plays Wordle, crosswords, and other word games with her 13-year-old son in Alexandria, Virginia, loves the quality time the games provide—as well as the motivation. “‘Got dressed early for school? Want to do the Wordle with me with your few extra minutes?’” she says. “I want him to feel rewarded for doing the right things.”
Multiple studies show that playing games of all kinds can build memory, improve problem-solving, boost vocabulary, increase motivation to learn, and promote emotional well-being. But these families have discovered that playing “solitary” games together boost those life skills even more. Here’s how your kids can win big benefits by playing solitary games with you.
Mental health benefits of playing together
Oliver Roeder, a game and puzzle editor and author of the new book Seven Games: A Human History, remembers doing crosswords with his mom and grandmother—and the thrill of being part of what the grown-ups were doing.
“This was one thing that I was sort of allowed to be at the grown-ups’ table for,” he says. “We weren’t all going to the same jobs or reading the same books, but when it came to the game we were playing, we were all doing the same thing, and it was very equalizing.”
Playing with the grown-ups can also boost confidence, says child and adolescent psychologist Chaundrissa Oyeshiku Smith. “To be able to help a grown-up who’s constantly helping them is a chance for kids to show their skills to someone that they may be looking up to,” she says. “That's a huge lifter of self and pride.”
She adds that playing together also helps children deal with their emotions. “If you can recall a child playing a game in a solitary way, you might see them getting frustrated if something doesn’t work out, or getting elated if it does work out,” says Smith, who practices at Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta. “Being able to comment on those things helps kids identify and express emotions, and even cope with frustration."
What skills kids can learn from playing together
As many families are finding, bringing kids into your solo games can build skills like teamwork and thinking ahead. But it's not just you helping your child.
“When you’re working with someone else, you learn strategies from each other,” says Jeffrey Wanko, a professor of teacher education at Miami University who focuses on the development of reasoning skills through puzzles and games. “It’s absolutely a two-way street. Not only does the child learn strategies from the parent, but the parent often learns from the child.”
That can build communication skills as the adult and child solve the game together, he adds. And working out clues together can build deductive reasoning skills. (“Now that I know this and that, which answer might be possible?”)
Kids will also learn cooperation and flexibility when they’re playing with a partner. “You may have a strategy or approach that you’re working on, but when you’re playing with someone else, you have to think about their strategies, too,” Wanko says. By trying out your puzzle-solving ideas, your kid is exercising flexibility.
Finally, kids can develop patience from cooperative gameplay. “Being able to navigate the fact that not every turn is going to be your turn is an important life skill to learn,” Smith says.
How to make the most of game time
Experts agree that simply playing games together is good for children. “Kids are building connections and memories that will last far beyond the end of the game,” says Donna Whittaker, vice president of curriculum and education at Big Blue Marble Academy.
But you can definitely maximize the impact. Check out these ideas.
Try “scaffolding.” In therapist-speak, this is using the least amount of support to help a child help themselves. “My five-year-old is a new reader, so for a word game, I might ask, ‘What’s a word that starts with the d sound?’” says psychologist Michael Mintz, associate director of the Child Development Program at Children’s National Hospital. “If I don't get much out of her, I provide the next level of support. ‘I can think of a word that starts with d. Can you think of another one?’ The idea is to help them feel confident while still challenging them to give their own ideas.”
Talk possibilities. Review any clues you’ve figured out together, and ask your child if you’ve used them all. “This really helps with deductive reasoning skills,” Wanko says. “You can ask, ‘If I know this and I know that, what could be a possibility at this point?’”
Share strategy. “I have an eight-year-old who’s really gotten into developing a strategy for Wordle,” Mintz says. "I talk through why I do different things—why I might focus on figuring out where a yellow letter belongs rather than trying to identify new letters. It can help develop a more nuanced or mature strategy that kids might not immediately think about.”
Avoid right or wrong. Offer open-ended questions instead of “That won’t work.” Smith suggests prompting kids by asking them about other ways they could do something. Wanko agrees: “It's not saying ‘You’re wrong,’ but ‘Have you thought about this idea as well?’”
Name the emotion. “You might say, ‘I see you’re frustrated’ or ‘You must be so proud of yourself that you solved that problem,’” Smith says. “Even if a child corrects you on the emotion they’re feeling, they’re learning to figure out their inner emotional regulation.”
Make up rules. This one can build creativity. “Kids can absolutely add their own new rules to existing games,” says Lee Scott, early childhood education expert and chair of The Goddard School’s educational advisory board. With Wordle, for instance, everyone can yell a silly word that starts with the same letter as a green letter that comes up, or get extra points when two green letters appear in a row. The wilder the ideas, the more fun everyone will have.
Take it offline. Mintz says that younger kids need more time in the real world, so parents can think of ways to take screen games offline. He suggests things like asking the child to find green things when something green comes up on the screen, or finding three things if they see a “three” in the game.