How do you talk with your kids? I don’t mean the easy topics like what they’re learning in school this week, or what they’d like for dinner. I mean the more difficult topics, the ones that require some thoughtful discussion. Discussions about morals and principles – honesty, empathy, respect, loyalty – what the right thing to do is when the answer isn’t black and white.
In the past, I’ve used car rides as a pretty effective communication technique. Before I remarried two years ago, I was a single mom for several years. That meant that all the discussions that needed to be had fell on my shoulders – including “the talk” (and related topics) with my two oldest boys. I’ve always tried to keep an open line of communication with my kids so that they’d feel comfortable coming to me with any problem or question, but some things are just awkward for a boy to talk about with his mom. I discovered, purely by accident, that they were much more willing to discuss sensitive or uncomfortable topics with me while riding in the car. If they didn’t have to look at me/be looked at while we were talking, they were much more communicative. (This has been especially true with my 13-year-old son, for whom eye contact can be uncomfortable even during the most innocent conversations due to his autism). So those trickier discussions were often held in the car, when my eyes were on the road instead of on them and they could stare out the window and fidget to their heart’s content to help relieve the tension or awkwardness.
We recently discovered another technique for those challenging conversations – a board game, believe it or not.
Harvest Time Partners, Inc. is a combat-veteran owned personal and professional development company based in Michigan (which I have to mention specifically, being a Michigander myself). They sell products like games and books designed to “open the door to more effective communication, encourage decision making based on principles such as honesty, loyalty, and commitment with the intent of reinforcing the Law of the Harvest, simply, ‘you reap what you sow’.” They also provide character building seminars, workshops, and custom programs. Their charitable organization, Harvest Time Partners Foundations, supports children and young adults pursue character-building opportunities, providing everything from college scholarships to community service programs and even international outreaches.
Their award-winning Abundant Harvest® conversation game comes in two versions – one for Kids, and one for Teens & Adults. My family was given the chance to review Abundant Harvest® for Teens & Adults, and I’ll tell you up front that our experience with this game was extremely positive. The motto on the box states “Building Character One Conversation at a Time,” and the game is geared towards players ages 13 and older (although that obviously depends on your child’s individual level of maturity).
Abundant Harvest for Teens & Adults encourages open discussion on real-world situations and players are asked the question, “What would YOU do?”
The game play itself is pretty straightforward – you roll the die to move your token around the board. The tokens are differentiated not only by color, but each one lists a different Principle like Love, Honesty, or Patience, and therefore they’re called Principle Stands. (Get it? Principle Stands – standing up for your principles… forgive me, I have teenagers, sometimes I have to spell things like that out for them).
Each player also receives a Principle Card at the beginning of the game – these are identical and used for reference as you play.
Each spot on the board has an action, ranging from positive things like “Cut your neighbor’s lawn while he was in the hospital” to negative actions like “Cheated on your expense account at work.” Depending on the action, you receive either a Poor (5 points), Modest (10 points), or Abundant (20 points) Harvest Reward.
Each spot on the board is color-coded, and the player next chooses a correspondingly-colored Scenario Card. The Scenarios are presented from different points of view: Parent, Teen, Spouse, Life, or Work. The scenario on the card is read aloud, and then the player has approximately 30 seconds (obviously the time can be adjusted) to use at least one principle from the Principle Card to decide how he would respond to that scenario (using the principles to support his decision). After sharing his decision, the other players have 30 seconds (again, timing is flexible) of “Advice Time” to comment on the player’s decision. “Advice Time” should be constructive criticism and helpful suggestions and not mean or hurtful.
(P.S. Please forgive my lack of pronoun gender neutrality; for ease of reading I chose to pick just one gender instead of going with his/her and she/he all the time, and since I have sons, I went with male pronouns).
When a player reaches the Abundant Harvest area, he’s done rolling the die and choosing Scenario Cards, but he still participates in Advice Time. Bonus Abundant Harvest Reward Cards are given to the first, second, and third players to reach the Abundant Harvest area. The person who has the most points once everyone has reached the Abundant Harvest area “wins,” although as the directions point out, “the real ‘winners’ in life are those who learn to use principles like trust, loyalty, and commitment as they make decisions and take actions in their lives each and every day.”
Both my teens (ages 13 and 18) were fully, actively involved in the game. That right there is somewhat surprising, as often when we play board games together one or the other of them (or both of them) get tired of playing halfway through and want to go back to playing Minecraft or Destiny . But the very first time we played Abundant Harvest, they not only stuck with it through the end, they WANTED to keep playing. And it wasn’t because the gameplay is particularly challenging, because it’s not. The game is basically just the conduit for the conversation – you roll the die, you move your token, you collect some points, and then you’re presented with a scenario to think about and attempt to resolve. My boys were also surprisingly willing to talk about whatever topic came up on our cards. Some of the scenarios were pretty tough, but they both opened right up with their thoughts and ideas.
You may want to (as suggested in the info sheet that accompanies the game) go through the cards prior to playing to make sure there aren’t any questions or scenarios that are too mature for your child. The scenario cards cover a range of topics, including some that are pretty heavy:
- TEEN SCENARIO: One of your friends has been getting picked on by some “bullies” at school. He says he has “had enough” and is planning on “getting even” in school the next day. He seemed very upset as he left school. You know his family has several guns in their home, and he knows how to use them. What would YOU do?
- TEEN SCENARIO: You overhear your 15-year-old sister talking to her friend about how she met a 24-year-old man in an online “chat room” and plans to meet him soon.What would YOU do?
- TEEN SCENARIO: You are a 16-year-old high school junior, and you just found out that you are two months pregnant. What would YOU do?
- PARENT SCENARIO: Your 22-year-old son, a senior in college, comes home after his final exams and tells you he tested positive for the HIV virus. What would YOU do?
- PARENT SCENARIO: After you have helped your 28-year-old son get back on his feet financially for the second time, he has irresponsibly gone broke again and wants to come back home. What would YOU do? (My 18-year-old son insisted on posing for this picture when this card came up).
I chose not to remove any cards, in keeping with my stance that no topic is off limits for my kids to talk about with me. When those tricky situations arise in real life, I want my boys to have solid advice and principles to fall back on; I want my kids to know where I stand on those types of situations so that they’ll hopefully do the right thing if it ever happens in real life. I would much rather have them know my beliefs on various scenarios and use my (hopefully good) guidance as a stepping-off point for making their own choices in life. In my opinion, it’s better to have a discussion about STDs or teen pregnancy over a board game in a hypothetical scenario than in a real life scenario! The most difficult topics can be the most valuable teachable moments.
Additionally, since you can be called upon to draw from any of the Scenario categories, it gives everyone a chance to put themselves in a different family member’s shoes. Having to discuss how I’d handle homework overload – or discovering that a friend is dealing drugs at school – reminds me of the challenges that my teenagers face in their lives, and gives me a chance to share my four decades of accumulated wisdom (at least I hope my advice is wise!) with them. When my teenagers had to respond to a Work or a Parent Scenario card, they had to step into my world to come up with an answer, hopefully giving them a little insight into what it’s like to be responsible for a houseful of miniature humans (and all the associated expenses).
After playing this game with my boys, I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with the values they’re developing. They still have some thinking to do on some things (they’re kids, after all), but their basic principles and morals are pretty solid. My 13-year-old didn’t even hesitate when the question of what to do if you find a stack of $100 bills came up – he knew that he shouldn’t keep it and would need to tell someone, although he wasn’t clear on who exactly that someone should be. And that’s what I mean by teachable moments – even if your teen knows the right thing to do in a given scenario, he might not know HOW to go about doing that right thing. By discussing these scenarios as part of the game, we were able to discover and discuss some of those unclear or gray areas.
In addition to the Principles Card, there’s also a brief summary of each Principle provided on the instruction sheet. Given that principles can be abstract concepts for younger teens (and really, even some adults struggle with what exactly these principles mean in terms of choices and actions), I feel it’s helpful to review what each principle means prior to starting the game. The Golden Rule (treat others as you’d like to be treated) is pretty clear and well known to most people, as is Honesty (tell the truth), but it may be more difficult for some players to wrap their minds around the meanings of principles like “Discipline” or “Vision.”
I feel that it’s also worth mentioning that this game is not geared specifically towards any specific faith or belief system. While you could easily make this game part of a family Bible study, you don’t have to be Christian (or even any religion at all) to play – and benefit – from this game. The principles are those that should guide EVERYONE’S life – they’re human principles, not just religious principles.
I can’t say enough good things about this “game” and the scenarios and teachable moments it provides parents to communicate with their kids about some very important principles. Both boys even suggested that this game be added to our Family Game Night roster – now THAT’S an impressive recommendation!
P.S: Dustin (my 13-year-old, there on the right) would like you to know that he won our game. 🙂
You can learn more about Abundant Harvest (remember, there’s a Kid’s version too) and the other conversation games from Harvest Time Partners, on their website. They also have a series of children’s books, The Principles of Our World Children’s Book Series. You can also find Harvest Time Partners on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.
Abundant Harvest® for Teens & Adults (as well as the other Harvest Time Partners products) can be purchased on Amazon. Abundant Harvest® for Teens & Adults is Prime eligible and is currently priced at $19.99.
One lucky Dividing by Zero reader is going to win Abundant Harvest® for Teens & Adults for their family! Get your entries in below – good luck!
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