Why we got it:
I love hanging out with my kids. But I've learned that there are some activities that I enjoy a lot more than others. For instance, I love playing board games, but I loathe playing "school." Video games that we could play together seemed like a great way for us to have fun as a family doing something we could all enjoy.
What's great about it?
Since we set up the Wii, it's been even more fun than I imagined. First, creating our "Miis" or avatars -- which involves choosing facial features, hairstyles, etc. -- was the most fun we've had together in ages. It was belly laughs all around as we debated just how bald Daddy is or how thin my daughter's eyebrows are. But beyond those moments, I've seen the kids experience some deeper learning that I really value.
Cooperation: One of the first things I noticed as my son and daughter played side by side in Active Life Explorer, a semi-competitive active game, was how my daughter reacted to finishing in second place. She turned to her little brother with a big smile and said, "Nice job!" and gave him a high five. I was surprised to see this behavior from a 7-year-old who's normally a pretty sore loser. I gave her lots of praise for that reaction, and I've seen it continue since. I think she was so wrapped up in the excitement of the game that she forgot to be jealous. Also, the game itself focuses more on working together than beating an opponent.
Perseverance and Problem Solving: My 5-year-old found Active Life Explorer challenging at first, and he would refuse to play certain mini-games if he wasn't successful the first time. The idea of losing a second time was difficult for him, but the more we've played -- and as he's seen how one loss doesn't matter in the scheme of things -- he's begun to see the thrill of practicing a challenge over and over until he's successful. Great life lesson!
Socializing: After lots of outside messy time, one of my daughter's playdates was ready for some quieter moments. We turned on I Spy Spooky Mansion, and the girls were able to have tons of fun using their powers of observation to solve the riddles. (I myself had some hilarious moms'-night moments thanks to Michael Jackson: The Experience.) I like that as the kids get older, they'll invite their friends over to play video games, too. It makes it easier for me to keep an eye on them and make sure that I feel good about what kinds of games and other media they're exposed to. I've heard other parents echo the same idea: "If it's in my own house, I know what they're playing."
More: Find the Best Wii Games that are fun for the whole family
Creative thinking: Since we've been using the Wii, I've noticed my kids thinking about the games during random moments. I wasn't sure how to feel about that, since I know from experience how certain games can take over your brain space if you play them enough. But I noticed instead that my kids were using the concepts of the game to create their own play. On a ride home from school, they worked out a complex system for when they would raise their feet (red car), duck their heads (truck), and wave their hands (any vehicle approaching behind us).
Activity: Though there's no substitute for exercise in the fresh air, I've been surprised at just how active some of our new Wii games are. Active Life Explorer comes with a mat, and players have to run and do complex steps on certain boxes on the mat to complete challenges. By the end of gameplay sessions, my kids are usually ruddy cheeked and sweaty.
What are the challenges?
Time management: So far we've been able to moderate how much we play without any strict rules. But I suspect that will change soon. It will likely be similar to our TV rules, which means none in the mornings before school, rarely after school, more on the weekend -- balanced with reading, outdoor time, and other activities. Though this isn't usually a problem, there are whiny moments when we need to say no.
Cost: I bought our console used and received most of the games we have so far from the grandparents for Christmas, but the costs for any video game system can add up. We got a rude shock when we were about to play Wii Sports Resort and realized we needed Wii Motion Plus controllers -- special attachments for the Wii remotes that cost about $20 a pop. One thing I've realized is that older games are much cheaper than new ones, so next on my list to buy is not Just Dance 3, but one of the earlier versions - since they're all "new" to us. Also, sharing games with friends can be a way to enjoy more games for less cost. Friends can bring over controllers, too, so you don't have to stock up on lots of expensive hardware to be a fun playdate spot.
The right games: With tons of Wii games on the market, it can take some work to figure out which ones will provide long-lasting entertainment and appeal to your kids' age and stage. Some games involve skills that younger ones aren't ready for or have elements that are frightening or otherwise too mature for others. Checking out reviews before you buy or asking friends for suggestions are your best bets, and it helps to understand the ESRB ratings. And services like Game Fly offer game rentals, so you can try before you buy, too.
Watch: How can your kid get the most out of online games?
Like many game consoles, the Wii offers access to the Internet and the option to socialize with other (unknown) players during some games. Though this hasn't become an issue for us yet (since our kids have only played side by side with a parent so far), we'll disable access to these features. It's a simple process accessed through the Wii menu and the "Settings" option.
Overall, I'm super happy with our purchase and am looking forward to many rainy afternoons working up a sweat while exploring shipwrecks, dancing to the King of Pop, and solving tricky riddles.