It is back-to-school time for many, so to kick off a new year of learning I thought I’d do a series on board gaming with kids. During the next couple of weeks I will be talking about why kids should be playing more board games, how to successfully pull off a regular family game night (even with a wide range of ages), what games my kids love to play, and more! So keep an eye out, and enjoy!
We all know some of the benefits of board games: family game nights help strengthen the family bond and create lasting memories, it gives kids a break away from screens, and they’re fun! But how else are they benefiting children?
Play is a natural form of learning for us. If you’ve watched any child for awhile, you know that kids have a knack of turning pretty much anything into play. It is how our brains are wired. Play allows for practice of learned or observed skills while setting us at ease, the best state to be in to learn. Our brain also requires “exercise” in order to become the best at everything it does, from memory to speed to practicing skills. And board games are a great way to accomplish this, and much more.
1. Increases Critical Thinking
Critical thinking skills (ability to think clearly and rationally about things) are very important in everything we do. Board games increase these skills with practice in detecting strategies and patterns in a game, predicting what will happen depending on various decisions, thinking ahead, and learning from previous plays. All of these translate directly to everyday life and school work.
Over regular play these skills increase. You can see this even in adults, the progression from a beginner board gamer over time to one who can see patterns and predict outcomes well enough, even in games they’re not familiar with, to be a formidable player.
2. Honing Social Skills
“Getting along with others” is actually many small skills that we use without even thinking about it. Children are exposed to these skills continuously as they are modeled for them. Board games give them a place to practice them in.
With board games you will be practicing game table etiquette, following rules, playing with people of different abilities and ages, winning and losing gracefully, and allowing others to make their own choices, even when you think you know better. For those who struggle in social settings, board games offer an excellent opportunity to have something to focus on other than being around other people, while still offering up plenty of social skill practice in a non-threatening atmosphere.
In the quickly evolving tech world we live in now, STEM skills become more important. Although figuring how much you’ll pay if the game you want is 20% is important, it isn’t enough to prepare the mind for such futures as engineering and coding. Logic, spatial reasoning, creativity, and yes, even general math skills are among those important for the jobs in our children’s future. Board games can help children learn and practice these things in a fun way that doesn’t feel like school. In fact, they may allow children to learn some skills far better than any worksheet.
One study showed that children with learning disabilities who did 4 hours of math coupled with 1 hour of chess instruction a week outperformed the control group in math skills who only did 5 hours of math a week (Scholtz et al 2008). There is much more to learning math than simply learning math.
4. Increased Attention Span
Parents are increasingly concerned with the attention spans of their children in a world of 8-second sound bites. When you first start board gaming with your children, you may wonder if you’ll ever survive the fleeting attentions and get through your game. Part of this is simply age, part is inexperience. The more experience they have focusing on a game,the longer their attention spans will grow. I know for me it was difficult in the early years to have the patience, but developing an attention span will reap many rewards later on.
5. Better Learning Overall
Playing board games that are more strategy than luck-based teach children that if they practice something, they can get better at it. The simple belief that intelligence is malleable is enough to create better learners. Yes, board games are fun, but they are also work.
Using a fun way to encourage a child to work through frustrations and limitations can increase the chances that they will see improvement in themselves and truly understand internally that they can improve themselves. This belief can have a lifelong effect in everything they attempt, and is possibly the most important thing on this list.
Next time I will be talking about the board games you can play with your younger children to get them started.
- Scholz M., Niesch H., Steffen O., Ernst B., Loeffler M., Witruk E., et al. (2008). Impact of chess training on mathematics performance and concentration ability of children with learning disabilities. Int. J. Spec. Educ. 23, 138–156