by Daniel Marcotte, for Aspire Learning Academy
Everyone knows games are fun—but what can they offer young learners besides a study break? In many ways, board games, card games, and dice games are all secret teachers: they can engage and sharpen children’s logic, reasoning, and creativity without them even realizing it. From pattern recognition and math problems to language and socialization, board games that teach a variety of valuable skills are a great way to supplement and diversify children’s learning—and to help them make some new friends along the way.
“They can engage and sharpen children’s logic, reasoning, and creativity without them even realizing it.”
Let’s start with an obvious one: most board games are structured around visual or numerical patterns. As a basic example, think of a game of Simon—a simple 4-colour pattern is repeated and gradually extended as the player successfully completes the sequence in the correct order. These types of exercises expand a student’s memory and ability to recognize and recall patterns, a skill which becomes crucial in higher level mathematics, including algebra. Many pattern-based games may also involve a creative component, requiring children to create words, numbers or equations out of randomly scattered pieces (such is the case in Scrabble). In either case, an important benefit of board games is to develop a student’s memory and cognitive processes in a fun, colourful, and social setting.
Board games not only teach young students to learn and understand rules, but also how to work creatively and strategically within them. Games like chess and checkers, for example, have fairly simple rules, but require players to think several steps ahead of the board’s current layout. This can help with children’s logic and reasoning, as it trains their brain to predict the outcomes of their actions—mathematically or otherwise. Even when students make a mistake or have a “didn’t see that one coming” moment, it serves to further broaden their experience with the game and the possibilities or consequences of their strategies. For this reason, board games can open up a space for young learners to practice critical thinking and self-reflection—both in real-time, and retroactively—that they can use in future games or apply to their studies.
Beyond cognitive and logical skills, board games can also help children practice socializing with others and develop their sense of fair play. Good board games will balance elements of chance and skill together, enabling children to learn and develop their own strategies, and also to accept the harsh realities of the game when things don’t always go their way. Sometimes, children will attempt to bend or change the rules to suit their play style or interests within the game, but with a bit of firm guidance and some cheerful encouragement, students can come to accept the confines of the rules—it’s just a game, after all. Because all are relatively equal under the framework of the game, these situations allow children to practice good sportsmanship: children can learn to accept defeat graciously, as well as celebrate their own successes and those of their peers.
Finally, games can also help children and students explore their own social identity. Many students will latch on to certain aspects of games, such as pieces, colours or strategies, and come to identify with them as they play. Games with an element of roleplaying can also help children play around with new personalities—Cranium, for example, features a charades-like mini game in which children must assume the voice or mannerisms of a notable figure. An important part of a child’s development is for them to affirm who they are, but also to experiment with who they may or may not be. By giving children a place to express themselves intellectually and socially, board games can be a great way to discover new skills, personality traits, and a stronger sense of self.
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