13 ways playing board games benefits your child
Do you despair of the amount of time your child spends on screens? If so, you’re far from alone.
A lot of learning takes place through play, and while games-based learning on screens has its place, getting out a board game has significant benefits for kids – both socially and academically.
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Some children (and parents!) write board games off as boring, old fashioned or time-consuming, but it’s well worth giving them a chance.
‘The number of board games most people are exposed to is small,’ says Ellie Dix, teacher, educationalist and author of The Board Game Family (Crown House) – think Scrabble, Monopoly, Cluedo and Risk.
‘Most people don’t realise there’s a huge variety of games on offer, and that they’ve become so much better in the last few years.’
So how can your child benefit from playing board games with family and friends?
1. Board games promote family time
In the busyness of everyday life, it can be hard to pause and spend quality time together. Playing board games gives you a rare chance to enjoy each other’s company.
‘When you’re all sitting in a group, the family unit strengthens and the sense of belonging increases,’ says Ellie.
‘The physical proximity helps you stay closer emotionally, and games can start and stop to mould around conversations.’
2. Board games build communication skills
As kids get older, they crave independence, and you might find your once-talkative child now shies away from conversation.
‘Board games help because when you’re playing, you talk about the game, and conversations about broader topics often develop from there,’ Ellie explains.
Younger children who are shy, quiet or have communication difficulties also benefit.
‘Children who struggle to communicate in normal situations often open up and become incredibly chatty when they’re playing board games,’ Ellie adds.
3. Board games can help children with special needs
Children with learning difficulties often find board games both helpful and enjoyable, even if they struggle to communicate and pay attention in other situations.
‘Many children with autism find board games particularly appealing, as they have rules, with correct and incorrect plays, and nuance is often removed,’ Ellie says. ‘This taps into their strengths and helps them feel relaxed.’
4. Board games teach children to follow instructions
Whether your child has just started school or is moving up to secondary, being able to follow instructions is an essential life skill for both home and school.
‘When children play board games, they have to listen to instructions, digest them and then figure out what to do,’ Ellie explains.
‘They learn to deal with the boundaries and restrictions, and find ways to work within them.’
5. Board games help children learn to fail
Resilience – the ability to pick yourself up and try again when things go wrong – is extremely important for children to master, in school and social settings.
‘Board games help children learn from failure in a safe environment,’ says Ellie.
‘Some children find it really hard to lose, but it increases their ability to deal with setbacks. If you let your child win, you deny them the opportunity to learn from failure. Instead, praise the efforts they’ve put in, and encourage a conversation about what went wrong, and they’ll begin to see that failure is teaching them to succeed.’
6. Board games encourage healthy competition
When you model good sportsmanship, your child learns to win and lose graciously, congratulate the winners and celebrate other players’ successes.
‘Playing board games brings out a fun competitive side in our family,’ says Janine, mum to Felicity, nine.
‘Games like Cluedo and Monopoly require concentration and encourage competition, but in a non-aggressive way.’
7. Board games helps children understand how others think
Through anticipating other players’ moves and learning to recognise their poker faces, children become more aware of other people and how they’re playing, making decisions about their own gameplay in the context of what everyone else is doing.
This builds a general awareness and understanding of how other people think.
‘Playing Othello with my daughter is really interesting, as she has a completely different tactic to me,’ says Hester, mum to India, nine, and Hudson, seven. ‘It’s teaching her to pre-empt what I might do and be strategic.’
8. Board games promote literacy
Playing board games helps children develop all the key skills that fall within the literacy bracket.
‘They have to read instructions and what it says on games cards, and want to do this without asking their parents for help and giving away information about their hand,’ Ellie explains.
‘They often need to speak clearly, describe objects without using key words, and listen to information that other players are giving them.’
Many games also involve children writing down notes and information, and using random letters to create words – such as in Scrabble, Boggle and newer games like Letter Jam and Frenetic.
9. Board games improve maths skills
Many board and card games have numeracy at their very heart.
‘Games like Monopoly require players to keep track of their money and perform lots of maths operations, including addition, subtraction and multiplication,’ Ellie says.
‘Lots of games also use probability, with players having to work out the chances of certain outcomes, when to push their luck and when to stick.
‘Through playing games, children become proficient at calculating odds and estimating how many points they will need to win.’
10. Board games help brain development
‘Board games help to develop many visual, perceptual, cognitive and thinking skills,’ says Bhavin Shah, a behavioural optometrist and dad to Shreya,13, and Misha, 11.
‘Moving counters teaches spatial awareness and pre-planning, and our visual system learns when we use our hands to hold a piece, plan the next move or picture where the opponent will make the next move. This helps to train the higher functions of the brain.’
11. Board games encourage problem-solving
Without tactical thinking, many board games are impossible to win. Planning their strategy helps children improve their problem-solving skills, which will benefit them in just about every area of life.
‘Many games involve logical, systematic thinking and working, as well as quick decision-making and strategising,’ Ellie explains.
‘They have to think several steps ahead – not just about what they want to do now, but where that will take them and what they want to do after that.’
12. Board games encourage dexterity
Fine and gross motor skills and good hand-eye coordination are key to handwriting and other areas that require dexterity and precision, like typing, sewing and science experiments.
Games like Snap, Operation and Buckaroo help improve dexterity, reaction time and hand-eye coordination, getting brain and hands working closely together.
13. Board games can support the curriculum
‘Some games are specifically designed to be educational or help teach an area of the curriculum,’ Ellie says. These include Who Knows Where, Timeline and Viral.
‘Others, like Wingspan, are not intended as educational games, but contain so much historical, geographical and scientific information that players can’t help but learn as they play.’
Ellie’s top tips for choosing board games
- Ask for opinions. Post a question on Board Game Geek or in the board game group on Reddit. Explain how old your child is, what sort of thing they’re interested in, and what their temperament is like – people will be keen to make suggestions.
- Look at reviews and ‘how to play’ videos (often on YouTube) before you decide to buy a game.
- Go to a board game hobby shop, ask what they advise, and try out some of the games on display with your child.
- Steer clear of games that require general or specific knowledge that your child is unlikely to have.
- Avoid deduction games if you’re playing with a mix of ages – the youngest player is almost always at a disadvantage.
- Choose simple strategy games or games that are described as ‘gateway games’ that provide a way into gaming for new players. Children are really good at developing strategies and experimenting with different options.
- Don’t just look at children’s games. Older children will get bored, and so will the adults. There are lots of brilliant games that are great for all ages.
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