Playing board games has always been something we have enjoyed as a family although, I must admit, it is easier now that the children are older and we can play games such as Catalan and Risk! It was whilst playing Snakes and Ladders years back that I realised my three-year-old daughter could count past ten without assistance. She won the game and gleefully counted how many squares behind her I was (14!).
Board games bring much more than simple competition! In addition to the counting spaces, young players develop hand eye co-ordination and dexterity when moving their pieces and, as they play more, start to make predictions on where their pieces might land. Snakes and Ladders has a simple objective (be the first to get to the end, avoiding slippery snakes and aiming for those time saving ladders) but is still one of the most loved of the traditional games and has had a whole slew of copycat games follow in its path. It is a great one for teaching children how to lose gracefully as it is down to pure luck as to where you land, not skill. Losing when it is no fault of your own is much more palatable for a child. Of course, as they get older, you can introduce maths concepts such as probability to go alongside the chance! Are they more likely to win if they had a 10-sided die? Or two dice instead of one?
The objective of a board game is always interesting. Games that develop those important cognitive skills (reasoning, critical thinking, spatial reasoning, strategic thinking) come in a whole range of guises. For young children, there are some great one player games which focus on logic, planning and problem solving. Three Little Piggies is one of my favourites of these and has seen my godson’s levels of concentration improve dramatically as he tries to help the pigs build their houses safely. For older children (although not strictly a board game), Tetris Dual is a brilliant strategy game (and, unlike the heady world of the 80s when we played it on our Game Boys, isn’t technology based!).
It is so important that board games are age appropriate. I’ve seen parents despairing that their child won’t sit still long enough to finish a game of Monopoly (although, to be fair, neither can I!). It’s great when your child expresses an interest in joining in but there has to be more than bright colours and cute play pieces to keep that interest there. Orchard Toys can always be relied upon to deliver great educational games which can be played at different levels of development. Pop to the Shops was an absolute favourite of both my children – for different reasons! They would play as a team against me. My son loved using the money and working out how much he needed for what. My daughter (a few years younger) didn’t have a clue about the money but loved making up the story of what was happening and had voices for the different shop keepers! Lots of skills learned from collaboration to language and maths.
Of all the benefits of board games, one which will set any young person in good stead is learning to fail. I saw many children in school reluctant to take risks in case of failure. I love mistakes – they are the roots of our successes. Losing at a game is hard for some children and it is tempting to ‘let them win’. Don’t! The noise of them wailing can be a nightmare (I know) but in the long run it will do them good. When my children beat me at a game (which they do much more frequently now), they know that it is because they have played well. I am very competitive and like to win – I am learning to be a graceful loser!
by Allie White, educational consultant to BrightMinds
As a parent and former-teacher, Allie has a hands-on approach to home learning, believing that the best learning is done together in a relaxed environment. Coming from a make-do and mend background, she likes to create activities for her children that use things already in the home.
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