board games

Benefits of board games with young children

Categorised in: Insights | Posted on: 11 July 2024

Anyone for Snakes and Ladders?

In our modern, post-Covid world, education has seen an increased move towards technology, yielding huge benefits for all children, not least for those with specific learning needs. Assistive technology can have a huge impact on their ability to learn, produce written word and focus and attend to their studies. I am a strong advocate of technology including touch typing; adaptive literacy programmes such as the Nessy Reading and Spelling Programme; dictation tools like Dragon Naturally Speaking software; and time management apps for children who struggle with attention and focus such as the Time Timer and Forest app.   Giving all of our children access to technology equips and prepares them for secondary and further education and their future careers, in what is sure to be a highly technological working environment. 

What may have been a little ‘lost in translation’ though, with all of these exciting tech advancements, are the myriad benefits still to be gained through traditional childhood pastimes, like playing board games together as a family. This face-to-face social interaction has all but disappeared in many modern homes, replaced by online gaming and social media. Perhaps we occasionally need to remind ourselves of what crucial life skills our children may be missing with these changes?

My thoughts turned to this last week when teaching a small group of children, requiring speech and language support. In a school environment, we often engage children in playing board games, in which they can practise basic language skills. Over the term, the more we have played, the more obvious it has been that board games have huge advantages developmentally, far beyond simply helping with language skills. Not only were the children engaged, enthusiastic and motivated, but I observed their confidence and new found skills being reflected in the playground, including the flourishing of friendships and improved emotional regulation.

board games

The benefits of board games

According to The Child Development Clinic, board games can improve overall cognitive ability and executive functioning skills. Games such as Chess, Cluedo and Battleships, stimulate areas of the brain responsible for memory and complex thought processes, thereby improving cognitive skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, planning and strategic thinking. Games can also help develop number knowledge, even simply by counting spaces in a game of Snakes and Ladders! You can also take a more focused approach to developing arithmetic and reasoning skills using games like Codebreaker, Qwirkle, Yahtzee and Shut the box.

The different types of board games

Perhaps we don’t always want to be thinking of the educational benefits of games when enjoying downtime with our children, and that’s also perfectly fine. For example, many board games designed purely for entertainment require spontaneous speech in order to play them, hence the obvious connection to supporting children’s language and literacy skills, without even thinking about it.

One of the main benefits of playing board games that I have realised recently, is the hugely positive impact on the children’s prosocial skills development. Board games generally involve an element of turn-taking, which simultaneously develops the many soft skills children need; skills such as verbal and non-verbal communication, courtesy, flexibility, integrity and teamwork. These soft skills can be incredibly difficult for young players, especially those who may struggle with impulsivity and inhibition control. By practising these skills together, and modelling prosocial behaviours, we can really help our children with friendships and social situations with their peers.

If your child finds it particularly difficult to control their emotions when they lose a game, you may consider starting with more collaborative board games to encourage teamwork over competitiveness. Websites like Steam Rocket have a good range of ‘cooperative games’ that can help with this, before attempting the more competitive games. Having said that, I would not wish to underplay the importance of encouraging healthy competition and the spirit of sportsmanship, which help our children learn to accept defeat and build resilience; so crucial for our children in the outside world.

We should never underestimate the importance of active learning through games for children of all ages.  If you’d prefer to choose games with an educational theme, there are many brilliant educationally focussed websites such as TRUGS (Teaching Reading Using Games) for phonics card games, Smart Kids that focus on literacy and maths board games, or The Happy Puzzle Company that organise their games into sections including STEM, brain teasers, creative arts and 3D model construction to name a few. Extending our board game theme to include construction games like Jenga and Lego and outdoor garden games, bring their own advantages in terms of fine and gross motor skills, engineering capabilities and hand/eye coordination.

By delving a little deeper into the many and varied benefits of playing board games, I have re-ignited my own interest in playing them with my family. At this point in the school year, with the long summer holidays looming, perhaps it will inspire us all to reach for that favourite board game at the back of the cupboard and have some good old-fashioned family fun!

Sarah Cox, SEND Consultant

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