While the summer break is a great time to focus on social, community and family connection, it can sometimes be difficult for parents to know how to occupy so many days without the usual school and day care schedule. There is also the concern that, without stretching their skills for over a month, students might experience brain fade, or find it hard to remember what they learned over the previous year and get back into the swing of things come Term 1.
Last month we looked at ways community spaces like museums and local community centres can provide engaging opportunities for learning. However, experiences inside the home can be just as valuable. One fantastic (and often under-utilised) tool for continuing learning and building a huge range of skills outside the classroom is…board games!
Board games have rapidly grown in popularity over the past few years and surprisingly the internet has played a major part in the resurgence of interest for this more ‘traditional’ (and sometimes considered ‘outdated’) pastime. YouTube channels like Critical Role and Will Wheaton’s Tabletop have helped usher in a burst of interest, and a quick Google can show people the huge range of options available. Unlike in the past, where people’s board game collections were much the same; with Risk, Monopoly and Scrabble being in most families’ cupboards, now there is such a great variety of modern games to choose from. With so many game themes, styles and formats there is something for everyone featuring a host of educational benefits, developing both soft skills and academic abilities for people of all ages.
A large number of well-known board games rely on basic maths operations – addition, subtraction and multiplication. They also often involve probability, with players needing to work out the chances of specific outcomes when choosing what to do next. There can be money to keep track of, estimations to make and a lot of problem solving based on the information provided!
Many games focus specifically on vocabulary, word play and anagrams, such as Scrabble and Boggle, and many games involve writing down notes, reading and interpreting information and communicating effectively (sometimes with challenging conditions in place – like not being able to use key words to describe an object). Even for games outside of those that are literacy-focused, most games involve being able to understand and follow instructions, process information and think strategically and creatively to determine how best to proceed.
Though short, snappy games have their place, the longer-form strategy-based games are a great way to encourage focus and help children to lengthen their attention span. This is a very important skill in the digital age, where distractions are plentiful and instant gratification is the norm. Setting the challenge of completing a game without checking phones or stopping to do something else is a great way to unplug, spend quality time together and practice maintaining focus on a single activity. Most games of this style also emphasise the importance of paying attention to other people’s turns and planning out each of your own decisions – so being properly focused on the task rather than zoning out at the table is a must.
Most games have a competitive edge to them, which can help teach children how to win and lose gracefully and manage disappointment and hurt feelings. This is particularly true for games with an element of chance, as children will see that sometimes random setbacks can emerge regardless of the choices made and strategies implemented! In these instances, its importance to take a breath, laugh it off and try to work out a way to deal with the problem. They may also see the value of teamwork, as working together to overcome an obstacle is often the best course of action, even with those they are competing against overall.
For younger children, board games are a great method of working on the development of fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and identifying colour and shape. Once children get older, games are still useful to their brain development.
“Strategy games are useful in helping the frontal lobes of the brain develop… Those frontal lobes are responsible for executive function skills, which include planning, organising, and making good decisions.” – Beatrice Tauber Prior, Psy. D.
Most games are group activities, so of course, they are a valuable tool for developing interpersonal skills. Games often rely on being able to anticipate other players’ moves and can revolve around deceiving other players or hiding key information, for example. This builds a greater awareness for others and howothers think and interact.
Playing together around a table or on the loungeroom floor also creates a social space – rarely do people sit in complete silence between turns. Rather, discussions about the game frequently lead naturally into talking about other topics. This is particularly useful for children who are generally quiet and reserved. The game provides a structure to social interaction, making it easier for them to converse and get involved in a group setting.
“Because they’re structured, board games can provide an easier way to build interpersonal relationships with peers, since the child knows what’s expected of them,” says Galanti [clinical psychologist].
Board games can even work as an alternative to ‘time out’. When children are becoming overwhelmed or parents are getting frustrated, taking a break together to play a game can help foster the parent-child relationship and allow a space for a calm discussion about an issue. (We recommend avoiding Monopoly for this purpose, as most families have a story about a harmless game of Monopoly gone wrong!)
The value of board games as an educational tool is well understood in the fields of education, child psychology and speech therapy. As board games are engaging, fun and hands-on, they are a great way of teaching without the student even realising the activity they are participating in is educational. This is particularly useful for students with special learning needs, like autism and ADHD, as well as for students who learn best through doing and those who have become disengaged by traditional schooling. Our tutors often include short games in their repertoire when students need a brain break or if they are reluctant to participate in learning a particular topic (they may shy away from a worksheet on probability but jump at the opportunity to play a game involving dice!).
We spoke with Aaron, the Manager of Good Games Morley to get some recommendations for where parents should start if they would like to build up their own board game cupboard. He provided the following suggestions for family friendly games which can help facilitate children’s education:
Good Games Morley is kindly offering My Academy clients (past and present) the opportunity to add to their game collections with a 10% discount at their store for the whole of December. Just mention My Academy at the counter and get your hands on some fun discounted goodies to get stuck into during the summer break!