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One of the best ways to have fun while learning, or to learn while having fun, is by playing board games. Playing games together as a family helps to bond family relationships. Adjustments can be made to suit most numbers and ages and rules can be adapted to suit your purposes. While the main thing is to have fun together, there is a lot of learning going on too.
One of the greatest benefits of playing board games is the development of social skills.
Some of the social skills children learn include:
Getting along and taking turns
Playing fair — accept the roll (if dice are used) or draw (if cards are used) for example, and respond accordingly: don’t try to pretend it wasn’t a “proper” roll (e.g. dropped); or attempt to change the count by skipping or counting twice on a square.
Abiding by rules — all games have rules. For games to work, the rules need to be followed by everyone. That’s not to say that rules can’t be adjusted to suit the ages and abilities of the player, but there needs to be agreement, and it never works if someone just decides to change a rule mid-game to benefit themselves.
Resilience — stay strong and focused and don’t crumple with repeated setbacks: okay, so you’ve been swallowed by this same snake three times now; next time you just might overcome it.
Persistence — keep going: you might roll a succession of small numbers but each moves you closer to the goal.
Humour and fun — always look for the light side: it is just a game after all.
Being a gracious winner and loser — while winning usually feels good, it’s not the winning that matters, it’s how you play the game that matters most.
Depending on the game you play, children may also be developing their skills with literacy and numeracy, or even adding to their store of general knowledge.
A plethora of games are available – new ones and old favourites. Games can often be picked up cheaply at second hand stores or dollar shops. They can also be home made. I have made some that can be downloaded and printed from my readilearn website for just a few dollars each. You can check them out here.
As a child I used to have fun making up games to play with my brothers and sisters. As a parent, I enjoyed making up games with my children. In fact, the Trick or Treat Halloween Game is based on one my daughter and I made together when she was about six or seven.
Why not encourage your children to make up their own games too, or make them up together?
Hundreds of different games of all varieties are available. Those listed below are just some of my favourites that are suitable for the 5 – 8 age group and older. I haven’t even touched on some of the more recent games, of which many more are produced each year.
Alongside some of the games, I’ve listed skills, in addition to the social skills noted above, that children may employ when playing the game.
Please let us know some of your favourite games in the comments.
No equipment necessary
Games like I spy, I’m thinking of or Guess my number require no equipment and can be played anywhere, anytime. These games, while not board games, are good for car trips or waiting times and are also great for combating boredom.
I spy can be played using a beginning letter, for example I spy something beginning with ‘t’; a colour, for example I spy something that is orange; or a shape, for example I spy something that is round like a circle; or by a use or feature, for example, I spy something that has legs.
In I’m thinking of one person decides on a secret person, animal or thing, for example an elephant. The other players ask questions to find out what the secret is. The questions can only be answered with yes or no, for example: Is it living? Does it live on the land? Can it fly?
In Guess my number players try to guess a secret number by asking questions. The questions may only be answered by yes or no, for example Is it bigger than, Is it smaller than, Is it odd? Is it even?
Pencil and paper
If you don’t have a board game handy, but you do have pencil and paper, you can play games like:
Noughts and crosses
Dots and dashes
Word search (e.g. find all the little words you can using the letters in ‘ornithorhynchus’)
I don’t think any of these require an explanation. I’ve put them here mainly as a reminder. However, please let me know in the comments if you would like an explanation.
Snakes and Ladders (subitising dots on the dice, counting by ones, one to one correspondence, recognising numbers to 100)
Ludo (subitising dots on the dice, counting by ones, one to one correspondence, strategy)
Chinese Checkers (strategy, planning ahead)
Draughts (strategy, planning ahead)
Scrabble (recognition of letters and words, spelling words, counting score)
*Cluedo (asking questions, recording pertinent information, deductive reasoning, problem solving, planning ahead)
Monopoly (subitising numbers on dice, counting by ones, counting money, reading, comparing amounts of money, following directions, planning, making decisions)
Connect 4 (strategy, planning ahead)
Pass the Pigs (counting, adding to 100, planning, strategy)
Yahtzee (chance, patterns of dice, counting, making decisions, strategy)
Card games are also fun; e.g.
Games with a regular pack of cards
Strip Jack Naked (also called Beggar my Neighbour)
Once again, I don’t think these games require an explanation but please ask in the comments if you would like any additional information.
Games with their own sets of cards
UNO (matching colours and numbers, understanding special cards)
5 Alive (adding numbers to total 21, understanding special cards)
And of course, don’t forget the jigsaw puzzles which help children relate details to the big picture, examine details, and develop knowledge of space and shape awareness.
I hope my brief list has inspired you to open that cupboard and bring out all those old games gathering dust. I hope it has reminded you of fun you had playing games as a child, or, if you didn’t play as a child, bring out the child within to play now.
*I mentioned changing the rules to suit your players and situation. I thought I’d tell you some ways we changed the rules of Cluedo to suit us playing as an intergenerational family. All the players agreed to the changes, acknowledging that the changes would streamline the game and make it more enjoyable.
When we first introduced the game to the younger children, they played as partners alongside an adult so they could learn what was required and pick up some strategy hints for recording information.
We found it tedious having to roll the dice to move from room to room, only to be called back into another room and away from where we wanted to go. First, we eliminated use of the dice, agreeing that we could simply move to whichever room we wanted to be in. Eventually, we streamlined even further so that just the token player we were investigating and the weapon appeared in the room. This made it easy for everyone to see what was being asked and avoided having to repeat multiple times. It made no difference to the fairness or the outcome but the game moved more quickly and was more enjoyable.
Adjustments can be made to almost every game you play to make them more inclusive.
Every day is a good day for playing games, but they may be even more important during our days when outings are restricted.
I’m certain some of the superheroes in this video will be combating boredom with board games. Enjoy!
Until next time, Norah
Norah Colvin is a lifelong learner and passionate educator. She believes in the power of education to change lives and is committed to raising awareness of ways to support and enhance learning.
Norah has spent her life learning and thinking about how children learn and how best to support their learning. Her own observations as learner, parent and teacher have enhanced understandings developed in both formal and informal study situations.
She believes strongly in the need for learning to be self-initiated, directed and motivated, and the importance of timely and appropriate support for learners on their individual journeys.
While no longer working with children in a school setting, Norah continues to share her passion for education through writing.