AS A BOARDGAME FAMILY the hobby has influenced many parts of our life. One influence I often don’t recognize is the role boardgames play in the education of children. This goes far beyond the very simple “be patient and await your turn” and is more that just “that game taught me a bit of history/science, etc.” In the RockyMountainNavy house, boardgames have long played an important role in educating our children through “active learning.”
Mrs. RockyMountainNavy loves to teach young children. She has found a niche where we live by teaching English and Math to pre-school and early elementary-age children of Korean parents. Often these kids come from one language (Korean) or dual-language (Korean/English) households and the parents are struggling to keep up with the kids English. This is where Mrs. RMN steps in to assist the children.
As much as Mrs. RMN teaches English and math she also has come to realize, based on our experiences with our kids, that play is an important part of learning. That is why she always factors in some “play” time for kids when she teaches them. Sometimes it is physical play (like going to a nearby playground). Other times it is imaginative play (we still have lots of Playmobil figures and accessories about) but just as often it is “play” using boardgames.
We tend to shy away from “educational” games as they often come across as “work” not “play” to the little ones. Sure, we have plenty of puzzle games that we can use. Instead, Mrs. RMN looks to boardgames to compliment and support learning. In pre-school kids, this often means games are used to build fine motor skills, spatial awareness, foster social interactions, and introduce strategy thinking.
One of Mrs. RMN’s current students is Miss A. Little Miss A is getting ready to enter kindergarten but she has trouble holding a pencil. It’s a combination of weak fingers and fine motor skills. To help little Miss A build up her finger strength and fine motor skill, Mrs. RMN plays Animal Upon Animal or Rhino Hero (both from HABA) with her. The need to stack the animals or cards means she has to control her fingers and hands. Best of all, she sees this as a game not an exercise. Animal Upon Animal also builds spatial awareness. In the case of Miss A, she struggles to imagine how pieces can stack. It appears that she has trouble “rotating” pieces in her mind. We also use jigsaw puzzles but those are inherently a solo activity and she instead of doing it by herself she relies on others. Games like Animal Upon Animal give her the learning support she needs while doubling as social interaction.
Two other games Mrs. RMN often uses are Chicken Cha Cha Cha and Gulo Gulo. Chicken Cha Cha Cha is really a simple memory game, but it introduces the kids to early counting and taking turns (a much needed social skill). In the case of Miss A, she is an only child and often just pushes ahead with a game by repeating her turn over and over again. Whereas Chicken Cha Cha Cha emphasizes the social, Gulo Gulo adds in fine motor skills (manual dexterity getting the eggs out of the nest) as well as early strategic thinking (push ahead with the next tile or maybe go a bit easier and get that color on the tile already face up and ahead of you). Admittedly, this is much harder to teach but it never ceases to amaze us when we see that “ah ha” moment where the child sees the strategy. Additionally, over the years we have discovered that young kids really love the appearance and tactile feel of wooden games – often with chunky components – which encourages them to manipulate the pieces.
One of the more recent games that brings together many of the skills being built is ICECOOL. ICECOOL builds fine motor skills (flicking), spatial awareness (chose your path), social interaction (take your turn), and strategic thinking (I’m going this way to avoid the hall monitor AND get my next fish). It also is good for early elementary kids as it uses simple counting.
There are plenty of more boardgames we use, along with many puzzle games. This is only a sampling of the ones we use the most often. The most important lesson is to be open-mined about what a boardgame can teach. An added side benefit is that we know we are grooming the next generation of boardgamers by showing these kids that entertainment comes from places other than a smartphone or tablet.
Feature image HABAusa. Chicken Cha Cha Cha and Gulo Gulo images courtesy BoardGameGeek.