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Learning and Gaming: Why playing games is essential for learning

Anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely enthusiastic about board games - I own nearly 50 of them (so far) and I usually have to be pulled away from board game sales the way some women are pulled away from shoe displays. I play them at home with family and friends and I love using them in my small tutorials - especially with remedial groups. In this post I share why, in my experience, board games are an excellent educational aid.

Board games epitomise learning through play.

One of the things I love the most about board games is that every time you play a game, you learn something new - a new word or a new strategy or even something new about how your opponent thinks. Board games are also adaptive - players can play the same game over and over again and learn something new and challenging every time. They have a much more diverse "challenge rating" than most worksheets or even tutorials are capable of achieving. This makes them the ultimate learning tool.

Getting children to want to learn is difficult.

At the time of writing this post, we are enduring a nationwide lockdown - as are many other countries. One of the foremost concerns for political leaders and families is how to keep children learning through these difficult times. I've seen many posts on the internet challenging parents to step up, and many parents are realising that teaching isn't simply a matter of curriculum regurgitation.


For my own classes, I've sent out worksheets and posted recommended readings and even recorded a few videos for students to interact with. It hasn't been easy for many of us - teachers and learners alike - to adjust the way we teach and the way we learn. Despite this forced miniature teaching revolution, teachers have observed many of the same things online that we observe every day in our classrooms. There are two particular challenges that I think playing board games helps to overcome.


1. Student Engagement

Drumming up enthusiasm in students remains an uphill battle. Learners are as distracted as ever, if not more so. Instead of doodling in notebooks or trying to covertly text under their desks, they're playing online games or watching YouTube videos while we teach.


2. Extra-Curricular Skill Development

Teachers have to find balance between helping learners develop skills they need and finishing the curriculum requirements. We want our learners to have time to explore and develop their creative writing skills, for example, but we also need to focus on finishing assessments and stick to our lesson plans.

How do board games help with learning?

Apart from the obvious current benefit of passing the time indoors, board games also have these seven characteristics that help encourage learning while playing.


1. They're fun

It's really that simple. If you want kids to get involved in something, one of the easiest ways is to give them something they actually like doing. When they're not focused on what they perceive as the drudgery of textbook learning, they are more likely to engage with the activity, allowing for at least some subconscious learning.


2. They're interactive

In order to play, and to win, players need to focus on their own strategies and understand the strategies of other players. Board games also offer the kind of person-to-person interaction that so many children seem to struggle with - or actively avoid. They require and help develop the ability to communicate with and understand others.


3. They offer some very evident skills ...

It's no mystery that playing Scrabble is going to help improve your child's vocabulary and spelling. Some games are specifically created with educational play in mind and they help learners develop some much-needed skills.


4. ... and some more covert skills

While Monopoly might not be advisable for studying property law, it does help children understand value recognition, budgeting and spending, strategy, and various other skills they need to get through school and through life. Without even consciously acknowledging it, children are constantly learning while playing.


5. They cater for everyone

There are thousands of board games available from niche fandom games to family classics. The current resurgence in tabletop gaming makes it possible for everyone to find at least a few items they enjoy.


6. They teach the value of teamwork

Whether through collaborative gaming or competitive team strategy, board games can help teach children how to work in a team, supporting their team members and identifying and playing to each other's strengths.


7. They offer comfort

Never underestimate how much it means to a child when a teacher or a parent takes time out of their day to engage with them on a level they find meaningful.

Learning through play is one of the most effective ways to gain new information or to develop skills we already have. If you want your children to want to learn, this is a great way to start.


If you want some tips on which board games to play and how specific skills can be developed through play, look out for my next blog post during the week.

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