What children can learn from board games (if they don’t feel forced into playing)

With these recreational activities, youngsters can develop empathy, organizational skills and teamwork. The classics, such as chess and ludo, are great options

Board games offer children the opportunity to learn how to establish agreements and cooperate to meet a common goal.
Board games offer children the opportunity to learn how to establish agreements and cooperate to meet a common goal.SanyaSM (Getty Images)

Board games, such as Snakes and Ladders and Ludo, are classics that never go out of style and that can help children develop skills in various areas, from logical-mathematical reasoning to linguistic processing. But adult supervision is key. This ensures that the rules are clear and there are no conflicts. What is a board game? Silvia Arcas, a psychologist specializing in children and teenagers, defines it as an activity that brings together a group of people with a common strategy and specific rules, which promotes high-quality cognitive and socio-affective interaction. The psychologist also highlights the benefits of board games for children: “They stimulate attention, memory, logical reasoning, the association of ideas, the establishment of hypotheses, the capacity for analysis, spatio-temporal processing, comprehension and linguistic expression.”

Board games are tools that also help children develop their social skills and manage their emotions. “They offer the opportunity to establish agreements on the rules to be respected, learn to cooperate based on a common objective, develop skills for healthy competition and to manage conflicts,” continues Arcas. “They also allow you to train how you manage frustration, for example, when you lose, and to channel difficult-to-manage emotions, such as anger.”

The expert says that classic board games are better than those based on new technologies. She recommends several games that allow children to build skills in different areas.

  1. Chess, checkers and ludo. These board games stimulate logical-mathematical reasoning, attention and memory.
  2. Playful activities to form words and sentences, such as Scrabble, train verbal and linguistic processing.
  3. Board games to solve mysteries, such as Cluedo, encourage hypothetical-deductive thinking and cognitive processes, such as analysis and synthesis.
  4. Card games help children learn calculation and planning skills, and also develop their reflexes.
  5. Dice-based games help teach children numerical and combinatorics concepts.
  6. Games that simulate certain environments, such as the property market in Monopoly, help to teach concepts about money management.
  7. Playful activities that develop artistic expression, creativity and imagination are also available in some board games, such as Pictionary.
  8. Custom adaptations of classic games or inventing new games are other options.

“Traditional playful activities that are not board games, such as hide-and-seek, catch or hopscotch, cover aspects such as physical skill for movement that are not addressed by board games,” adds Arcas.

Board games by age

Age is an important factor to take into account when choosing activities that children can enjoy without getting frustrated or bored. “From five to seven years old, they still do not understand the complex rules of the game, so it is a good idea to opt for the simplest ones, such as ludo, the Game of the Goose, Tumblin’ Monkeys, Memory or Operation,” says Montserrat Díaz, a neuropsychologist at the San Lorenzo Integral Center in Spain. For children aged between seven and 12, who can already handle more elaborate rules dynamics, she recommends more complex games, such as Dobble, Uno, Jenga, Scattergories and Cortex. “And from that age onwards: Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, chess and Cluedo.”

Children may get bored playing. The way to avoid this is to make sure that it doesn’t come across as an obligation, says Díaz. “Children are attracted to board games if they are presented as exploring something new,” she explains, adding that they shouldn’t be seen as a punishment for spending too much time on electronic devices. Getting the whole family involved in teaching the rules and playing is also key, she says.

But cheating can ruin a fun family game, she warns. “You have to teach respect for fair play. They need to know how this influences the rest of the players and the dynamics of the game itself. To do this, it is a good idea to establish clear rules and ensure that the participants respect each other,” says Díaz.

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