There’s More Than Fun to Games
Kids need to be kids before they become adults, to walk before they run, to learn life skills from play before they can successfully manage work. I am proud to have supported the ongoing development of two young adults, my children, through years of make-believe, fun and games. My passion for continued learning provides my writing with the most current research and trends on healthy child development.
Lisa Smith, M.A. DEVM, Columbia University, is an Educational Consultant.
- Games that use numbers and direction lay the groundwork for building math skills. Directions such as “more or less” or “forward or back” provide context and can increase general understanding of quantity and direction.
- Specific words (used in board games) can provide a relative size comparison, such as “big or small”. Follow up with questions which can further support the difference, i.e. “is a cat bigger or smaller than a goldfish” or “is five bigger/smaller than or greater than/less than three.”
- Games provide interactions which foster basic social skills such as taking turns and problem solving, in addition to building a child’s vocabulary.
Play has been front and center in the news lately. The coverage has focused on the positive effects play can have on the development of healthy brain function, language and math skills, as well as executive function (self-control, ability to focus attention, and plan and set goals). The benefits of play are set in motion well before a child’s first day at school and last long after they are done.
If you have children, chances are you are familiar with the children’s board game “Chutes and Ladders,” where the game is played by moving game pieces forward or back, up or down. “Chutes and Ladders,” and others like it, help young children develop the ability to discriminate numbers through relative size comparison, direction, and distance… and you thought it was just fun! “Chutes and Ladders” is considered a “linear number board game,” where gameplay helps the child to develop a general math sense through the use of mathematical related language. Children who start school with a strong “number sense” are more likely to excel in future mathematics achievement, whereby in comparison, board games which denote moves by color do not provide this benefit.
Games such as Connect Four, Guess Who, or Jenga can be played by kids of any age, as an individual or on a team. These games are both fun and beneficial for children as they encourage problem-solving as well as socio-emotional development, including face-to-face interactions that help children develop basic social skills, like taking turns, communication skills, as well as an increased vocabulary.
What makes a good game a great game? From a developmental perspective, any game where children can discover and acquire new skills, while having fun is a great game. Shut off your computers, put down the smart-phone, and break out the classic board games…it’s fun and a great opportunity to learn.