The next time your child asks to play his favorite board or card game, do it! Games of all types aren’t simply fun for the kids (if a little boring at times for Mom and Dad); they also provide many ways for students to reinforce the skills they need for school, such as counting, spelling, and good sportsmanship.
Even those games that might not seem to have a specific skill-building strength can offer wonderful learning opportunities. For example, almost any game will help children have a greater understanding of the concept of fairness, something that older elementary students will be expected to show. What follows are five types of skills that are emphasized for elementary school students, and how children can hone them through game play.
Colors, patterns, and shapes: By the end of kindergarten, students should be able to identify basic colors and shapes. Get practice with card games like Set or Uno, which call for matching characteristics such as number or color, among other things. Older elementary-age children may enjoy the tile game Rummikub, which, like Set and Uno, also offers a strong strategy component (see below for more about strategy skills).
Math and number recognition: A game like Rummikub, with its numbered tiles in different colors, is good for both number recognition and simple pattern recognition. Longtime family favorite Monopoly is a natural choice for working on math skills, as it involves not just arithmetic but specifically money math. Letter-tile games with points such as Scrabble allow for both addition and multiplication. But any score-keeping game can be used to practice basic arithmetic skills, from ranking players’ final scores to finding the difference between highest and lowest.
Spelling (letter recognition) and vocabulary (word recognition): These are perhaps the easiest skills to practice through board games, especially because there are so many options available for families. Taboo calls for creative vocabulary skills so that players can avoid using the forbidden words listed on each card. Word games like Scrabble, Bananagrams, and Boggle give students practice with both spelling and vocabulary. Add another level by asking players to define the word they are spelling in the game space.
Many schools have recognized the skill-building potential of Scrabble. In the School Scrabble Program, teams in grades 4 through 8 can compete in the annual national championship to win money and prizes. For more information or to register a club, go to www.scrabbleclubpromo.com.
Strategy: As early as 3rd grade, children will be expected to show an understanding of choices and their consequences. While that’s not entirely related to strategic thinking, strategy games can make the concept of choices and consequences more tangible. Chess is the iconic long-view strategy game, but any game that requires players to choose between several possible actions on a turn can help develop strategic thinking skills, including many that have been mentioned above. (“Should I play this card/tile or that one?” “Do I buy a property or save my cash?”) Other popular options include Connect 4 and Battleship.
Teamwork and good sportsmanship: Activity-oriented games such as Pictionary and Charades have a natural teamwork element built in by having players work in teams (and also allow for more than one family to play together). You can turn any game into an opportunity for team play and practicing sportsmanship skills, however, by pairing a parent and child to work together in non-team games. It’s also a good way to involve younger children in games that might otherwise be above their skill level, allowing everyone in the family to play as a group.