*Disclosure: I am a Better Beginnings brand ambassador. I get paid to write an article for them once a month, but the best thing is that I get to learn, and in turn share with you, great information about how kids learn and helping them learn through play. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I believe in the mission of Better Beginnings – quality early education for all.
7 Life Skills Kids Can Learn through Board Games
Working on life skills with my younger daughter is as critical as helping her with academic subjects because she has some developmental delays. What I didn’t realize until recently, however, is that the concept of “life skills” goes far beyond what I thought.
I’m working my way through the book Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky, and she defines the seven essential life skills as
- Focus and self-control
- Perspective taking
- Making connections
- Critical thinking
- Taking on challenges
- Self-directed, engaged learning
As I read the explanations and studies in the book, as I think about how to apply this with my children, I realize with relief that most of these can be accomplished through play. More specifically, I see ways that I have already begun to help my kids develop these skills through board games. We haven’t arrived, but with board game introductions, I think we’ll lay a foundation for these skills that we can build on in other play settings as well as real situations.
Wondering what this looks like at my house?
- Focus and self-control. This one is tough, but it’s something we really work on with board games. My little one has been known to try to change the rules or throw a fit when she’s not winning. It is a real exercise in self-control to keep her engaged throughout the game—and to help her manage her emotions in an age-appropriate and socially acceptable way. This self-control thing is necessary both when she wins and when she loses.
- Perspective taking. Since reading nonverbal cues and understanding social interactions is an area where my daughter struggles, we do a lot of work on looking at a situation from someone else’s perspective. This is pretty easy to do during board games, when the players find themselves in similar situations at various times during the game. For instance, when she’s tempted to gloat when she sends another player back several spaces, I can ask her how she felt when she had to go back earlier in the game. It makes it a little easier for her to imagine how someone else feels and adjust her responses accordingly.
- Communicating. We can work on communicating during board games both by moving perspective taking a step further, helping my daughter think through how her actions are perceived by others and talking about what message she wants to send to her fellow players. But it can also apply to her literal communication. She struggles with expressive language disorder, so games that involve describing something for others to guess are very difficult but also give her much-needed practice in a safe environment.
- Making connections. I love it when my girls begin to see patterns or similarities and differences while we play board games. It’s amazing to see their eyes light up and have them begin to talk excitedly about the realization. After playing a lot of board games on Christmas break a few years ago, my younger daughter made the connection between subtraction, which was very difficult for her at the time, and having to move backward on the board. Once she made that connection, it was a lot easier to move forward in math!
- Critical thinking. One of my favorite games that involves a lot of problem solving and critical thinking is Clue. The girls get wrapped up in the mystery, but there’s so much to figure out while playing that game. It’s a great brain exercise. I have also found games like Monopoly are good for critical thinking about values and belief systems and lend well to discussions about finances, using financial resources wisely, greed, and making wise choices. (Of course, the game is all in fun, but it doesn’t hurt to look at motives while we’re at it.)
- Taking on challenges. This is a hard one for my younger daughter, who really hates to fail. Almost any game that really stretches her, where she’s not guaranteed success, gives her an opportunity to challenge herself and learn how to handle her feelings (see #1). These include Twister (physically challenging), Hedbanz (challenges her communication skills), Operation or Kerplunk (fine motor skills), What’s in Ned’s Head? (sensory integration), and Guess Who? (thinking skills).
- Self-directed, engaged learning. When my kids get to choose the games we play, they are much more focused, try harder, and are more open to any discussions we have during the game, whether they’re about life in general or specifically related to the game and what’s going on there. I really want to instill a love of learning in my kids so they will be able to tackle any challenge that comes their way. Learning more about how they think and what they really enjoy helps me give them more and more opportunities for learning. (It never hurts to scatter books, toys, and games they’ll love around the house, does it?)
How do you see your kids learning through board games? In what other ways do you see yourself helping your kids develop these life skills?
Better Beginnings has the amazing resource 10 Things Every Parent Should Know about Play available to you FREE in the Better Beginnings Resource Library. There’s a lot more going on during play than we realize!
If you’re in Arkansas and need child care, please consider a Better Beginnings provider. They have fun, hands-on educational activities for every child!
Other articles in the Learning Through Play series:
- Why My Child Almost Failed Kindergarten – And Yours Doesn’t Have To
- Back to Basics: Learning Size and Capacity
- Playground Safety for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder
- 5 Apps My Kids Love (and I do too!)
- 4 Tips for When Your Child’s Best Friend Moves Away