Why board games are good for your brain

Kickstarting maths ability by playing old-style games 

Playing card games

One theory as to why more children seem to be struggling with certain aspects of number in maths is that as families we don’t sit and play board games or other counting games nearly as much as in previous generations. 

Nowadays, children play exciting, colourful interactive games on tablets, phones and laptops at very young ages, and this grows significant pathways in certain parts of the brain as they are learning and exploring so quickly. Children love playing on these interactive games, and we as parents appreciate being able to stick a device in their hands and having some time to catch up on other things. 

But because children may reach school age and above hardly ever have, if at all, played board games, means that they can’t already recognise the spot patterns on the dice. 

The science behind the maths is that rolling a dice, recognising the spot patterns on the dice and then moving your piece on the board reinforces the ability to subitise and recognise spot patterns. 

What is subitising?
Patterns on dice

I’ve never heard of that…

One of the most fundamental concepts that any child needs to master – to be then able to develop almost all further numerical mathematical ability.

If your child can’t give a good estimation or if they can’t recognise small patterns of objects, they may not have developed a sense of ‘subitising’ at the point in EYFS when they played with counting objects.  

Once subitising skills have developed, they will then be able to do many more core maths skills, including to start to count starting from a given number and not always starting from 1. 

The word subitising comes from Latin’ subitus’ meaning suddenly or immediately, and it is the ability to judge the number of objects. 

Judgements of 1 to 4 objects should be rapid, accurate and confident. Games that we can play will be aiming to help them improve their ability to subitise 1 to 4 objects and but also to recognise standard spot patterns of larger quantities. 

During Primary Maths Catch Up Pack 1, which focuses on counting, sequencing and subitising, we aim to learn these skills from scratch. 

Good news! 

Regular practice of some simple activities and games that you can do with your child can help your child’s brain practice, and develop this ability. 

So what can you do about it? 

The simple answer is to start to play some counting and board games together regularly. Sometimes instead of watching TV or playing on computer/tablet games decide to play an old-style game and repeat doing this so that it starts to become a new normal rather than an unusual thing to do. 

Not all card games use spots and dots, but they do use number recognition and comparison. Board games often use standard 1-6 spot dice and involving counting and moving a counter. 

Are board games good for your brain?

Yes, they actually are! How board games help your brain. “Research studies show that board games such as Snakes and Ladders result in children showing significant improvements in aspects of basic number skills such as counting, recognising numbers, numerical estimation and number comprehension. They also practice fine motor skills each time they grasp a game piece. Playing board games has also been tied to improving children’s executive functions and help reduce risks of dementia for the elderly.” Joan E. Lefebvre. 

Suggestions for games to play together

The best board games of all time can be divided into several categories. 

Top Trump card games

Easy card games:

  • snap style games with any type of packs of cards
  • old maid 
  • go fish

Special card packs – comparing numbers:

  • playing with any set of Top Trumps 
  • Uno 

Board games: old-style games that use dice, counters and even money. 

  • snakes and ladders
  • Ludo
  • Monopoly
  • Game of Life
  • Cluedo 

Other games: 

  • Connect 4 
  • Dominoes 
Traditional games
Ludo
What else can I do to help?

In addition to just playing the games, think about the language and questioning that you use with your child to get the most out of the experience.  

  • Model to them why you chose certain cards or moved a particular counter in a strategy game. 
  • Make sure you explain the rules and how to play the game before you start so there is less scope for confusion and upset. 
  • Say something like “Why don’t we look at those cards again?” if she takes too many, rather than clamping down that they have made a mistake and are wrong. 
  • Don’t always let your child win.  Children need to learn that games are about having fun and doing your best, not just winning. 
  • Children learn essential things from interacting with older children and adults, making board games a multi-age activity. Some families even have a weekly “game night” where the whole family plays a board game together. 

Good luck with your games and I hope that you and your child can begin to find out why board games are fun! 

What was your favourite card or board game as a child? Let me know in the comments. 

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