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Board games help kids more than classes

world Updated: Jan 26, 2010 00:54 IST
Mari-Jane Williams

Disconnect the Xbox, uninstall the computer game software and close the laptop. You want your child to have fun but learn at the same time, at a fraction of the cost? Play a board game, experts say.

Candy Land, for example, in its 61st year, might be one of the best deals going in early childhood education, using visions of sweet treats to disguise lessons in colour recognition and counting. And its colourful cousin Chutes and Ladders has been subtly instilling early math skills since 1943 by exposing kids to the concept of numbers. Both cost about $5 at Toys R Us. Some teachers tout Uno, introduced in 1971, as a way to teach number and colour recognition, sorting skills and strategic thinking. Uno is $7 at Toys R Us.

There are so many benefits to playing board games. For years, they’ve been known to help children with social interaction, taking turns and learning to follow rules and to win and lose gracefully. But teachers also find ways to use board games to supplement their lesson plans, particularly in preschool and early elementary school.

“Any game that requires a student to count and move a game piece at the same time is good for developing one-to-one correspondence while counting,” said Jayne Cooke-Cobern, a kindergarten teacher in Woodbridge, Va. She lists Trouble, Chutes and Ladders, Uno, Yahtzee, Racko and Apples to Apples among her favourites for the classroom.

“They’re not just paper and pencil for little ones,” said Lisa Barnes, also a kindergarten teacher, who uses Memory (recognition of numbers, sight words and colour words), bingo (letters, shapes and rhyming words) and dominoes (numbers and the concept of more and less) with her students. “It gets everyone using their hands. They are having fun and learning at the same time.”

According to the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y., sales of board games through October were up 4 per cent over the same period in 2008. Web-connected toys were down 39 per cent.

Toy experts attribute the increase in board game sales to the recession. A board game can cost less than a movie ticket and can be played repeatedly. These games are strong sellers for another reason: The moms and dads who decades later can still name all the properties around a Monopoly board or recall a particularly satisfying triple word score in Scrabble.

A 2007 study by Carnegie Mellon University showed in a group of low-income preschoolers, playing a board game with numbers, such as Chutes and Ladders, helped them improve their performance on four kinds of numerical tasks.

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