Board games boost young children’s math ability

Number-based board games like Monopoly, Othello or slides and ladders help kids do better in math

Board games are already known to enhance learning and development, including reading and literacy. Now, according to a comprehensive review of research published on the subject over the last 23 years, Published in Early Years magazinewe know that for children ages three to nine, the number-based board game format helps improve counting, addition, and the ability to recognize whether one number is greater or less than another.

Researchers say children can benefit from programs where they play board games several times a week, supervised by a teacher or other trained adult.

“Board games boost young children’s math skills,” says lead author Dr. Jaime Balladares, from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, Chile. “The use of board games can be considered a strategy with potential effects on basic and complex mathematical skills.”

Games where players take turns moving pieces around a board differ from those involving specific skills or wagers. The rules of board games are fixed, which limits the activities of players, and movements on the board often determine the general situation of the game.

However, preschools rarely use board games. This study aimed to compile the available evidence on its effects in children.

Children’s math skills significantly improved after sessions in more than half of the tasks

Researchers began investigating the magnitude of the effects of physical board games on promoting learning in young children. They based their conclusions on a review of 19 studies published since 2000 involving children ages three to nine. All but one study focused on the relationship between board games and math skills.

All children in the studies received special board game sessions that took place on average twice a week for 20 minutes for a month and a half. Adults leading these sessions included teachers, therapists or parents.

In some of the 19 studies, children were grouped into the number board game or a board game that did not focus on number skills. In others, all children participated in board games with numbers, but different types were assigned, for example, dominoes.

Mathematical performance of all children was assessed before and after intervention sessions, designed to stimulate skills such as counting aloud.

The authors classified success into four categories: basic numerical competence, such as the ability to name numbers, and basic numerical understanding, for example, “nine is greater than three.” The other categories were deepening numerical understanding, when the child can add and subtract accurately, and interest in mathematics.

In some cases, parents attended a training session to learn arithmetic that they could use in games.

The results showed that the children’s math skills improved significantly after the sessions in more than half (52%) of the analyzed tasks. In almost a third (32%) of cases, children in the intervention groups performed better than those who did not participate in the board game.

The results also show that, of the studies analyzed to date, board games in the areas of language or literacy, although implemented, did not include scientific evaluation (i.e., comparison of control groups with intervention groups, or before and after intervention) to assess its impact on children.

Designing and implementing board games along with scientific procedures to assess their effectiveness are therefore “urgent tasks to be developed in the coming years”, argues Dr. Balladares, who previously worked at UCL.


The effects of board games on math skills in preschool and kindergarten children: a systematic review

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