Old school board games do the trick

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 Snakes and Ladders has been subtly instilling early math skills by exposing kids to the concept of numbers.

Both cost about $20.

Some teachers tout Uno (about $15), introduced in 1971, as a way to teach number and colour recognition, sorting skills and strategic thinking.

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 pre-school and early primary 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," kindergarten teacher Jayne Cooke-Cobern said.

She lists Trouble, Snakes and Ladders, Uno and Yahtzee among her favourite games 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 market research group NPD Group, sales of board games through October were up 4% over the same period in 2008.

Web-connected toys were down 39%.

Toy specialists 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 mums 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 that in a group of low-income pre-schoolers, playing a board game with numbers, such as Snakes and Ladders, helped them improve their performance on four kinds of numerical tasks.

Those gains were still evident nine weeks later.

By pushing young children to think strategically and plan ahead, and to attach abstract thoughts to concrete objects, many games can help develop more sophisticated thinking skills, educators said.

"One of the primary skills [board games] develop is self-regulation," said Peter Pizzolongo, director of professional development at the National Association for the Education of Young Children in the United States.

"You have to be able to wait your turn and think ahead . . .

"With many board games, particularly those that involve numerals, you have to learn your numbers.

"But being able to attach those numbers to something you're doing requires a higher level of function, and that's going to happen with board games."


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