Newswise — A comprehensive review of research conducted over the past 23 years suggests that board games centered around numbers, such as Monopoly, Othello, and Chutes and Ladders, can enhance mathematical skills in young children. This recent study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Early Years, highlights the positive impact of number-based board games on counting, addition, and the ability to compare numbers among children aged three to nine.

The researchers emphasize that board games, already recognized for promoting learning and development in areas like reading and literacy, can specifically improve mathematical abilities in young children. The study recommends structured programs or interventions in which children engage in supervised board game sessions a few times per week, facilitated by a teacher or another trained adult.

Dr. Jaime Balladares, the lead author of the study hailing from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, Chile, states that "board games enhance mathematical abilities for young children."

Utilizing board games can be viewed as a strategic approach with the potential to positively impact both fundamental and advanced mathematical abilities.

Board games offer the flexibility to incorporate educational objectives related to mathematics or other subject areas.

Distinguishing themselves from skill-based or gambling games, board games involve turn-based movement of pieces on a board.

The fixed rules of board games limit players' actions, with the outcomes of moves on the board influencing the overall gameplay situation.

Despite this, preschools seldom employ board games, prompting this study to examine the available evidence regarding their effects on children.

The researchers aimed to assess the extent of the impact of physical board games in fostering learning among young children.

Their findings were based on a comprehensive review of 19 studies published from 2000 onwards, focusing on children aged three to nine years. With one exception, all studies examined the correlation between board games and mathematical skills.

Throughout the studies, all children involved received dedicated board game sessions, typically occurring twice a week for 20 minutes over a span of about one-and-a-half months. These sessions were led by adults, which included teachers, therapists, or parents.

In some of the 19 studies, children were divided into groups, with one group engaging in number-focused board games while the other group played board games unrelated to numeracy skills. In other studies, all children participated in number-based board games, but they were assigned different types of games, such as Dominoes.

Before and after the intervention sessions, all children underwent assessments to evaluate their mathematical performance. The intervention sessions aimed to enhance skills like counting aloud.

The authors determined success based on four categories: basic numeric competency, which involves the ability to name numbers; basic number comprehension, such as understanding that "nine is greater than three"; deepened number comprehension, where a child can accurately perform addition and subtraction operations; and interest in mathematics.

In certain instances, parents participated in training sessions to acquire arithmetic skills that could be applied during the board games.

The results of the study demonstrated a significant improvement in math skills for over half (52%) of the analyzed tasks following the intervention sessions.

Among the cases examined, children who participated in the board game intervention outperformed those who did not in nearly one-third (32%) of the instances.

The findings also highlighted that, up to the present, studies investigating board games in the areas of language or literacy lacked scientific evaluation. These studies did not include comparisons between control and intervention groups, nor did they assess pre- and post-intervention impacts on children.

Dr. Balladares, formerly affiliated with UCL and the lead author, emphasizes the necessity of designing and implementing board games along with scientific procedures to assess their effectiveness. This becomes an "urgent task" to undertake in the coming years. Consequently, the current investigation serves as the foundation for their next project.

Dr. Balladares concludes by suggesting that future studies should explore the effects of these games on other cognitive and developmental skills. The development and assessment of board games for educational purposes present an intriguing area of exploration, given the complexity of games and the need to create more effective and engaging educational games.

Journal Link: Early Years