Between splashing around in the pool and visiting the park this summer, bust out the board games and play with your children. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

Every moment playing that game will involve learning for your children. To put it in academic terms, game-playing offers learning in a wide-variety of areas, including: math, science, reading, history and much much more.

The more includes areas such as: engineering, vocabulary, following directions, pragmatics, logic/strategy, conversational skills, problem-solving, cooperation, sequencing and more. While the academic topics listed above are important so are all of these secondary areas, and quite frankly, some of these are more important.

Let me explain.

One of the most frequent questions or comments I receive from parents relates to the use of flashcards or other academic-like materials, such as worksheets. Parents question why their child is not motivated or cooperative in completing such tasks. While it certainly is good to encourage learning and not allow for that ‘summer brain drain’ we all hear so much about, going about it using academic-like materials is not the best path.

Children learn through play. This is long supported through research studies dating back years. There are entire tests for speech-language pathologists such as myself to assess a child’s play skills.

Play, after all, is the most natural way for children, especially young children, to learn. Play is natural in that it is what children do. They find a toy and explore it. They get better at the strategy of a ga

me every single time they play it. Play is engaging, motivating, familiar and it happens with ease and brings a sense of joy. There is no pressure during play–only discovery and imagination.

Children learn through exposure. This is the whole idea behind the Thirty Million Words Initiative, which was born out of a study about the vocabulary of children. The study showed that those from lower socioeconomic environments hear up to 30 million fewer words than their same-aged counterparts in higher socioeconomic means. The broader vocabulary base in a 3-year-old correlates to a higher IQ and ultimately to academic success. The project aims to avoid this “word gap” by helping educate parents about how to increase their child’s exposure to more language throughout their every day lives regardless of socioeconomic status.

Playing board games offers children both play and exposure.

During the game, they learn/practice/engage in conversational skills. They may count spaces, money or objects, which helps with learning/practicing early math concepts. They will read cards, spaces and/or letters/numbers/patterns in games, which helps with learning/practicing pre-literacy skills and even reading fluency skills for the older children. They will learn the nuances of the game, thus developing strategy to get better at it this time, or at least for next time. Throughout the process, they are exposed to vocabulary specific to that game as well as pragmatic modeling by you and the others playing. They learn how to win, how to lose, how to wait their turn, how to have patience when another player might be taking a long time. All of these skills are important in life.

While a lot of examples above reference academics, there is a lot of learning that happens during game-playing for social-emotional and cognitive development. Playing games also targets executing functioning skills, which includes attention, memory, organization, self-regulation, impulse control, planning and flexibility in our thought process.

Communicating with others is on the top of the list. Learning to deal gracefully with disappointment starts early with learning how to not be a sore loser in board or card games. To the other end, learning how to celebrate successes without going overboard starts with learning how to win a board or card game without becoming too braggy or boastful.

At the end of the day, your interaction with your child and with others is one of the most influential teaching roles. You are modeling behavior, language and interaction constantly. Even problem-solving skills. Your children pay attention to how you handle unexpected problems that arise during game play, such as getting booted back to the start circle in ‘Sorry’ or losing your turn in ‘Uno.’ This is of course true beyond the game–they are learning from your modeling in life, which is why the interaction is so important.

The learning that happens in 20-40 minutes of playing a board game is significant. Children will take away a lot more ‘learning’ from these interactions with you as their parent as compared to what they’ll take away from being forced to complete a math sheet they had no interest in looking at much less working on.

Not only did they get some one-on-one time with you but the memories will be happy ones they are eager to share with others. Those memories will last and be fondly remembered when your children are older and even having their own children.

I know playing games with my family is one of my favorite memories. The academic focus wasn’t what it is today so it wasn’t the motivation for game-playing then, but it certainly taught me a lot. I wanted to get better at the games so I could beat my sisters the next time. I can almost still hear the laughter and strategizing that went on around the dining room table.

Stay tuned as I’ll be writing soon about my favorite board games. I’m always looking for new and different games. What’s your favorite game? Share below.

Have questions about your child’s speech and language development, contact Speech With Sara LLC, 313-815-7916 or email: 

Ditch the Electronics & Flashcards, Bust Out the Games & Toys

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