An Image of the kid friendly board game Sneaky Snacky Squirrel set up on the floor of a classroom.The family friendly board game Sneaky Snacky Squirrel.

Board games can be a great asset in the educational setting, and there are so many ways they can be used. They can be used as an educational tool to reinforce skills or concept, to support social skills or executive functions, or just for fun. Depending on your purpose as well as the age and skills of the students will depend on the type of games and what features you will look for.

Why Use Game in and Educational Setting?

Games to Teach or Reinforce a Skill or Concept

Eduplay

Games in the classroom can have an academic purpose. With that intentional purpose, the games need to have the target skill as a key feature. With many skills there are games that are more eduplay than mass market games meant for fun. That does not mean only games geared for the classroom can be used, but if there is a key skill you want to reinforce there may be more targeted practice with eduplay or gamification of skills practice. These have their place in a classroom and can be an engaging and essential component of reinforcing skills.

Shelby’s Snack Shack

In the elementary classroom, centers or stations often are set up with activities that are a gamification of skills practice. In my classroom I have two different groups of centers. During our intervention block I have a range of centers that reinforce the math and literacy skills that we have learned. Then in Math Workshop I have station with different centers to practice math fluency, skills previously taught, and support number sense. These centers are highly engaging but are not games I can go to Target to buy. Most are downloaded from our Math resources, or purchased.

Retail Games

Games can be used to reinforce concepts and skills. There are some games for beginning learners that can reinforce Math, Literacy concepts, or even motor skills.

  • Kangaroo Cravings (sight words)
  • Too Many Monkeys (number order)
  • Shelby’s Snack Shack (fine motor, counting)

For older students, Genius Games has a series of games across multiple science themes that explicitly incorporate the scientific concepts, terminology and how it works.

For more information across different content areas check out out articles by subject:

Games to Support Social Skills

Games are a great way to support and develop social skills and practice skills in a low risk setting. In schools, as well as settings outside of schools, games are a great way to practice a range of skills. Several key skills can be supported and developed through board games. Some of these include: turn taking, following rules, sportsmanship, and cooperation.

Last Defense

There are a few key features to look for in games for this purpose. The first is looking for cooperative games. Many students struggle with sportsmanship. By starting off with cooperative games, the players have to work together to achieve a common goal against the game. This takes out some of the competition that can be a challenge.

Next look for games with simple rules. The game should be a “two minute teacher”. That means that a new player should be able to have the rules explained to them and be ready to play in approximately two minutes.

Finally, quick game play is essential, especially for young students. Whether the game is cooperative or competitive it needs to fit into a short session so a game that plays in under 15 or even under 10 minutes will be a good fit. Short game play also affords the opportunity to have multiple games played in a short amount of time too.

For more tips and games suggestions by age check out my article: Building Sportsmanship with Board Games

Games for Fun

Games are meant to be fun and are a great activity for students. They can be available during indoor recess, when the weather keeps everyone inside. I have also used games for outdoor recess with students who have an injury that prevents them from running around. Simple and inexpensive games are the way to go. Usually the kids will have 25 to 30 minutes at the most. Plus with kids playing independently inevitable pieces get lost or broken.

What will be the best choices for your students?

I am very selective with the games I have available for my students. Since they tend to span the range of skills, and the games are expected to be independent I tend to have games meant for slightly younger kids. For example, I have first graders who range in ages from almost 6 to 7 over the course of the school year. So most games I stock are usually geared for ages 4, 5, and 6. That said, I also try to have little to no reading on the games. The range of skills across the classroom can be extensive and I want even my struggling learners to be able to play without too much of a challenge. As you move up in the grades, the students have more skills and the games can be a little more complicated and include more reading,.

Drop It!

Quick games are an asset in the classroom since the players can rotate and more kids can have an opportunity to play.

Clubs and Extended Game Times

With after school clubs or when there is more time available, longer playtimes can be used. With these games there are two things to consider. Does the group of students want to focus on one longer and more complicated games? Or, do you want quick turn around with the games?

There are a few other factors to consider when curating game for a club or a time where there will be extended time for games. First, keep in mind the skill level of the students. Do you have a group that are used to just simple games, or are they experienced with more complex game play and strategies? If there is a mix look for games that are easy to learn and hard to master. Some examples are Drop it! and Skyjo.

Next you have to consider the playtime of the games, as well as how the time will be used. There are two ways to approach an extended time. One way is to have students play several games in the time given, and the other is to play one game that takes longer to play.

Finally, look at the player count of the games. If there is a small group and the game support the player count, then everyone can play together. With more than 6-8 players, you have two options: break the group into smaller groups, or play a party game where everyone can participate.

Final Thoughts

Games can be and excellent tool for supporting and reinforcing skills both academic and nonacademic. There are so many games both in traditional retail and geared for an educational setting that can be an asset in the school and classroom settings.


What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

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By Linda Wrobel

Managing Editor: Board Games Mother, Educator, and Board Game Editor.

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