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Board Games in the School Library: 3 Reasons Why It's a Winning Play

"Play is the highest form of research." - Albert Einstein


“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori

In our recently remodeled school media center, we have a space dedicated to active engagement in fun learning activities. Part maker space, part literacy lounge, board games are being incorporated to promote a culture of joyful learning. Whether it's a game of Rummy, Yahtzee, or Scrabble, family game night serves as a communication elixir and solidifies our domestic climate of togetherness. Shouldn't similar opportunities for interaction, challenge, and fun exist somewhere in our schools?

Broken families, cultural fragmentation, and poverty are impacting opportunities for children to play. As we unpacked and tagged our new media center games, I was more disappointed than shocked by the number of students who had never played Monopoly, Boggle, or Sorry. One skeptical teacher commented, "Oh great, now we're letting students play games instead of reading books in the library!"


“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”  - Leo F. Buscaglia

Proving that it's not an either, or, situation, I witnessed a student teaching another student how to play chess. Outwardly, the two students were as different as can be imagined, but the learning and camaraderie taking place were visible and palpable. Later in the same class period, the newer player checked out a book about becoming a chess master. Game-based learning leverages games to engage students in skill acquisition, thought processing, and creative problem-solving. Here are three reasons why integrating board games into the school library is a winning strategy.

“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” – Plato

First, board games provide engaging ways for students to practice skills referenced to classroom learning targets. For instance, aside from basic numeracy, Yahtzee offers practical application of statistics and probability. What appears on the dice results randomly, but an understanding of probability supports the strategic assignment of points. Planning several turns ahead, players often need to use predictive judgment to maximize the point value of each turn at the game. Opportunities for collaboration and deeper learning are created when students design and build original board games.

Second, playing board games can support social-emotional learning (SEL). The Illinois learning standards include these three SEL goals: self-awareness and self-management skills, social awareness and interpersonal skills, and demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behavior. Collaborative or competitive, there are social lessons learned from playing board games. Teachers and parents with concerns about screen time value the face-to-face interaction promised by board games. We have implemented a school-wide program to develop growth mindsets in all of our learners. Despite best efforts, the outcome of games doesn't always favor the most skilled players. Board games create opportunities for goal setting, self-evaluation, and reflection.

Third, board games encourage interaction in locations of informal learning where school community and climate are developed. Sometimes called third places, these are casual areas that initiate and support personal development, friendships, democracy, and intellectual exchange. Disagreements are possible but rarely become hostile because participants value their place in the community. Like many schools, we seek to improve our school's attendance rate. What if it's a daily chess match that is the one thing that keeps a group of struggling students coming to school every day?


My friend and colleague, Jordan Catapano, suggests we ask the following questions when considering board games for student use.
  • Is the game age appropriate?
  • Are there necessary skills required for successful play?
  • What learning or behavioral objectives are supported?
  • How can we help students maximize game-based learning experiences through thinking and reflection?
  • Is there desired transfer from gaming experiences to classroom objectives or life skills?

Whether it's engaged learning, social skills, self-regulation, or school climate, board games can be a major piece of progressing towards your school's goals. Respected scholars and social experts assert that play is essential to learning and development, playing is an important life skill. School libraries, with a reputation for being places of quiet study, are now becoming centers for tinkering, coding, and yes, playing.


“We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing!” - George Bernard Shaw


References and Related Reading


MindShift. "What Do Sixth Graders Say About Learning With Games? It Works." MindShift. August 2015.

Elias, Maurice J. "How Gaming Connects to SEL and Career Readiness." Edutopia. 06 Jan. 2017.


"Children's Board Games Help Reinforce Lessons Learned in the Classroom." The Washington Post. WP Company, 14 Jan. 2010.

Doyle, William. "What Australia Can Learn from Finland's Forested Classrooms." The Sydney Morning Herald. The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Jan. 2017.

Comments

Aaron Davis said…
Great post. At my last school, we had a chess club. It was amazing to see the level of engagement. Another hit was the Rubik's cube.
Thank you, Aaron. We're going to track usage for future implementations. Like you've experienced, there's some genuine interest in chess, and brain games. We have a chess team and a gaming club, we're interested in seeing if this impacts participation in those activities. More importantly, I want this participatory learning (THX Sue Waters) to seep into our classrooms.
Bob

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