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SANTIAGO, Chile — Board games like Monopoly and Othello can enhance young children’s mathematical abilities, according to a new study. Prior research has established that playing games can contribute to learning and development, including reading and literacy skills. However, this study discovered that, among children between three and nine years-old, number-based games can significantly bolster their math skills. They aid in improving counting, addition, and the ability to distinguish whether a number is greater or lesser than another.

The study’s conclusions are based on an analysis of 19 studies published from the year 2000 onwards. All but one study focused on the correlation between board games and mathematical skills. The children participating in these studies underwent special board game sessions held twice a week, on average, and lasting 20 minutes over a period of one-and-a-half months. These sessions were conducted by adults, including teachers, therapists, or parents.

In some studies, the young children were grouped together, with certain groups playing board games that concentrated on numeracy skills while others did not. In other studies, all children engaged in number-based board games but were given different types, like Dominoes. All participants were assessed on their math performance before and after these gaming sessions, which were devised to encourage skills such as counting out loud.

Family playing board game
(© Monkey Business – stock.adobe.com)

The researchers evaluated the success of these interventions by examining four categories: the child’s ability to name numbers, their understanding of numbers (like knowing that nine is greater than three), the student’s ability to perform addition and subtraction, and their overall interest in math. In some instances, parents were invited to a training session where they learned arithmetic that they could then incorporate into the games.

The study showed a notable improvement in math skills after the sessions, with children showing improvement in 52 percent of the tasks. Furthermore, in nearly a third of the cases, the children in the intervention groups achieved better results than those who didn’t participate in the board game intervention.

However, the study also found that, to date, the research analyzing board games focusing on language or literacy areas didn’t compare a control group with an intervention group or have pre and post-interventions. This omission made it significantly more challenging to gauge the impact those games had on children.

Teacher helping students in classroom at school
(© M. Business – stock.adobe.com)

The researchers concluded that children could potentially benefit from playing board games a few times a week under the supervision of a teacher or another trained adult.

“Board games enhance mathematical abilities for young children,” says lead author Dr. Jaime Balladares from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in a media release.

“Using board games can be considered a strategy with potential effects on basic and complex math skills. Board games can easily be adapted to include learning objectives related to mathematical skills or other domains.”

For the team, designing and implementing board games along with evaluating their efficacy are urgent tasks to develop in the next few years.

“Future studies should be designed to explore the effects that these games could have on other cognitive and developmental skills,” Dr. Balladares concludes.

“An interesting space for the development of intervention and assessment of board games should open up in the next few years, given the complexity of games and the need to design more and better games for educational purposes.”

The study was published in the journal Early Years.

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South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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