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Board games help children improve their math skills

A recent study suggests that playing board games could be a fun way to boost math skills in children. The analysis, based on a review of 23 years of published research, points to games like Monopoly, Othello, and Chutes and Ladders as effective tools to improve math skills.

Board games are already known to boost a variety of learning and developmental skills, including reading and literacy. The new research highlights their specific impact on mathematical abilities. 

Marked improvements

Published in the journal Early Years, the study reveals that number-based board games can markedly improve counting, addition, and number recognition skills among three to nine-year-olds.

The research team, led by Dr. Jaime Balladares from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, discovered that structured board game sessions under adult supervision resulted in significant benefits for children’s mathematical development. 

“Board games enhance mathematical abilities for young children,” said Dr. Balladares. “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.”

The study distinguishes between games where players take turns moving pieces around a board and those involving specific skills or gambling. The fixed rules and the nature of moves determining the overall playing situation create a unique learning environment, noted the researchers. However, they also found that preschools rarely utilize this potential learning tool.

How the study was conducted 

The study was designed to compile available evidence of the effects of physical board games on promoting learning in young children. 

The team based their findings on a review of 19 studies published since 2000, involving children aged three to nine. The focus of nearly all of these studies was the relationship between board games and mathematical skills.

Children participating in these studies engaged in special sessions, on average twice a week for 20 minutes, over a span of one-and-a-half months. The sessions were led by adults, including teachers, therapists, or parents. The children were assessed on their math performance before and after the intervention, which aimed to encourage skills such as counting out loud.

The researchers gauged the success of these interventions according to four categories, which included basic numeric competency, such as the ability to name numbers, and basic number comprehension. They also examined number comprehension, where a child can accurately add and subtract.

What the researchers discovered 

In more than half (52%) of the tasks analyzed, the researchers noted a significant improvement in math skills after the intervention sessions. In about a third (32%) of cases, children participating in the sessions outperformed those who did not.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that previous studies on the impact of board games on language or literacy areas lacked scientific evaluation methods to assess their efficacy. 

Dr. Balladares emphasized the need for designing and implementing board games with rigorous scientific procedures to evaluate their efficacy, calling it an “urgent task to develop in the next few years.”

The team is now looking ahead to their next project, exploring the potential wider effects of these games. 

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

More about board games 

Board games can be an excellent tool for learning, both for children and adults. They have several characteristics that make them ideal for educational purposes:

Cognitive skills

Games can significantly enhance cognitive skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision making. They often require players to strategize, plan ahead, and make choices that will affect future outcomes.

Social skills

Most board games are interactive and require some level of communication and cooperation between players. This can help improve social skills such as teamwork, negotiation, and conflict resolution.

Learning specific subjects

Some board games are designed to educate players on specific subjects. For instance, there are games that teach math, science, history, geography, and language skills, among others.

Patience and perseverance

Board games require a level of patience as players must wait their turn and also handle the ups and downs during the game. This can help inculcate a sense of perseverance, particularly in children.

Focus and attention

Playing board games often requires a great deal of focus and attention to detail. This can help improve concentration levels.


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