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How Can Board Games Support Home Learning?


Over the course of lockdown, adults up and down the country have been working hard to support education in these very challenging times. Teachers are having to work harder than ever with home learning, trying to create a sense of normality and routine for their pupils whilst covering a content-heavy national curriculum. In these extraordinary times, teachers have been extraordinary.

More than ever, teachers rely on the cooperation and support of parents and carers, whether it be through attending virtual parents’ evenings, creating a space for their children to learn from home, or enforcing the importance of education. There are so many ways parents and carers can support learning and creativity from home, even in the future as life hopefully starts to return to normal. Some of our bloggers have been thinking about their favourite board games, and how they’re not only fun but also very educational!

Fred Cronin explains how board games have evolved to help us understand science

One of the subjects suffering the most at the hands of the pandemic is science. When you remove all the excitement of doing experiments, you’re left with a rather dense and complex set of topics to teach that can be especially taxing for parents to teach. So, short of making a baking soda volcano in your kitchen, how do you make science fun? Here are three games that can help do just that.

First up we’ve got Evolution, which sees up to six players draft Trait cards as they try to adapt their species, attempting to become the top dog. Evolution is the perfect way to teach children about the fundamentals of, you guessed it, evolution, as you kit your species out with adaptations to up their chances of survival. If you already own the base game, there’s also an expansion, the Climate Conversion Kit, perfect for showing the role of the climate.

Next, we have Covalence, a molecule building game where players construct organic compounds. With one person as a ‘knower’, players, or ‘builders’, must try to deduce the secret compounds from clues the ‘knower’ gives them. This game relies on teamwork, as ‘builders’ have to quickly construct their compounds before the clues run out. Not only does Covalence test players on their knowledge of organic chemistry, but it also encourages teamwork and deduction skills.

Last but by no means least is The Search for Planet X. Only released last year, this game has players act as astronomers, using logic and deduction as they hunt for the elusive ‘Planet X’. The Search For Planet X also has a companion app that selects a random area for Planet X, as well as letting players attend conferences and share research. Not only is this game a great way to get children to learn about the wonders of space, but it also encourages the use of logical deduction.

Favouritefoe tries to crack the Qwirkle Code

Reading, writing, arithmetic. Those were the pillars upon which my formative education was founded. Arts and science were in there somewhere, squeezed in between servings of rubberised chocolate sponge-cake with grey custard, and sessions with my ankle-smashing Skip-it. But rote learning and making words appear on my scientific calculator display were the order of the day.

Today, the objectives of modern education are much wider. Independent learning, problem-solving, and confidence building are now as ingrained into the curriculum as the ink on my old desk. Indeed, my 5-year-old has been learning coding for precisely these reasons. And, almost, one year into home-working-home-schooling with no guaranteed end-date, it is our job to support our brilliant teachers everywhere in developing and nurturing our children’s logic skills.

No Ada Lovelace myself, I am grateful to say that you do not need to be Bill Gates to engage children in coding. Nor do you even have to be in front of a computer screen to do it. And with so much time spent on e-learning, undertaking a digital-free activity is a welcome break.

Essentially a set of instructions that achieve a task, coding can be found in almost everything including board games.  On that basis, playing games together is a great way to combine these skills with simple fun. Games that support the huge efforts teachers are making to continue education in difficult times. Games without a side order of guilt!

One game epitomising basic coding is Qwirkle. This is an abstract game for 2-4 players aged 6+ which is all about making patterns. Why is this game on the list? Well, at their core, patterns must be programmed in order to achieve the desired repeated motif – basic coding 101!

In Qwirkle, however, it is not as simple as that. Whilst there are 108 blocks from which to choose (each depicting one of six different shapes in six different colours), players must lay one from their hand next to a block that matches the colour or shape of those already down, but not both. Points are then awarded for the block just laid as well as any adjacent blocks which follow the developing pattern. If a player completes a line of 6 blocks, they also achieve bonus “Qwirkle” points.

I should highlight that this game might not be the best choice for players who have colour vision deficiency but there are plenty of other great CVD friendly games out there (like Azul) which scratch the same coding itch!

Simple enough for young ones to pick up quickly, Qwirkle also has enough strategy to keep mature gamers engaged. As well as being a top pick for when the world returns to a new normal, Qwirkle is a great choice when home-schooling needs a little helping hand in the fun department.

Jim Cohen bites into a tasty maths Points Salad

It’s been a crazy time for most, and the amazing work that teachers and administrators are doing to support parents and carers for home learning has been nothing short of phenomenal. As a parent of two myself, I have been blown away by the support my wife and I have been given to help our children’s education try and have some consistency during this period. But with lockdown hopefully coming to an end, how can we best keep that feeling of home learning going. I have enjoyed feeling closer to my children’s development, and I don’t want to lose that when the professionals rightly take over from my efforts!

Board games offer many areas of educational development, maths being a prominent one. Anything with two or more dice is maths, right? But maths made fun. So, I have had a look at one game that employ maths in a fun way, and also where is feels constant throughout the game. Not just the odd moment or in the final scoring. For this, I can think of no better example than Point Salad. This fits the bill perfectly. It’s a simple game to learn and teach from five and up.  It is bright and colourful and fun to play. AND, it employs the use of mental arithmetic throughout!

The game is so simple. Each card is double-sided, showing either a fruit or a scoring option. On your turn, you either take on a scoring choice or two fruit cards to add to your collection. The game ends when all cards are taken and then each player works out their score. You could get plus points for some fruit from some cards, minus points for others on other cards. Some may need fruit to be in certain numbers, odd or even collections, or certain sets.

This end game is obviously non-stop pure math, but throughout the game, you are working this out in your head as you go. “If I take this scoring card I could add a plus point for all my tomatoes I already have a few of for this other card, but there are two tomatoes on show to take right now. Which choice gets me more points?”

Want to add twenties minutes of fun maths to your day? Point Salad may be the one for you.

Rachel Page “articulates” how young people can broaden their English skills

Lockdown has been going on for years now and as an English teacher, I understand just how difficult it is to try to motivate kids to keep going with their home learning. Every teacher knows that games and competition can be a great way to get the kids learning without them realising it…

The key is to go for a game that is so fast-paced, children don’t realise that they are actually practising their spelling. Bananagrams is great for this. Letters are split between each people and the supply. When someone shouts “Split”, you start! Everyone has to arrange their tiles into a crossword grid of words until someone has run out. It is fast, it is silly and it is raucous enough that even the weakest speller will be playing excitedly.

Codenames is a game I have been desperate to play with my students and will be trying when I don’t have to spray them with bleach every few minutes. Each team has a Spymaster who has secret words to communicate. They need to give a clue that connects as many of their words as possible. This is fabulous for an English teacher as it forces the students to think about the possible connotations of each word and how they can be connected. There are so many versions of the game that it is suitable for any age or ability: Codenames, Marvel, Pictures, Disney. If you are feeling creative, you can use it to revise any subject. One day, I will be making my own cards full of the English terminology.

Articulate is one of my favourite games. Describe as many things as you can in 30 seconds and move around the board. It is as simple as that. As with the other two I have suggested, it is building on English skills without being too obvious. It encourages you to communicate clearly and concisely, thinking carefully about your word choices. Just like Codenames, there are options depending on what age or ability you are catering for. You have Articulate for Kids, Articulate! Your Life and Articulate Phrases all present their own challenges.

Lockdown has been hard on everyone, so board games can be a great way to sneak in some extra learning. There is no pressure, but loads of fun.

Northern Dice explains how reading can be fun-damental

I have a pretty strong bias towards games needing to have an educational benefit. And, to be fair, they all do. It's impossible to play any game and not be refining some sort of skill, technique or understanding. And with the world, as it is, I know one skill that is tricky to delve into and just straight up learn is inference and deduction. Two skills from the reading curriculum that flow through the entirety of a child's school education and into adulthood. The inference being one's ability to read between the lines and identify underlying messages or untold truths based on evidence. Deduction being the skill of reducing likelihood through logic and reasoning to identify a logical outcome. But do you need to read to refine these?

In board games, we're always using our deduction and inference skills. Whether that's in figuring a player's role out in a Love Letter game, or working out someone's secret objective based on their actions in Ticket To Ride or Betrayal at House on the Hill. It's about reducing the options and identifying who's doing what and why. A group favourite for this is Coup with its pure social deduction mechanic. You have two hidden roles, as does everyone else, and you do actions however you want. Roles are limited so you can gradually establish who someone is based on both what they do, and what others do, too. Another superb choice is Codenames (any flavour you want) as it's a cooperative game of "I say, you guess". You've got to identify which people are spies by deducing links between words.

For the more purely skill-based games featuring inference and deduction, you're going to want to be looking for games where you're gathering evidence. These are more suited to older children based on complexity, and sometimes a theme, but who doesn't love a good crime to solve? 221B Baker Street is one of those games where you'll need to sort evidence and come to rational conclusions.

We find the links can be looser, and it leads to some great discussion as to why we thought X, Y and Z and where the clues didn't quite link up. The other super obvious one is Chronicles of Crime. You’re a detective, something shady has gone down, and you need to collect evidence as a group to establish outcomes. This is going to be much better for those needing a bit more thrill to get engaged, as it uses an app to drive the game.