The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children is an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It doesn’t focus on board games specifically, but does bring up many interesting points about how play is undervalued in our current American culture—especially in education where a focus on standardized testing often erases play from lesson plans.
An increasing societal focus on academic readiness (promulgated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) has led to a focus on structured activities that are designed to promote academic results as early as preschool, with a corresponding decrease in playful learning. Social skills, which are part of playful learning, enable children to listen to directions, pay attention, solve disputes with words, and focus on tasks without constant supervision.
Tabletop games are a perfect fit for what the paper calls “guided play.”
Guided play retains the child agency, such that the child initiates the play, but it occurs either in a setting that an adult carefully constructs with a learning goal in mind (eg, a children’s museum exhibit or a Montessori task) or in an environment where adults supplement the child-led exploration with questions or comments that subtly guide the child toward a goal. Board games that have well-defined goals also fit into this category.
When we sit down around a table together and play a board game, we agree on a set of rules to govern the experience.
Pretend play encourages self-regulation because children must collaborate on the imaginary environment and agree about pretending and conforming to roles, which improves their ability to reason about hypothetical events. Social–emotional skills are increasingly viewed as related to academic and economic success.
As an adult, I can attest to feeling energized and elated after spending an hour in a game with my kids.
Playing with children adds value not only for children but also for adult caregivers, who can reexperience or reawaken the joy of their own childhood and rejuvenate themselves.
On the role of media:
Media (eg, television, video games, and smartphone and tablet applications) use often encourages passivity and the consumption of others’ creativity rather than active learning and socially interactive play. Most importantly, immersion in electronic media takes away time from real play. […] Parent surveys have revealed that many parents see media and technology as the best way to help their children learn. However, researchers contradict this. Researchers have compared preschoolers playing with blocks independently with preschoolers watching Baby Einstein tapes and have shown that the children playing with blocks independently developed better language and cognitive skills than their peers watching videos. […] real-time social interactions remain superior to digital media for home learning.
Frontiers in Pediatrics has published a research article on RETAIN, custom-designed board game aimed at training healthcare providers in neonatal resuscitation. As the tabletop gaming hobby becomes more popular with the general public, I hope we’ll see more clinical research focused on their teaching effectiveness.
Knowledge retention increased by 12% between pre- and post-test (49–61%, respectively). The improvement in performance and knowledge supports the use of board game simulations for clinical training.
I found this bit interesting. As a teaching tool, tabletop games may be more effective as a method of review rather than for introducing large amounts of entirely new information.
Board or video games can be effective tools for teaching information to various learners in different situations. However, games are not suitable for presenting all types of materials. Games do not lend themselves to the delivery of large amounts of information over short periods of time. However, games have been found to be a very effective method of reviewing material and reinforcing facts and utilizing the knowledge gained through individual experiences and enhancing motivation by providing an avenue for validating personal knowledge and sharing experiences with peers.