Board games like Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders – which are based on numbers – could make young children better at maths, new research suggests.
The games are already known to enhance learning and development, including reading and literacy.
But the new study suggests that for three to nine-year-olds, the format of number-based board games helps to improve counting, addition, and the ability to recognise if a number is higher or lower than another.
Researchers say children benefit from programmes – or interventions – where they play board games a few times a week supervised by a teacher or another trained adult.
Lead author Dr Jaime Balladares, from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, in Santiago, Chile, said: “Board games enhance mathematical abilities for young children.
“Using board games can be considered a strategy with potential effects on basic and complex maths skills.
“Board games can easily be adapted to include learning objectives related to mathematical skills or other domains.”
The new study aimed to compile the available evidence on the effects of board games on children, and the researchers set out to investigate the scale of the effects of physical board games in promoting learning in young children.
The findings are based on a review of 19 studies published from 2000 onwards involving children aged from three to nine years.
All except one study focused on the relationship between board games and mathematical skills.
All of the children in the studies received special board game sessions, which took place on average twice a week for 20 minutes over one-and-a-half months.
The sessions were led by adults including teachers, therapists, and parents.
In some of the 19 studies, children were grouped into either the number board game or to a board game that did not focus on numeracy skills.
The children’s maths skills were assessed before and after the intervention sessions that were designed to encourage skills such as counting out loud.
Success was rated according to four categories including basic numeric competency such as the ability to name numbers, and basic number comprehension.
The other categories were deepened number comprehension – where a child can accurately add and subtract – and interest in mathematics.
The findings, published in the journal Early Years, suggest that maths skills improved significantly after the sessions among children for more than half (52%) of the tasks looked at.
In nearly a third (32%) of cases, children in the intervention groups gained better results than those who did not play the board games.
Dr Balladares concluded: “Future studies should be designed to explore the effects that these games could have on other cognitive and developmental skills.
“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.”