Whether young or old, learning should be a constant presence in our lives. One of the best ways to learn is to play. Just look at the massive amounts of learning our kids do as they grow – most of it is done through play. And play is not just for kids. We play to learn for several reasons: 1) we learn better when we are having fun, and 2) play gives us a safe place to try things and ideas out before having to do them in real situations.

You know where I’m going with this. The title of the series is, after all, the value of board games so I’ll go ahead and say it. There is great value in the ways that board games can teach us.

Let’s start with basic social interaction. We’ve already said in a previous post that board games are social  and because of that they naturally teach people how to deal with different social situations. When you are around a table with people you may or may not know, you have to learn things like empathy, how to talk to people, and how to deal with difficult people. Board games can make this easier to learn since you are all engaged in a shared activity together.

This feeds directly into winning and losing gracefully – a skill we all need in life. Obviously, with kids (and some adults), this takes an adult playing with them to talk them through it and show them what winning and losing gracefully looks like. No one likes a sore loser and even less desirable is a bad winner. Since every game has winners and losers they are a great way to start or continue learning this social skill.

Learning basic math for kids can be hard since it is an abstract concept. This is why it is so important to couple learning math with fun, play, and something concrete to tie the concepts to. Board games are a great way to put these things together to teach basic math. Take this into some more complex games and even adults can learn about financial and market concepts, statistics, resource management, and planning.

When learning skills and concepts like these it is important that the play is primary. Otherwise, it turns into simply doing math problems or reading textbooks. Board games put the play and fun first so that the learning naturally comes along.

Many of the hobby board games out there are all about problem-solving and critical thinking – analyzing your choices, seeing a path toward your goals, and making decisions that take you down that path. Add into the mix the human interaction and competition that takes place around the table and you have a fun feedback loop to quickly see how your thinking and decision-making processes impact your outcome. There are games like Robot Turtles that target this teaching at kids. Not all games try to take you into this thinking space but many do which make them good for teaching these complex thought processes.

But not all games pit you against the other players. Some games use teamwork and cooperation to solve problems. This requires learning to communicate effectively to help coordinate your team to overcome obstacles. These games usually give players different strengths and weaknesses so they must think about how they can best help their group.

The last item I want to speak to isn’t as obvious as some of the others but is one of the most important to me. A skill that is very important in life is the ability to teach. Board games offer you the chance to read a small rules set and then try to articulate it to other people. Teaching is about much more than just reciting facts to others. It requires understanding how other people hear and how they learn things. Doing this again and again has made me a better teacher as I watch and listen to other people’s reactions to my instruction. Have a child read the rules to a game and then try to teach others how to play. Or an adult. Anyone can learn to teach effectively this way if they put their mind to it.

While there are plenty of other ways to learn all of the skills mentioned above (board games are just a hobby after all), I can’t think of another activity that combines so many of these into one, that gets people together, and encourages play and fun. As mentioned before, play is one of the best ways to learn. And if you are playing, there is nothing wrong (in fact, there is everything right) with developing skills and learning some new ones along the way.