Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Puzzles, games and educational value

Why do people buy and play games? Entertainment value certainly factors in, but there are several other benefits to puzzles and games, including their educational value.

Just think about what happens when children (or adults) sit down to play a board game or contemplate a puzzle. Individuals come together, learn lessons about getting along and strategize. Games also encourage following guidelines for play and winning or losing with good manners. There are many who believe these are valuable life lessons, but games and puzzles also may have other intrinsic educational value in the real world.

Although it can't be assumed that playing games or doing puzzles will help make better students, there are some indications that playing certain games can have academic benefits.

In a 2008 study by Geetha Ramani and Robert Siegler, preschoolers were involved in "number line"board game research, where the player had to move a game piece through a series of sequentially numbered spaces. Prior to and after the game play the children were given math tasks appropriate for their age group. The kids who were in the control group and didn't play experienced no math skill improvement. But the ones who had played the line game had marked improvement in measured math skills. Ramani and Siegler have also found correlations between the number of board games that a child plays and a greater propensity for better preschool math performance.

Puzzles are another form of recreation that also have some educational merit and could trigger certain areas of the brain, resulting in improvement in intellectual skills. Puzzles develop hand and eye coordination and foster skills in problem-solving. They also encourage kids not to give up until the finished product is reached.
Chess has been a game of strategy played throughout the ages. There have been statements that chess can help a child become more intellectual and do better at school. Others argue the flip side, that it is the intellectual child who gravitates toward chess play and therefore skews the numbers in the terms of intelligence and chess relation.

Still there is some evidence that chess has educational merit. Markus Scholz of the University of Leipzig in Germany studied kids with learning disabilities. Researchers assigned students to receive either 5 hours of math instruction each week or 4 hours of math and 1 hour of chess instruction each week. The kids were tested at the beginning of the school year and again at the end. The students who had received chess lessons showed more improvement in basic math skills like counting and addition than those who had just received tutoring.

When choosing games for children, educational value is derived most from games that require deductive reasoning and not pure chance from the spin of a wheel. A game like "Clue" or chess requires strategy and reasoning to become the winner. Even games like "Connect Four," "Boggle," "Scrabble," and other deductive games are good choices to consider.

Although games and puzzles have the fun factor, there are educational benefits that may arise also in play. 

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