Special Needs

Play and Learn: 10 Life Skills a Kid Can Learn with Just One Board Game

Have you realized that some games are not just a source of entertainment but also an amazing learning resource? I think we are all used to seeing how much kids learn through playing. But for me, it has been a mind-blowing experience to realize how many life skills kids can learn while playing a board game. “Play and Learn” has now a new meaning for me.

Play and Learn 10 Skills with just one board game

In this post you will read:
– 10 skills a kid can learn with just one board game
– How you can turn popular games into therapeutic games

Our babysitter bought Junior Monopoly for my kids. I was a bit skeptical because our son has special needs. All the board games he has enjoyed in the past were basic variations of games that just require players to roll a dice and move a token along the board. To my surprise, he has just loved Junior Monopoly. He initially called it “the game of the money and the little houses”. I think he likes to feel like a big boy who has money and buys houses. We´ve gone through a few weeks of non-stop playing.

So what are all these life skills and learning resources hidden in the Monopoly box?

Play and Learn: 10 Life Skills a Kid Can Learn with Just One Board Game

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  1. Fine motor skills– We assign tasks to everybody, so he is responsible for distributing some of the “money” and the “booths” (little houses you buy and place on the streets you own). Distributing notes requires him to exercise his fine motor skills. It is actually challenging for him, as fine motor skills are probably the area where he is lagging behind the most. And, as it is the case with lots of our kids, when he finds something too challenging he would rather not even try as it frustrates him and makes him feel lacking in accomplishments. So, in this case, he is more than happy to help distribute notes and booths because he is so eager to play and the reward of the game is so big, that he does not even register the work he is doing.
  2. Hand-eye coordination– as he moves the counters through the game board, and when he earns a booth and places it on its designated spot.
  3. MathsAddition /Learning about money: As we are playing with a Junior version of Monopoly, notes value range from 1 to 5 dollars. That is great because we stay in a zone where his skills are good enough to independently make some mathematical calculations. Each time he wants to buy a booth or has to pay a toll he needs to take the different notes (1,2,3,4 and 5) and add to whatever value is required.
  4. Maths-Subtraction / Learning about money: Sometimes, the money notes in his possession are not an exact match to the required prices or tolls, so he needs to calculate what is the change that he is going to be given in return for his money.
  5. Reading skills– He is responsible for reading his “chance” cards when it is his turn to play. The beauty of this is that the scripts keep repeating: “Free ticket booth” Go to…” “Pay $3 to take the Bus to the Café” “Ride on the Red Line Railway and Roll Again”. For a kid with an intellectual disability who is on his initial reading stages, this is a great practice. He gets to repeat simple sentences over and over again. It did not take him long to recognize them and be able to read them on his own. Can you imagine how he must have felt when he was able to participate independently? I think it was a boost of self-confidence and pride.
  6. Taking turns– This is a very important life skill that children need to learn. Turn-taking allows them to participate effectively in social communication. Very often, kids with developmental delays or autism have problems with turn-taking. My son has got issues with self-regulation and impulse control, so this has been a great opportunity to practice turn-taking within a highly motivated situation.
  7. Waiting time– It is closely related to the previous skills. As a matter of fact, taking turns requires waiting time. But I wanted to include it as a separate skill because it is a very important skill on its own. Children with autism, ADHD or intellectual disabilities find waiting time challenging. Often, they need visual cues (like a waiting card) to help them understand they are not being denied something but just don´t know how long their waiting time will be. So, again, this game has allowed us to practice waiting.
  8. Extended times of focused attention- Sometimes the game finishes relatively fast, but quite often it is not the case. We have been able to engage him on this game for periods of time longer than 30 minutes. A huge success for us.
  9. Coping with frustration- The beauty of this game is that it is not really skill-based, which is important for a kid with special needs. As long as the die decides your fortune, your kid stands a chance to win (without you needing to lose on purpose!). But it also means, there will be lots of times in which he will lose and will have to cope with that feeling.
  10. Teaching substitute behaviors. This is also a biggy for us. My son has always lacked play skills. Since he was very little, his games were more about “destroying” toys than building or playing with them. Even my 8-year-old daughter came to me to tell me “do you realize that V did not tear the bank notes from the Monopoly game”. When we saw the game we all thought: “Oh, no, it is a matter of time before he starts tearing the money notes”. Well, six weeks after we got it, it has still not happened. His high engagement has helped him substitute a naughty and almost compulsive “destroying”behavior for an adaptive one.

I don´t think I could ask more from something that is just meant to provide you with fun time.

I can´t find our Monopoly Junior online because it is an older version (our babysitter bought it in a secondhand store). But there are really nice new versions in the market, including Disney´s Frozen Edition (check it out here) or  Finding Dory Edition (check it out here).

This game is great for kids of all ages. But, if you are in the same boat as us and have a child with special needs, I would highly recommend this one to you. You just need to assess what his developmental stage is and decide which parts he can do on his own, and which one he needs support with.

Related reading: Coping skills we can develop through play:

How You Can Turn Popular Games into Therapeutic Experiences

While I was researching for another blog post, I came across a really interesting book: “Therapy Games: Creative Ways to Turn Popular Games Into Activities That Build Self-Esteem, Teamwork, Communication Skills, Anger Management, Self-Discovery, and Coping Skills” 

I discovered this book after I had already published the post you are currently reading. I realized how relevant this book was for the topic we had covered here. So I decided to update this post to share with you my latest discovery.  Therapy Games shows 102  ways to turn ordinary games (like Taboo, Monopoly or Scrabble) into Therapy Games. Each game discussed in the book comes with five or more ways to make simple changes that create therapeutic experiences.

So, if you are interested in turning a fun game into a therapeutic experience, you may be interested in checking out this book.

Are you ready to start playing?

Related Content:

Does your kid have anger management issues? You can also use games to help kids develop coping skills and improve their emotional self-regulation. Read my post: Anger Games: 14 Super Fun Ways to Learn Anger Management Skills.

You can also browse through our library of resources: Coping Skills, Special Needs and Tales.

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Learn and Play Important Skills for Kids