Playing and Learning: Our Experience with Board Games and Mind Sports at School in Venezuela

Have you ever played a board game at school? If you live in Spain, you might have seen this happen, but if you live in Latin America, you might think it’s a very rare sight. We want to share our experience with you and show you how board games and mind sports can be powerful educational tools.

Board games and mind sports are not just fun and games. They are also proven to enhance various skills and abilities that are essential for learning and development. Many studies and institutions support the use of these games as a teaching resource at school, and in Europe, more and more teachers and schools are joining this trend. But in Latin America, where educational models and institutions are often outdated, this is not very common.

This is unfortunate, because the benefits of games are numerous and diverse. They can help children and adolescents improve their logical, mathematical, verbal, social, emotional, and creative skills. And we are not talking only about games that are specifically designed to be educational, but also about games that are meant to be entertaining and challenging. Because when we play games, we use our brains in ways that make us smarter without even noticing.

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You might be wondering what we mean by “mind sports”. You can read Wikipedias article about mind sports, but a couple of good examples are chess and Go, two classic games that are also considered mind sports. They are abstract games that require a lot of brain activity. In fact, a competitive chess player can burn as many calories as if they were doing physical exercise, just by thinking.

With this idea in mind, we started teaching a course called Board Games and Mind Sports in a high school in Los Teques, Venezuela. This course is part of the elective subjects that students can choose from. Our goal is to introduce them to the wonderful world of board games, to show them that they are not just for kids, but for anyone who enjoys a good challenge and a lot of fun.

We have been exposing them to different types of board games, such as abstract games like Corridor, Quarto, or Panic Lab, and deduction games like Sherlock (formerly Q Mysteries, GDM Games) or El Castillo del Diablo. One of the most recent activities was to make a handmade version of Can’t Stop, an abstract game that involves a lot of math, risk assessment, and decision-making.

We would love to have a game library with which to organize tournaments with different tables of various games, as well as introduce them to more games, but there are 40 studentsat school and having five or six different games is hard because we have to explain the rules to everyone and then answer their questions from all sides. But we are doing our best with what we have.

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The benefits of board games at school

When we play board games, we are not only having fun, but also exercising our brains in many ways. Board games can help us develop various cognitive skills, such as mental arithmetic, probability, statistics, problem-solving, tactical and strategic thinking, creative thinking, and information analysis. They can also help us develop emotional skills, such as managing the emotions of winning and losing, patience, perseverance, and self-esteem. And they can help us develop social skills, such as respect for rules, taking turns, teamwork, communication and empathy.

We have seen these benefits first-hand with our students. They have enjoyed playing different games and learning new things. We have also written about our experience in other articles, such as how to adapt Dungeons And Dragons to play with children, how to share skirmish games with your children or how board games can improve your mental health with scientific evidence.

The feedback from the students has been very positive and rewarding for us. We have seen how some of them have become very enthusiastic and curious about the games, discovering a new world that they didn’t know existed. Of course, not everyone has been equally interested or engaged. Some of them have been more indifferent or disinterested in this type of activity. That’s natural at their age, especially when it’s something that they didn’t choose but was assigned by the school. But we have taken this as a challenge to motivate them and capture their attention, and we think we are making some progress.

We hope that in the next term, when the students can choose whether or not to take this course, there will be more of them who want to join us and explore the wonderful world of board games and mind sports. After all, not everyone likes these things, but we think there is a game for everyone.

What’s next for our course?

We have just finished playing Can’t Stop, a game that involves a lot of math, risk assessment, and decision-making. For our next class, we will have some special guests from the veteran Caracas Role Playing Club, which is celebrating its anniversary this week. They will introduce us to role-playing games, another type of game that stimulates our imagination and creativity.

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We also want to show them some light wargames, some with free rules or free starter rules that they can try out. We will use paper miniatures for now, but it would be great if some of them could print their own resin miniatures and start a gaming community beyond the classroom. Only time will tell.

We believe that board games and mind sports are a very powerful and versatile educational tool that can be adapted to different contexts, ages, and objectives. They are not only a source of fun and entertainment, but also a way of learning by playing and playing while learning. We will keep you updated on our journey.

How can you support this initiative?

If you want to support us with this project, please join our Patreon. With enough support, we can expand the variety of board games that we can offer at school, including 3D printing miniatures to start wargames and give them a constructive activity. You can also help us by donating games and supplies. We appreciate any help you can give us to make this project a success.

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