G'Day – my name is Giles Pritchard, I'm a primary level teacher in Australia (I teach Grade 4s, who are generally 8-9 years old). I love board games, and think that board games are a fantastic resource to use in school and in the class.
One of the things I am trying to work into my timetable (as busy as it is) is game time. Some people might look at me funny and ask why I want to work something like that into my timetable, or question whether it would be better to spend that half an hour on a maths or literacy lesson rather than giving the kids 'free time'. The truth of matter though is that free time is not the same as free play, and free play is not the same as structured play. Game time is structured play, and it is important to the social and academic development of my students.
Having game time each week has given my students a chance to relax and enjoy each other, has provided an opportunity for them to socialise, and importantly, has allowed the students to practice vital social problem solving skills.
Questions like who should go first? How should I react to someone being mean to me in a game? How should I deal with a person who is angry about how they are going in a game? How should I deal with losing or with winning? Who should help pack up? Are all raised and answered during the course of even a short game. Sometimes the questions aren't answered in a satisfying way, this can be an important learning point for the students as they develop themselves as social entities. Sometimes the questions are answered well, this too can become a point of comparison and learning.
All the above are important questions to ask and practice answering. Aside from the important social interaction skills promulgated by game playing, there are abvious academic ramifications as well. A recent study by G. Ramani and R. Siegler of Carnegie Mellon University demonstrated that repeated playing of a game with a number line (like Shutes and Ladders) increased the accuracy of those children when they were asked to place numbers along a number line. We can assume also that the repeated addition, division and other skills used in other games like Carcassonne or Incan Gold have similar benefits. I have used games to directly assist pedagogy, but most often have used them as a reinforcement for skills (like addition, subtraction or mental maths skills), and as indirect learning.
Games have many uses, but for my half hour a week the key area I am trying to target is the socialisation of the students playing the games. We talk about respect, we talk about problem solving and getting along, and that half an hour is chance to both have fun, and to practice those skills.