The importance of learning to learn

We live in an ever-changing world, and the pace of change is accelerating. Our educational system does not prepare our children well enough to cope with this. Although it continues to evolve and reinvent itself, we have to remember that it was developed for the industrial age. Children learn in a standardised way, so they grow up to be standardised adults and can find work in standardised jobs at factories which require discipline and repetition. However we are in the information age now. Hard labour is already mostly done by machines, and white collar jobs are now being displaced by computers and AI’s. Not that long ago a typist used to be a full-time job. This is unimaginable today. In 20 years, some jobs today will suffer the same fate. If your child is born today, by the time he grows up, he may be working on a job that does not exist today. How do we prepare children to be able to adapt and cope in such a fast-changing world?

Our children must not only learn, but also learn to learn. Being educated is not about just memorising facts. It is also about being able to pick up new skills and knowledge quickly, being observant and absorbent, being critical, and being able to apply theories learned to practical problems. What a university first year student learns may become obsolete by the time she finishes her degree. If she cannot learn something new after that, her education will have been wasted.

Here are some ways board games train our children to learn.

Every new game is a learning experience. There are new rules to learn, new mechanisms to master, new concepts to grasp and different strategies to explore. It is not surprising that many people feel lazy to read rule books, or even sit down to listen to someone else explain the rules of a game. People resist new things and find it difficult to absorb new information. People lack patience. It is natural to want to stay in our comfort zone. A continuous exposure to board games and to new games is a training and acclimatisation to learning new things. When learning is no longer perceived as a chore, and in instead seen as a source of joy, our children learn to welcome new challenges.

Develop curiosity. Board games, unlike other forms of entertainment and learning, require children to participate actively, often to solve a problem. They encourage children to explore, to find out what works and what doesn’t, and what actions are most promising in achieving victory.

Making the winning move in Cartagena?

Board games also tell many different stories about the world around us. We learn about history, cultures around the world, fairy tales, and even classical literature. Although not presented to us in an encyclopaedic form, games allow us to immerse ourselves in these topics in an interactive form.

Board games is a safe environment. They are a simplified and risk-free version of the reality that we face every day. We get to play different roles and we have the opportunity to be daring. We try crazy ideas. At worst, we lose a game. In real life, we don’t have the luxury of trying anything we want.

I certainly have not captained a nuclear submarine in real life. Captain Sonar allows me to do that.

A game presents you a set of rules, but you not only have to understand and remember the rules, you also need to see beyond the rules and understand how you can use them to achieve success. You are no better than a machine if all you can do is follow the rules. You need to exercise your intelligence and strategy to create success. It is much the same in real life. To be successful in life, our children not only have to know the rules, which are much more complex than any game, they must also use them well.

Playing teaches communication and collaboration. Board games are about learning to work with people. As computer systems and AI’s take over more and more of our jobs, many new jobs that emerge require more and more of working with people, which AI’s aren’t very good at yet. Research has also shown that a fulfilling life is one with healthy friendships and relationships. In an era of both children and adults frequently glued to smart devices and screens, we sometimes forget to teach our children to interact with other humans. Sometimes even we forget to do that, because there’s just one WhatsApp message we’ve got to reply to now, or that Bitcoin price we have to monitor, or this new Netflix show releasing today.

Through board games we train our children’s emotional intelligence. They learn to both win and lose graciously. When playing board games we sit across the table from other real human beings and we don’t interact through a screen or just voice. We learn to empathise with others. We learn to think what they may be thinking, or feeling.

Cooperative games are a category of games which specifically encourages collaboration. Well-known cooperative games include Pandemic, Lord of the Rings and Robinson Crusoe. Players need to support one another. Sometimes individuals need to sacrifice for the greater good. Some limited communication games require you to see from other people’s perspectives, e.g. The Crew, The Mind, Fuji and Hanabi. When playing these games, children learn to be less selfish and they become better at understanding others’ wants and needs.

Forbidden Island is about recovering four precious artefacts from a sinking island. Players must work together to retrieve all four of them and leave the island before it submerges beneath the waves.

Playing develops cognitive flexibility. Unlike reading a book or watching a movie, the situation in a game changes based on the actions of the players. Children are not passive consumers. They are active protagonists. They have to make decisions to better their situations. They learn to adapt to changes. They maintain an openness in accepting new information, so that they adjust their gameplay to changing situations. It is important to be able to associate new information with old, and being able to apply old principles to new problems. That is the whole point of learning – to apply. Board games are a playground for children to do this.

Life is a big and complex problem to solve. It will be even more so for our children when they grow up. We might as well encourage them to have fun solving it.

Let’s play!

If you are a parent and are interested to explore how to use board games in your child’s learning and development, follow this link.

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