Game On! The Benefits of Board Games

Board games have the best kind of side effect: brain boosts!


Let me fill you in on a life hack for executive function of the teenage brain: board games! Board games require players to follow directions, take turns, and plan strategies. They reward impulse control. They reward a cool mind. They involve skills parents and teachers are working to encourage in impulsive, hot-headed teens.

When my son forgets his homework and and says, "But, Mom, it's because my frontal lobe is still developing," he's right. The brain is not fully mature until age 25. But we can help students wherever they are in their brain development.In response, we went through’s list of the eight key executive function skills. He said, "You could improve too, you know."

The skills of planning and prioritizing, self-control, organizing, and completing tasks are critical to success in school. And in adult life. Luckily we can practice those skills. Getting your teen (or yourself) to be more organized is just a classic board game away. We have Jenga, the build-and-topple game.  And chess. And backgammon. I just had to dust them off.

“Some of my family’s favorite games are educational tools in disguise,” writes Jessica Lahey in the Atlantic. Jenga, for example, "requires players to be aware and in control of their actions, and those are great skills for kids to hone," according to another list: Eight Fun Games That Can Improve Your Child's Executive Functioning Skills.

Parents: Plan a family board game night! Here are seven tips. My favorite is “have snacks.”

Teachers: Make board games available in your classrooms! When your students ask whose turn it is, know that they're exercising a critical thinking skill. Create an environment where they can focus on the game while having fun.

Game on.

More resources for you to get started:

*Read Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence, from Harvard's Center on the Developing Child, and Board Games That Increase Brain Power

*Collect classic board games and learning tools from American Mesa's Mind Games competitions

*Watch the TED talk "Play Is More Than Just Fun"

Check out the 10 foods every teen should eat for more ways to boost brain power!