Board games' broad appeal


School Game Playing Day is a chance for all schools, including those for children with special needs, to enjoy a throw of the dice

ON FRIDAY, children in primary schools throughout the State will bring their favourite board games into school to play. The initiative, which has been running for eight years now, also involves the children bringing in a euro or two to donate to the school’s charity of choice.

For many children, it’s a chance to have fun in class while their teachers use the opportunity for a bit of informal learning. Board games teach young children how to take turns, obey rules, count, react quickly and discriminate between different objects/patterns or activities. For older children, skills enhanced by board games include problem solving, deductive and inductive reasoning, expansion of vocabulary and visual discrimination.

Some schools document the day through photographs and scrapbooks. The ones that do are then given a voucher for six free board games and the best entry for each county is further rewarded with a donation of €200 towards their charity of choice.

The Offaly School of Special Education in Tullamore has won the county award for the past two years. As it is a school for children with severe disabilities, getting involved in School Games Playing Day requires special effort from both the staff and pupils.

“I like our children to get involved in activities that are happening in the mainstream schools. It means that they are less marginalised. They know their siblings are taking part and it’s nice for their parents to know that they are doing the same things as other children,” says Denise Cole, principal of the Offaly School of Special Education.

It’s incredible how, with effort and imagination, these children – many of whom are non-verbal and are wheelchair users – can play games such as twister, snakes and ladders, chequers, jenga, as well as games that require small, fine or gross motor movements.

“A lot of the children will require hand-over-hand assistance when they are playing the games,” says Jim Smyth, one of the teachers at the school. “Some of the children will be able to throw the die and count out their moves while others will know how to count to 10. It can be a bit frantic, but it’s the involvement that matters,” he adds.

Sheena Power is the speech therapist at the school. “Playing board games promotes eye contact, turn- taking, listening to instructions, anticipating and joining in with their peers,” she says. “The games are a great social and educational learning opportunity for the children.”

Kate Smith is a psychoanalytical psychotherapist who has worked with children with disabilities. “Everything is challenging for them, but playing board games can bring a bit of normality into their lives,” she says. “They can play with their siblings who don’t have a disability and this can improve the relationships with their sisters and brothers.”

John Molloy, one of the children at the school, smiles and nods when asked if he is looking forward to playing the games again this year.

For more information about School Game Playing Day on Friday, see