Games are one of the most engaging and meaningful ways to practice social-emotional skills with children and young adults. While there are many fancy online games and activities, sometimes you can’t beat an old board game. Board games are simple, predictable, and easy to pull out whenever you have some extra time during class.
In addition to practicing a variety of social-emotional skills from teamwork to self-control, playing board games is a great way to build meaningful relationships. Kids will see this as fun time, but it is really SEL time.
Social-Emotional Skills that Board Games Build:
Turn-Taking. Throughout any board game, kids are learning and practicing how to take turns with one another. This also builds on other skills like patience and self-control at the very same time.
Teamwork. Not every board targets teamwork skills, but you can easily integrate this skill by having kids work together in pairs as they play. One of my favorite games for this is Scrabble. On its own, Scrabble can be a pretty challenging game, so working with a partner helps kids see the value in teamwork too.
Self-Control. Self-control is the ability to stop and think before making decisions. A great game for this is Life because you have to make so many choices along the way.
Conversations. Chatting with others is an important skill that leads to meaningful relationships. Many games touch upon conversation skills, even if it is just basic questioning. A few of my favorites include Pictionary and Guess Who.
Focus. As children play a board game, it’s important to stay focused and attentive to what is going on.
Problem-Solving. Working through challenges is always a valuable skill for students to build on. Some excellent games for working on problem-solving skills are Clue, Guess Who, and Battleship.
Perseverance. Perseverance is about not giving up, even when challenges come along. Most games also touch upon this skill, since the idea is to keep playing until the game is finished (even if you are not winning in the moment).
Sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship skills include being fair, respectful, and following the rules. They also mean winning and losing with grace. Again, these are skills that any board game can emphasize.
Managing Emotions. Losing a game can feel frustrating for kids and young adults. When we play board games, we are practicing how to manage those feelings in socially appropriate ways.
Getting Along with Others. Kids need to learn how to get along with others, even others that they aren’t friends with. Any board game can help support these skills. What’s important here is to make sure students play games with different peers outside of their comfort zone from time to time.
Mental Flexibility. Mental flexibility is the ability to think in different ways. It is problem-solving and going with the flow. Some of my favorite games to target this skill include Scrabble, Chess, and Connect Four.
Patience. As kids wait for their turn in any board game, they are practicing patience.
How to Use Board Games for SEL
- Gather up your favorite board games. I have a big list of them below if you need some ideas!
- Plan some classroom board game time. You can introduce the idea as a way to build SEL skills, but you can also weave this in as a break or reward.
- As students play, remind them the skills they are working on for each game! This helps build their self-awareness and metacognition as they are learning and practicing those SEL skills.
- Give time to play!
- Afterwards, encourage kids to review what SEL skills they used in each game.
Social-Emotional Board Games
I have created a set of board games that explicitly teach social-emotional skills, from empathy to conversation skills and everything in between. You can purchase the entire set of SEL Board Games, or click on any of the links below for the individual games to try.
- Self-Control Speedway – Kids learn about self-control and put their skills to the test.
- SEL State Park Game – Players answer questions that cover all five core domains of social emotional learning.
- Let’s Build Empathy Board Game – Learners practice empathy and perspective-taking with a variety of scenarios.
- Coping Strategies Course – Students practice a variety of coping strategies to help manage stress and tough emotions.
- Social Communication Game – Players learn about social pragmatics and communication skills.
- Mindfulness Game – Kids will practice mindfulness and learn to live in the moment as a self-regulation tool.
- Executive Functioning Challenge – Students build executive functioning skills necessary for success, such as planning, organization, attention, and more.
More Board Games to Try
- Name 5
- Connect Four
- Candy Land
- Guess Who?
What other favorites do you have? Keep in mind that any board game can build many of the SEL skills listed above! What’s important is that kids are having fun and learning at the very same time.