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8 Ways Strategy Games Boost Kids’ Mental Health

8 Ways Strategy Games Boost Kids’ Mental Health

8 Ways Strategy Games Boost Kids’ Mental Health

By Max Berry

A few years ago, I was teaching a chess lesson in our signature Story Time Learning way: telling a story about King Chomper and King Shaky’s adventures through Chesslandia. This was around 2021 and at one point in the lesson, one of my students asked, “Do they have coronavirus in Chesslandia?” 


Initially unsure how to respond, I mentioned something about good hygiene and lightly moved us along to the next chess adventure. My student’s question caught me off guard, but the more I’ve taught over the years the more I’ve realized how much current events are affecting even my youngest students.


It’s been a tough few years for our kids. From the uncertainty and isolation of the pandemic to wars in the news, there have been a lot of stressors at both the macro and micro level. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Rates of childhood mental health concerns…rose steadily between 2010 and 2020.” 


So how can we help our children? Let’s start with the skills that keep kids mentally resilient. Resiliency expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa has developed a list of skills to increase mental, emotional, and social health (also known as MESH). These skills are problem solving, perseverance, adaptation, conflict resolution, self-regulation, self-advocacy, cognitive skills, and communication strategies.


As it turns out, Story Time Learning has been promoting all these skills for years by fortifying kids’ academic experience with high quality games and enrichment. Here's how our story-driven learning system helps support each of Dr. Gilboa's MESH competencies.

 

1. Problem Solving

Not only does the game of chess itself offer plenty of opportunities for problem solving, but the skill can be seen time and time again in our award-winning curriculum. 


One of the best examples comes in the “Cranky Princess” stories found in Story Time Chess Level 2. These stories are all about making a plan on and off the chessboard. They follow King Chomper and King Shaky (the white king and black king, respectively) as they struggle to get all their chess pieces back from the Cranky Princess who has stolen them.


They try plan after plan, adjusting and reworking when their ideas fall short. As each attempt proves more difficult, the two kings (and by extension, our students) need to iterate and refine their approach until they discover the solution.


In the end, politeness and maturity—saying “please” and “thank you”—banish all traces of crankiness from the land. This lesson, and the stories’ demonstration of an evidence-based problem solving approach, help model best practices for kids as young as three.

 

 

2. Perseverance

King Chomper is a shining example of perseverance, especially in our “Secret Mission” stories, featured in Story Time Chess Level 3.


The Secret Missions teach basic opening strategy. In these stories, King Chomper plays chess with Casanova the Dragon and keeps losing despite trying really hard to win. 


Every time he learns a new strategy it still isn’t enough, but King Chomper perseveres through the games, not letting repeated losses keep him from learning and improving. Ultimately, his perseverance pays off and he defeats the dragon in chess! 


By Story Time Chess Level 3, many children will have mastered the basics but will just be starting to see some of the strategic intricacy involved in winning a chess game. These stories give parents and kids a concrete example of how to persevere through challenges: King Chomper kept going and you can too!

 

3. Adaptation

Strategy games are all about adaptation, especially Story Time Backgammon


Story Time Backgammon tells the story of Peglegra the Bold, a pirate, and Chompus the Great, a Viking. Both set sail on journeys to get something they really want and how far they get on their journey is controlled by simple dice rolls. 


In backgammon, a low or less advantageous roll could make things extra tricky! Just like the two main characters, Story Time Backgammon players must adapt on every turn and work with what the dice give them.

 

 

 

4. Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is a huge part of the Story Time Learning system. Every book and game set encourages our players to shake hands and say “good game” no matter what, and we place a premium on emotional honesty between parent and child.


In the “Spell of the Blue Bell,” found in Story Time Chess Level 3, King Richard’s poor sportsmanship leads him to cast a spell on everyone that causes them to forget the rules of chess. An unlikely trio tries their best to break the spell, though, and when they finally succeed, the first thing they do is make friends with King Richard across the chessboard.



5. Self-Regulation

The next two MESH strategies are also reflected in our “Spell of the Blue Bell” stories from Story Time Chess Level 3


The unlikely trio who sets out to break the spell consists of King Shaky, Mango the Giraffe, and Beatrice the Elephant. King Shaky is an especially unlikely hero in this story because he’s super scared of almost everything.


On his wide-ranging journey to break the spell, King Shaky and his companions encounter all sorts of scary obstacles. Through it all, King Shaky always reminds himself to take deep breaths and be brave. Whenever he falters, his friends help boost his courage.


We also pair role-playing exercises with this story series so kids can practice self-regulation in the context of an emotionally challenging chess game. In one example, the parent will ask:


“If you captured my Queen, should I say: ‘Hey that’s not fair! I didn’t want you to do that!’


“No! Instead say something like: ‘Great move!’”

 

6. Self-Advocacy

Early in the “Blue Bell” stories, Mango the Giraffe wants to break out of her humdrum life in Giraffeland by learning to play chess. Unfortunately, no one in Giraffeland knows how to play; the only place to learn is a distant kingdom called Chesslandia! 


The other giraffes tell Mango that Chesslandia is too far. Mango advocates for herself, however, and sets off to achieve her goal. By being brave and insisting on her vision for herself, Mango ends up helping not only herself but all of Chesslandia by breaking King Richard’s spell.

 

 

7. Cognitive Skills

For cognitive skills, we look to our “Spaghetti Tug o’ War” series from Story Time Chess Level 3, which teaches piece point values on the chessboard. 


In this series, King Chomper and King Shaky are in an incredibly competitive game of tug o’ war with some giant food Chef Squishyfeet has been conjuring up: huge spaghetti, massive french fries, and a gargantuan pickle.


Throughout the story, the two kings discover that different combinations of tug o’ war players yield different results: stronger pieces that are worth more points on the chessboard pull with more power. They put their cognitive skills to work to deduce which players on their team are stronger and can better help them win the tug o’ war! 


Cost-benefit analysis also figures prominently in Story Time Backgammon. Players must use their cognitive skills to make the best decisions about where to move based on a dice roll, employing higher order thinking to strike a balance between strategy and chance.

 

8. Communication Strategies

From the first lesson in Story Time Chess: The Game to the last lesson in Story Time Backgammon, we always stress the importance of shaking hands and saying “good game” no matter the outcome.


For kids, practicing good sportsmanship fosters the type of respect that all strong relationships are built upon. It provides a solid foundation for friends to have the difficult conversations that lead to a deeper mutual understanding.


Moreover, chess and backgammon help children develop patience, which is crucial to effective communication. And by combining these games with storytelling, we help kids work on their listening skills which in turn enables them to communicate more effectively.

 

We built our teaching method around these critical developmental skills before the term MESH existed. This is because Story Time Learning doesn’t just want your child to learn chess or backgammon—we hope to provide a space through gameplay where your child can become the kind, thoughtful, empathetic, and intellectually engaged person that they were meant to be. As they go through each story, children build the exact skills they need to succeed with all the stressors they’re likely to face in the modern world.


Ensuring your child’s mental health is daunting but there are tools that can help you tackle the challenges and still have fun doing it. MESH is something that Story Time Learning deeply cares about and our games are a great way to build MESH skills. 


Check out our website for fun, MESH-boosting games that can bring families closer through play and make games the rising tide of great mental health in your household!

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