When I started as an instructor at New York Society of Play years ago, my family and friends were puzzled. After all, I was walking away from a management position with a large company to run online games for children. 

I was hungry for a way to contribute to the world by doing something I believed in and knew to be impactful. Games like Dungeons and Dragons, chess, and trading cards changed my life and mindsets for the better. I wanted to give kids the opportunity to experience all the wonderful things that Dungeons and Dragons had to offer. Since I was young, the value of these pastimes was clear to me; Chess taught me how to be resilient. Dungeons and Dragons taught me the value of social communication. Card games taught me to love and trust statistical math, such as expected value and long term risk assessment.

In recent years, more and more academic and scientific studies have emerged validating the positive effects of gaming and play on developing minds. Thanks to these studies and the efforts of child educators, the intersection of gaming and cognitive development in children has progressed in leaps and bounds. One study I found to be exceptionally impactful is titled Foundations of Game-Based Learning conducted by New York University and Columbia University. The study was funded by grants from Microsoft Research, the National Science Foundation, and the Institute of Education Sciences. You can find the study here.

A spoiler for those who don’t have the time (or energy!) to read a 26-page study today: Games are quite beneficial for cognitive and social development! The outtake below demonstrates just one of the many benefits play can offer for growing, young minds.

“Psychologists have long acknowledged the importance of play in cognitive development and learning. Piaget (1962), for example, described play as being integral to, and evolving with, children’s stages of cognitive development. According to Piaget, play becomes more abstract, symbolic, and social as children mature through different developmental stages. One way that play is seen as contributing to children’s cognitive development is by activating their schemas in ways that allow children to transcend their immediate reality. For example, a child can pretend, or “act as if,” an eraser is a car while fully knowing that it is not a car. This type of play allows children to hold in mind multiple representations of the same object, a skill required for the development of symbolic thinking (DeLoache, 1987), one of the most significant developments of early childhood. Being able to hold in mind multiple, even conflicting, representations of reality underlies key later developments such as the acquisition of a theory of mind and emergent literacy and numeracy (Homer & Hayward, 2008).”

My experiences working with children as a part of the New York Society of Play backs these claims. Through weekly Dungeons and Dragons games, students see rapid progress in literacy, numeracy, social skills like conflict resolution, and emotional skills like recognizing one’s own frustrations.

Our Minecraft Heroes workshop is great for improving Typing skills, resource management, geometrical thinking, and group collaboration. This is all possible because our instructors approach every game with careful consideration about how we can use games to teach these bigger skills.

Combined, these perspectives form an overarching, learning sciences perspective, which gives enhanced power for the potential of games in education…”

With the right approach and guidance, gameplay and learning become mutually beneficial practices. Seeing growth in our participants satisfies the desire I have held for so long; to make a positive impact on the world we live in. New York Society of Play has embraced this mindset from day one and we are continually pushing ourselves to offer engaging play.

The New York Society of Play holds live classes in the New York metropolitan area, and Virtual classes online for a nationwide audience. To learn more, visit our website at nyplays.org. We hope that you decide to have your growing learners join us sometime!