STRONGER TOGETHER: Fostering learning and connection through board games

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Last updated: 17/04/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses fostering human connections and a love of learning through board games such as Scrabble.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

I love to learn and find fun ways to connect with family and friends, and where possible try to combine the two. Introduced to card and board games at an early age by my Dad, I have taken this tradition into adult life. While celebrating National Scrabble Day (13 April) may seem a little geeky to some, I think that it is a great excuse to have some fun. I also believe that it is a great chance to pause, reflect and recognise how simple things like the humble Scrabble board can support humans to remain connected.

If you asked any of our IMPACT team what is the best way to support a person to open up and share, they would usually say ‘when we are out for a walk’ or ‘doing an art project’ or ‘driving in the car’. A safe space is created when people don’t feel the pressure to have to talk. Perhaps not even having to look directly into the eyes of the other person. Playing board games or doing arts and crafts are tools that we can use to support people to express themselves and share how they are feeling.

And sometimes, we even learn something along the way. There's something incredibly satisfying and confidence-building when we discover a new word that we can start to use in everyday life. Words like "quixotic" (extremely idealistic, unrealistic and impractical) and "zenith" (the time at which something is most powerful or successful) will score a significant number of points on a Scrabble board and can be easily incorporated into our vocabulary. Alternatively, you might want to take it up a level, and using a word like “oxyphenbutazone" may be more your style (while scoring a whopping 1,778 points along the way!)

Unless you are a diehard Scrabble enthusiast, the words and the points aren’t always the end goal. Sometimes relationships, friendships and support work requires a different approach. In an era where many of us spend a significant amount of time online or interacting through screens, Scrabble and other board games can be a powerful alternative for forming real human connections.

When you gather around a Scrabble board with others, you're engaging in a shared activity that requires focus, strategy, and communication. As you take turns playing tiles and discussing different moves, you're building relationships, establishing trust and encouraging connection and communication. Without even trying, you are learning about others - their personalities, interests, and perspectives, which can deepen your understanding and appreciation of them.

This sense of connection is particularly important in a world where online interactions can often feel impersonal or superficial. While social media and other digital platforms can be great for staying in touch with friends and family, they don't always provide the same level of intimacy and connection as face-to-face interactions. By contrast, playing board games such as Scrabble allows you to connect with others in a way that feels more authentic and meaningful. While also creating that safe space for people to share and process their thoughts and feelings.

The next time you're feeling disconnected from those around you, invite some friends or family members for a game of Scrabble. Please resist the urge to play online, and instead physically grab the board out from the cupboard, dust it off and get your group to gather around the kitchen table. You might be surprised at what you learn and how engaged and connected you start to feel with those around you.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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