The German philosopher Wolfram Eilenberger stated in a recent interview published in EL PAÍS that he did not agree with the idea of ​​recovering the child in us. In his opinion, the important thing is to leave childhood while keeping children’s questions alive. The pedagogue and teacher María Couso (Vigo, 37 years old) gives a twist to Eilenberger’s maxim in her first book Brain, childhood and play (Destiny), published in January: it is about abandoning childhood by keeping children’s desire to play alive.

“Childhood is a genetic period, so it is not in our hands to control when it comes and when it goes, but we should maintain certain ideas and activities that are typical of this vital stage,” Couso explains by phone. “The goal is to be able to mix and find a balance between the processes of adults and the processes and activities of children,” adds the also creator of the project. PlayFunLearning, whose objective is to learn by playing and arises from the need to disseminate quality pedagogical content by sharing tips that help improve educational practices both inside and outside the classroom. In times of screens, the pedagogue, who has more than 80,000 followers on Instagram, claims the potential of board games as a tool for the development of many of the most important functions of the brain.

ASK. “Man does not stop playing because he gets old. He gets old because he stops playing ”, said the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. Why do we stop playing?

ANSWER. Because we always tend to see the game as something typical of childhood and, therefore, we oppose it to everything we understand by growing and maturing. And in many cases, we also oppose the terms work or study to play. Unfortunately, hardly anyone in their head draws the figure of a child playing beyond the age of eight or nine. We tend to pressure children to leave that area of ​​the game.

Q. Do we exert that pressure every time before?

R. Yes. At the beginning of the 21st century we thought that brain development ended at 17-18 years of age. Today, internationally accepted evidence indicates that the end of brain development occurs around the age of 25, but there is already research carried out in the United States during the year 2020 that shows that we could have a later brain development, close to 34 years. Contrary to this evidence, we tend to make children grow up very quickly. In the West, for example, we are increasingly entering adolescence earlier, which means that we are shortening childhood.

Q. If we remove children from the game earlier each time, do we run the risk of creating a generation of old children?

R. Completely. More and more screens are invading our lives. We believe that watching a video on YouTube or playing a video game is quality leisure time, when in reality a video game cannot be compared to playing outdoors, but neither can it be compared to a board game in which you are present, constantly interacting. with others, sharing the moment, touching, smelling others… All this is very important. Children need to move, be active, because this has a great implication in the development of the brain. In fact, the construction of the brain is born of movement. You learn better when you move, which is why it is so relevant that from the earliest childhood we respect leisure time and, above all, play.

Q. What concretely can board games contribute to the development of children?

R. Board games, to begin with, are a wonderful channel for socialization in family settings. They are a great way to bring families closer, to bring generations closer and, at the same time, develop a whole series of cognitive abilities, from attention processes to impulse control, through the development of language at the oral level, structuring, narrative , etc. In addition, the game also helps us develop and train a very important cognitive function: working memory. A board game is a tool with which you can implement at the same time and in a short period of time all the cognitive skills necessary for your day to day.

Q. On this basis, would you say it is an underutilized resource?

R. Completely. Yes, it is true that for a couple of years there has been a very interesting introduction of games at an educational level, but there is still a lot of awareness about the power and cognitive abilities that board games work on. Many teachers continue to believe that time is wasted playing, when it is just the opposite. And it is that not only can all those cognitive abilities that I have mentioned before be worked on and that are invisible to many teachers, but also that games can serve as a resource for implementing topics at the curricular level.

Q. She has been working with children with attention problems for many years. Can board games be a tool to work on that capacity?

R. Completely. One is not born attentive, one becomes attentive. That is the key. As I said before, screens are being introduced into children’s lives at an earlier age, screens that offer a level of overstimulation that no childhood brain can withstand, so we are altering the path of attentional development. Board games, in this sense, are a powerful channel for improving those attentional routes that we are not favoring at all with an early and abusive use of the screens.

Q. It defines board games as an unlimited emotional tool that generates pleasant emotions.

R. That’s how it is.

Q. My kids, however, 90% of the time we played board games they ended up arguing or angry.

R. (Laughter) It’s just that no one likes to lose, but children even less so. But when this happens, it is not worth hiding the game because it generates conflict, because in this way the only thing we are doing is not training our children in managing that frustration and the emotions that it arouses in them. Therefore, it is not so much a question of avoiding this type of game, but of measuring the exposure time to them so that they can somehow train that capacity for frustration, something that ultimately will allow them to enjoy the game process without need for them to be the winners.

Q. Can cooperative games also be a solution to train that frustration?

R. People are unaware that, before the age of five, the human brain cannot feel any kind of expectation or pleasure when it does not know what is going to happen. In other words, we always need to know in advance what is going to happen in order to enjoy it, which is why children before the age of five do tasks in a loop or ask to read the same stories over and over again. They cling to what they know, to certainty. When something is disrupted and implies cognitive flexibility is when frustration begins to appear, which has to be worked on. That is why the games played by very young children, between the ages of two and five, mostly have a collaborative nature, to train in a group, as part of the family, that possibility of winning or losing.

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