Can kids under the age of 4 years old really play board games?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

life board game
This is the board game “Life.” Even though I’ve only played it a handful of times it’s one of my faves.

We all know how fun an intense board game session can be, especially with your siblings and parents. It’s like all family ties are cut loose as it quickly becomes team vs. team in the fight for ultimate bragging rights! There’s just something about putting yourself in the enemy’s shoes and anticipating their moves to try and stop them from happening at all. Even little kids can sense the excitement, however, new research shows that children under the age of 4 may not get what it means to be competitive.

That is, children under 4 cannot put themselves into another person’s shoes, as demonstrated by two experiments. In the first one – called the false belief test – researchers read a story to kids aged 3-5 years old about a character who was playing with a toy. This character then put the plaything down and went to the kitchen for a quick bite to eat. Meanwhile, the character’s sibling snuck into the room and moved the toy around to a new container.

At this point in time, the scientists asked the kids a few basic questions, like where they think the main character will look for the toy first. If they answer this correctly, it shows they can put themselves into another person’s shoes. “It’s that question that young children tend to get wrong, and around 4 years they tend to get right,” said Johannes Roessler, a philosopher at the University of Warwick. “The younger ones say he’ll make a beeline to the new container.”

In the second experiment, young kids were told to collect as many beads as possible, either by taking some from a community basket or stealing them from another player. The scientists found that the kids who didn’t pass the false belief test were less likely to steal beads from players, even if their own were taken!

Overall, this lack of competitive edge in young kids means they aren’t drawn to certain “me vs. you” types of games too much. “If you think about it, there aren’t really games marketed towards kids that are competitive-based before the age of 4,” said Roessler. “Marketers do test runs for their games – unsurprisingly I guess – and figured out that young children don’t enjoy competitive games very much.”

Image of Life board game courtesy of adammiarka on Flickr.