Recommended age: 4-11
For: Individuals or groups
Will enhance social and emotional skills:
Self Awareness: Self confidence, Identify own strengths and limits
Self Management: Sustain attention and focus, impulse control and delay gratification, Emotional regulation
Relationship Skills: Collaboration skills
The first activity I want to share and discuss is Peaceable Kingdom's Dinosaur Escape Board Game. It is honestly one of my most played board games to strengthen a child's social and emotional skills. I use it primarily to strengthen skills in the social and emotional domains of self awareness, self management and relationship building. Click here to read my recent article detailing each domain and skills.
Cooperative board game
Dinosaur Escape, like all Peaceable Kingdom games, is built from the ground up to be a cooperative game. The object is to help three dinosaurs (Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Triceratops) escape their land before the volcano erupts. All the players are on the same team to compete against the impeding eruption.
The best part about a cooperative board game is the focus of the competition is with the game itself, rather than between players. Just like traditional competitive board games, this requires skill, effort and chance, but because of the cooperative element, it also requires collaboration between players. Therefore there is more focus on shared emotions and experiences which promotes social connection and relationship building.
What's in the box?
Dinosaur Escape includes 3 dinosaur figures, 5 volcano pieces, 12 fern tokens, game die and the game board.
Dinosaurs are probably some of the most universally appealing prehistoric creatures. Whether it is their majestic size, unique capabilities or the mystery why they no longer roam the Earth, there is something really intriguing about dinosaurs.
I find them to be gender neutral and begins to appeal to children at an early age. I have never seen a child not interested when I introduce the game! And if there are ever any skepticism, the dinosaur figures quickly expels them. The figures comes with full details and color are exactly like the dinosaur figures you'll find at the toys store.
Even the children who are generally "not into board games" are intrigued by a game that can successfully incorporate toys. The figures really add a layer of dimension to the visual and tactile experience. Many children I work with will request to play the game, just so they can play with the dinosaur figures!
Another game piece I need to highlight is the volcano. It is made of five cardboard pieces, and is assembled by connecting them horizontally on top of one another in a "3D" effect. This allows the volcano to be visible at all angles. The attention to detail is this emphasizes the sheer presence of the volcano, which highlights the challenge of the game - save the dinosaurs before the destructive eruption.
How the game works
The objective of the game is to help the three dinosaurs escape to the island off the coast of the mainland before the volcano erupts. The volcano is located right in the middle of the mainland which has 4 distinct habitat areas (Forest, Mountain, Canyon and Desert).
There are 12 fern tokens, on one side are identical ferns and the other side has the three dinosaurs, a T-Rex and various prehistoric objects. The 12 tokens are placed randomly with the fern side up in the Forest, Mountain and Canyon habitat areas.
The dinosaurs start in the desert area and will have to find their matching token to escape the mainland. All the players of the game work together by moving the dinosaurs to different habitat areas to locate their matching tokens. If a dinosaur lands in an area with tokens, the player can reveal a token.
If the token is not the image of the dinosaur that revealed it, the player must place it back face down. The process repeats until players can help the dinosaurs locate their matching token. Once the matching token is found, the dinosaur escapes safely to the island.
The pace of the game is controlled by the game die that has numbers (2,3, 4) and an image of the volcano. Players are able to move their dinosaurs when they roll a number. But if a player rolls the volcano, a volcano piece is assembled. The volcano erupts after all 5 pieces are assembled and the game is over if all the dinosaurs have not made it to the island.
The 6 Social and Emotional Skills
Self Awareness Domain
The Self Awareness domain is a child's ability to accurately recognize their own emotions, thoughts and values which allows them to be more conscious of their actions and behaviors. This is important because when a child is more aware of themselves both internally and externally, they are better able to navigate life challenges and make appropriate decisions.
1. Build self confidence - The game requires skills, effort and chance to win the game. A child can build their self confidence when they experience progress and results when they apply their skills and effort. Experiencing results from the game provides positive reinforcement that their skills and effort has an impact.
2. Improve ability to recognize own strengths and limitations - The game is excellent in challenging a child's skills (memory, problem solving, cooperative strategy) and effort and provides immediate feedback on what works well and what doesn't.
Since the pace of the game is controlled by the game die, chance is an important factor to determine whether players can achieve victory. I have definitely experienced multiple losing streaks from rolling the volcano repeatedly.
This adds to the challenge of the game as it is a factor that is not entirely in the player's control. Therefore, this can teach a child the limits of what they can and cannot control, just like in real life.
Self Management Domain
The Self Management Domain is a child's ability to successfully regulate their own emotions, thoughts and behaviors in different situations. This enables a child to manage stress, control impulses, set goals and motivate themselves. Self Management are essential life skills that impacts how a child engages with their academics, interests and social relationships.
3. Improve impulse control and delay gratification - The game has a few opportunities for a child to practice their impulse control and delay gratification. For example, it may be tempting to turn over more than one fern token per turn or move their dinosaur to a more desirable space than their die states.
Children are very creative in bending the rules to find success in games, and following the rules and being held accountable by other players can help improve a child's impulse control.
4. Improve attention and focus - One of the main components of the game is to memorize the location of the fern token objects so they can use the process of elimination to eliminate the tokens that do not match the dinosaurs.
Players will need to pay attention and memorize the fern tokens as they will be flipped back if there is no match. Their success in the game is dictated by how well they can remember the locations together and they will be motivated to sustain attention.
5. Emotional regulation: Improve tolerance to frustration - As this game can provide plenty of experiences of success and increase confidence, it can also provide teachable moments to frustration. A child may become frustrated with themselves and other players if mistakes or undesirable die rolls are made.
They may also disagree with decisions made by other players or frustrated with the challenges of the game. The benefit of having these experiences allow them to learn and tolerate frustration so they can focus on achieving the goals of the game.
Emotional regulation: Improve tolerance to uncomfortable feelings - In addition to eliciting frustration, the game is also great at providing experiences of uncomfortable feelings.
The two uncomfortable feelings I will highlight are anxiety and grief. A child may experience tense anxiety as the volcano gets closer to eruption. In response to this anxiety, the child may try to avoid or eliminate this feeling with bending the rules, cheating, or stop playing altogether.
A child may also feel grief when they fail to save the dinosaurs from the volcano and lose the game. The child may respond by blaming themselves or others, or avoid playing the game again. Therefore if a child responds in these ways to manage these uncomfortable feelings, it will be important to support them to tolerate and work through these feelings. Check out my guide on how to support a child through these uncomfortable feelings.
Relationship Skills Domain
The Relationship Skills Domain is a child's ability to establish and maintain healthy and meaningful relationships with individuals and groups. Specific skills include the ability to communicate clearly, listen well, collaborate with others, negotiate conflicts, resist inappropriate social pressure and seek and offer help when needed.
6. Collaboration Skills - Collaboration is the act of working together with others to achieve common goals. Beyond coming up with ideas and agreeing with each other, collaboration also requires negotiation, respect and trust. The cooperative gameplay provides the structure to motivate players to work together.
Since players can freely move any of the dinosaurs, their sense of ownership is to all three dinosaurs instead of just one. Players are therefore more willing to communicate with each other to achieve the shared goal.
Players have flexibility to come up with strategies on the spot since they can freely choose to move any of the dinosaurs in either direction. I have seen this lead to numerous creative strategies including assigning players to memorize specific habitat areas and planning which dinosaur to move based on the die.
I highly recommend Dinosaur Escape for parents and professionals who work with children to strengthen their social and emotional skills. If you don't own or never played a Peaceable Kingdom game, this is the first I recommend to start with!
I also recommend you to participate and facilitate the games. Although children can strengthen these skills without your participation, your facilitation can target specific skills to grow. I will write a how-to guide detailing strategies so you can be an expert on promoting these skills.
Play Attune is about providing parents and professionals practical play activities and resources focused on enhancing children's social and emotional wellness. Behind every content we share is the belief that children learn valuable life skills through meaningful relationships and experiences.
Play Attune is created by William, a child and family psychotherapist with extensive experience working with families in various settings. We invite you to join us on learning more and contributing to shape our content!