Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Games are one of the most effective ways to teach children. Games allow kids to learn while having fun, and the learning occurs without any tedious lectures or textbooks. Over the last couple years, I have found that the game Monopoly is a powerful tool for teaching my kids. Besides the obvious connection to math, Monopoly can also be used to teach kids about finances, to instill good character, and to allow them to practice charity.
How To Use Monopoly as a Learning Tool
Here are some tips for using Monopoly as a teaching tool.
Play a shortened version of the game When played in the traditional way, Monopoly can drag on and on, lasting for hours and hours. However, Monopoly can be easily modified to be a shorter game in the following ways:
Set a timer to act as the game clock. 1 to 1&1/2 hours generally works well as a time limit for the game. Make sure everyone knows that the game will end when the timer goes off.
Before starting the game, shuffle the property cards and deal out two to each player.
Each player needs to pay for the properties they were dealt.
Then play the game as usual until the timer goes off.
When the timer goes off, give everyone one last turn. Then everyone needs to sell all of their properties and real estate back to the bank.
Once all properties have been sold back to the bank, each player adds up all of their their money. Whoever has the most money is the winner.
First and foremost, the game should be fun and enjoyable
Have fun playing the game together and resist the urge to lecture. When teachable moments arise, one simple sentence is generally enough to give kids the general idea of the concept. Then let the game do the rest: it will demonstrate the lessons without you needing to lecture or belabor the point.
Be willing to help the kids if they get stuck figuring out how to use the money. There is no need to let the kids struggle unduly to the point that they no longer enjoy playing the game. Quickly help them along with a positive attitude and then continue playing the game.
Lead by example
When using games to instill good character, it works best to lead by example. Don't change the rules of the game or tell the kids that they have to play in a certain way. Rather, purposefully play your own game in a kind, compassionate way and allow your kids to choose whether or not they want to play in a similar way.
Allow younger children to play on your team
Kids younger than ~8 years old probably won't be able to play Monopoly on their own. Younger kids can be allowed to play on a team with an older sibling or parent. They can help in paying money to the bank, rolling the dice, handing out the property cards and houses, managing the $1's and $5's, etc.
Using Monopoly to Teach Math
Monopoly is filled with math!! It is much more effective than worksheets because it gives kids a chance to practice their math skills in an engaging, hands-on way. Just playing the game allows kids to practice math by:
adding up the numbers on the dice to determine how far to move on the board
learning the value of large numbers such as $100 and $500
adding up different bills to pay for properties and rent
making change when other players pay rent
doubling the rent values from the property cards (when a player owns all of the property cards of one color group)
Using Monopoly to Teach Finances
Monopoly can be used to teach kids about many financial concepts, including:
Investments - Players learn that they have to manage their cashflow but that they also need to invest their money (by buying property) if they want their finances to increase significantly. Players who invest early in the game have more time to earn money from their investments (and subsequently have more money to invest), just as people do in real life.
Risk and Emergency Fund - Players learn that there is risk to using up much of their available cash. This can be used to teach kids about the importance of maintaining an emergency fund to be used in case of unexpected expenses.
Mortgage - This concept will come up naturally if any player ends up having to mortgage their properties to the bank. When properties are mortgaged, the bank shares ownership with the player.
Debt and Interest - When players have had to mortgage properties, they are essentially in debt to the bank. The bank then charges interest on the debt, so that the player ends up paying a fee to the bank in order to once again take full ownership of the property.
Bankruptcy - In the shortened version of the game, no one is likely to actually go bankrupt during the game. Nonetheless, the idea of becoming bankrupt is easy to teach while the kids are managing their game money and properties, especially if someone lands on Boardwalk with a hotel and suddenly owes $2,000!
Using Monopoly to Teach Good Character, Charity, and Cooperation
When played in typical fashion, games can easily reinforce a sense of competitiveness and selfishness. However, by purposefully playing in a kind and compassionate way, games can instead be used to build good character, charity, and cooperation. Some specific ways that Monopoly can be used to instill positive character lessons include:
Playing cooperatively - Rather than playing with the goal to win at all costs, it is possible to play cooperatively and actually help others while playing the game. For instance, players can purposely not buy properties that are in the same color group that another player already owns. Players can also choose to leave some color groups available so that other players have the opportunity to buy them.
Playing compassionately - When one player is down and running short on money, other players can choose to give breaks on the amount of rent that must be paid. Players can also give money to other players to help them out of their financial straits.
Learning to both win and lose well - Some children will naturally gloat when they win and act spoiled when they lose. Monopoly (and other games) can be used to help kids learn to overcome both of these negative traits. Talking in advance about what is expected and appropriate can help set the stage for kids to learn how to better handle their victories and defeats. Practicing winning and losing gracefully is good practice for handling similar situations in life.
Do you play Monopoly with your kids? What are your family's favorite games?
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