Adaption and Evaluation of a Learning-Oriented Board Game for Blind Children

By Archontoula Arvanitaki and Chrysanthi Skoumpourdi

Archontoula Arvanitaki is an in-service education teacher and also a PhD candidate in the department of preschool education sciences and educational design at the University of the Aegean in Rhodes, Greece. Her main educational interests include game adjustments for blind children, the implementation of new methods in teaching children with special needs and the construction of educational games.

Chrysanthi Skoumpourdi is a Professor in the department of preschool education sciences and educational design at the University of the Aegean in Rhodes, Greece. Her research interests encompass teaching and learning early childhood mathematics, and the development of educational materials and games for early childhood mathematic.


It is important that learning-oriented games be made accessible to students with visual impairments. This study examined the use of an accessible version of a Snakes and Ladders board game for teaching concepts of number and addition to blind children. Drawing upon the existing Snakes and Ladders, researchers adapted the game by modifying the game board elements and pieces (pawns, snakes, ladders, die) to be recognized and used by a sense of touch. Participants in the study were two children who were blind since birth, 9 and 11 years old respectively. After an initial diagnostic test of numbers and addition, the students were familiarized with the game elements, pieces, and rules, as well as with study procedures. Then over the course of about 1hour, the students, who were already good friends, played the game together, being facilitated occasionally by a teacher of the blind students and observed by a researcher. At several points, the teacher helped both students overcome barriers to effective use. The researcher also periodically paused gameplay to record observations. The teacher and students used various strategies to foster gameplay and learning. The study suggests that the adaptations were largely effective in promoting positive affect in the children, as well as opportunities for learning relevant math skills.


Accessible board game, blind children, number, addition


Games can be included in the teaching curriculum of pre-school children (4-7 years) as a framework suitable for supporting mathematical activities, but also as an autonomous activity (Skoumpourdi, 2016), even for children with visual impairments (Evreinova et al., 2008). Games contain elements of joy and fun that often encourage children to concentrate and persevere in an activity so as to acquire the desired knowledge (Edwards et al., 1998).

Learning mathematical concepts requires the child's involvement and action in an environment that contains a set of material and mental conditions specifically designed to approximate each mathematical concept. In addition, for blind children, the approach to mathematical concepts requires special knowledge, equipment, and adaptations of materials and methods (Willings, 2018). To build the concept of number, blind students go through different stages as they initially perceive numbers as numeric words, then as size, later as positions in sequences, and finally as complex units. Also, they do not use their fingers spontaneously to calculate the sequence of numbers or to model numbers as happens in students with healthy vision (Brissaud, 1992; Fuson, 1992; Neuman, 1987).

This work developed an accessible board game, Snakes and Ladders, based on the needs of blind children, in order to investigate the children’s response, to highlight the dimensions of the concept of number (number order, plurality, regularity) and addition (way of completing the addition), and effect on their social-sector through the parallel recording of tactile behavior of these children. As to the concept of number, students need to learn the sequence of counts in the correct order, to consider an arithmetic unit as an element of a collection (of any nature), and to be able to associate a count with a single element of the collection (Kafoussi & Skoumpourdi, 2008). The design of the Snakes and Ladders board game is ideal as it provides a variety of parameters for the order and size of the numbers, as well as the numerical operations (Siegler & Ramani, 2008).

Historically, the Snakes and Ladders board game comes from ancient India, where it was known as "Moksha Patamu.” In 1943, it was renamed “Snakes and Ladders” by the board game manufacturer Milton Bradley in the United States. The players' movements in the board game depend on the roll of the die, thus giving the element of chance. It consists of a game board of 100 squares, some of which have ladders and snakes.  There is a die to determine the course of the game, but also to determine the order of the players. When the game die leads players to a square with a snake, they have to fall following it to its tail. This movement slows the players' course towards achieving their goal. On the contrary, when they land onto a square with a ladder, they are promoted to a higher position. The first player to reach the number 100 square is the winner (Hairul et al., 2010).

Theoretical Framework

The use of games is one of the most important factors for the active involvement of students in the educational process. The game category most explored for its contribution to mathematics is the board game, as its planned management in mathematics can allow monitoring the interaction of the player with the game towards learning, as well as the development of their thinking (Skoumpourdi, 2012). Board games are also a challenge for blind children and can be used in their training as the games help them develop mentally, socially (Durand, 2013), and emotionally. Through personal experience, blind students learn and understand concepts in a more effective way and shape their appropriate verbal expression (Sakti & Febriani, 2015).

The strategies used by blind children to approach an object are tactile and divided into two levels—the macro-level and the micro-level. The macro-level constitutes the whole and is recognized through tactile perception, which is shaped not only by touch but also by other sources of information such as movement and posture. The combination of all these movements is directly related to the environment and is called movement awareness (touch + motion + posture + environment) (Klatzky & Lederman, 1987). However, the micro-level, which is part of the whole, is approached through passive and active tactile strategies. More specifically, the strategy of passive recognition, hand-over-hand, belongs to the micro-level. The teacher places his/her hand above the hand of the blind child and guides it through the process of exploring an object or identifying a model or haptic map (McLinden & McCall, 2002). In terms of active tactile recognition, it is called hand-under-hand. In this case, the teacher puts his/her hand under the child's hand and in this way leads the child, without guiding him, into exploring objects, charts, or models. This technique is more democratic because it does not deprive the child of the initiative for free exploration and leads to greater self-esteem (Chen &Downing, 2006; McLinden & McCall, 2002). The combination of the two previous strategies (hand-over-hand and hand-under-hand) are the techniques of cooperative haptic recognition. In this case, the hands of both the teacher and the student alternate roles and can therefore both guide. This strategy allows students to use their hands simultaneously. Without this process, it would be difficult for these students to develop and acquire fine kinetic skills. There is another strategy at the micro-level where the whole body is used to obtain information. The teacher places his/her body next to the body of the visually impaired child, rather than opposite him as is usually the case with the contact of the visually healthy people (Argyropoulos, 2007). In this way, both the child and the educator share the same experiences during the exploration of an embossed pattern, map or diagram (Argyropoulos, 2007).

One of the basic mathematical concepts taught to children of all grades is numbers and mathematical operation. The construction of the concept of number starts at kindergarten and gradually develops in the next educational stages as it is the foundation for the understanding of numerical concepts and ideas and the prerequisite for the development of mathematical reasoning (Van de Walle, 2006; Verschaffel et al., 2006; Kafoussi & Skoumpourdi, 2008; Tzekaki & Barbas, 2007). Numbering, which plays a key role in building the concept of number, involves reciting the sequence of numerals, enumerating, directing and constructing objects, identifying, naming, and writing numerical symbols, understanding the positional value of digits in the decimal numbering system, and the four basic operations. In addition, it is essential to understand the cardinal and ordinal numbers. To solve arithmetic operations of addition and subtraction, it is necessary to understand that a collection becomes larger when you add objects to it and smaller when removing objects from it (Baroody, 2004).

In order to develop the concept of number, blind children go through several stages. First they realize numbers as numeric words, then as size, later as positions in sequences, and finally as compound units (Brissaud, 1992; Fuson, 1992; Neuman, 1987). The sense of touch plays an important role in the perception of numbers. When they begin to group numbers and eventually compose them, their comprehension widens and they experience the numbers, both as sequenced positions and complex units (Ahlberg & Csocsán,1999). Some blind children find it difficult to understand through touch countable and non-countable quantities, as well as the relationship between part and the whole.

With regard to arithmetic operations, blind children should, in addition to learning the written procedure of performing mathematical operations, also practice mental calculations so that they are exempted from the time-consuming and tedious procedures of writing the mathematical operations (Liodakis, 2014). The research questions, that guided this work were as follows:

RQ 1: Did children understand the functionality of the game as a material and how did they use it during the game?
RQ 2: What was the tactile behavior of players like during the game?
RQ3: How did children respond to the cognitive demands of the game?
RQ4: What is the role of players in the implementation of the game (mode of play, player interaction, other emotional, and social factors)?

Survey Methodology

A board game, Snakes and Ladders, was modified based on the needs and characteristics of blind children in order to investigate its effect on the dimensional approach to the concept of number and addition. The game was implemented for two children (blind by birth, without associated problems) of the Special School of the Blind of Thessaloniki. Before the game, students were given an informal mathematical diagnostic test to investigate their skills in terms of the number and addition concepts they would encounter in the game. The skills to be considered relate to a linear graduated scale from 1 to 100, to the mental executions of add-ons up to 100 with or without carrying over any digits, the subtraction of numbers up to 100 with or without digits carried over, the recognition of the positive value of the digits, the identification of numbers according to the units and tens, in finding the previous or next one of a number, and in picking up numbers on the game board.

From the results of the diagnostic test, it appeared that Player 1 had difficulties in the addition and subtraction algorithm (addition with or without carrying over numbers, subtraction with or without carrying over numbers, and in subtraction with or without borrowing any additional digits). Player 2’s difficulties were mainly found in the mental execution of subtractions, with or without borrowing additional digits, where she began to subtract from the subtrahend.

A qualitative research approach was used for the data collection, which places the observer in the real world and aims at exploring new aspects of a phenomenon for which there is not much information (Berg, 2001). A structured observation method was used during the adaption of the game (Cohen et al., 2008), based on a monitoring protocol and qualitative content analysis (Maxwell &Miller, 2008). Structured observation is systematic and allows the researcher to create research data from the observation. The observer usually is not involved in the investigation, but he/she records the behavior of the players (Cohen et al., 2008).

The monitoring protocol we designed was based on research questions and included four main parameters. The first parameter (Table 1) concerned the perception of the functionality of game materials and how they were used during the game. The second parameter (Table 2 & Table 3) concerned children's tactile behavior through recording the tactical strategies they used during the game. The third parameter (Table 4) was related to recording the behavior of children in the cognitive demands of the game. Finally, the fourth parameter (Table 5) recorded the socio-emotional behavior of children during the game.

After the structured observation was completed, content analysis followed. This is a method of secondary analysis of qualitative material which can take various forms (texts, interviews, images, etc.) and is transformed into quantitative or qualitative data (Ezzy, 2002). In this work, the analysis of the material was presented as a text.

Design and Development of an Accessible Board Game, Snakes and Ladders

When constructing a board game for children with visual impairment, particular emphasis should be placed on the fact that all of its elements should be distinguishable and easily identifiable though touch. The information printed on the game board should be simple and clear to make it easier for blind children to use it. Without special equipment (e.g. magnets and indentations), pieces of the board game are likely to be moved or changed during scanning by blind students (Gutschmidt et al., 2010).

Thus, various materials of different textures and roughness were used for the construction of the accessible board game Snakes and Ladders. The game board was a square wooden structure with indentations for marking position and for being identified with touch. Two magnets were placed in each square where the two players could put their pawns, and a number was formed with pins and in braille.  The board game consisted of 100 positions with numbers from 1 to 100. Certain positions on the board were connected to each other with snakes made of foam and with ladders made of abrasive paper (Figure 1). It was also important to construct a special box with a lid for rolling the die and restraining it from moving in all directions (Gutschmidt et al.,2010). The box had corrugated cardboard on the outside and was coated with felt on the inside. The die was wooden and the dots on it were formed with small pins that were discernible by touch to blind children (Figure 2). Each of the two pawns had a magnet attached to its base so that it did not fall easily from the game board. Each pawn was covered with a different fabric—velvet for one and satin for the other—for tactile identification (Figure 3). Finally, the rules of the game were adapted and translated into braille (Figure 4).

Familiarization of the Game—Discussion

The game was completed in 21 rounds. Before it was implemented, players explored the game object and its elements for about 15 minutes by feeling the different parts of the board game and asking questions about what everything represented to enable them make the connection between tactile perception and object material.

The Functionality and Use of the Game as a Material

The children approached the game as an object in different ways. Player 1 seemed reluctant to feel the board's materials. The student only touched them with the fingers and it was therefore necessary to use passive tactile strategy (hand-over-hand) to touch all the materials. However, Player 2 felt the game board with her entire palm to explore it as a whole and then used the fingers of both hands for a partial exploration of the board. The student asked questions about each different object that she touched to make the material-object combination. Then, they explored the die and the special box and began to throw the die to familiarize themselves with it.

As to the functionality of the materials and the differentiations, the indentations helped children understand the change of position, but also not to miss their turn while counting. Magnets were a benchmark for players so as to place their pawn on respective positions. Without them, the pawns would have fallen off many times, thus interrupting the flow of the game. The fact that the pawns were covered with different fabrics helped each player identify his/her own pawn. Each player had his/her own die box, allowing them to roll the die in a confined space. Both players immediately realized its operation and they were thrilled with the idea.

Differences were also recorded in the way the children participated in the process of the game. Player 2 used the numbers and was holding the pawn in one hand to move on the board, while the Player 1 used both the squares and indentations or the numbers, left the pawn in the starting position, calculated the new position, and then placed the pawn. There was no difficulty in changing the line when moving on the board, but it was observed that both players sometimes moved to the opposite direction on the board. They sometimes read the numbers and corrected themselves, but there were also times when the teacher had to intervene. It is worth noting that Player 2 knew the position on the board throughout the game (left or right side) unlike the Player 1, who could not remember his position and was wondering, "Where is my pawn?"

The rules of the game, translated into braille, were understood by the players. There was a little difficulty at the beginning of the game because as they were moving on the count, they touched the ladders and snakes and asked, “Have I fallen on a ladder?” or “A snake, what are we supposed to do now?” The rule that the player must think aloud (i.e., must speak their intended actions) proved to be highly important. Apart from the fact that the players were informed about their opponent's position and how they had reached it, other factors recorded during the game were the players’ different way of thinking, their difficulties, and their feelings.

The Tactile Behavior

The player’s tactile behaviour included strategies which are both at the micro- as well as the macro-level. At the micro-level, passive tactile recognition of hand-over-hand (done with the teacher) was employed with both players and was primarily used to enhance or correct their position and movement onto the proper level on the game board, identify a specific number, climb a set of ladders, as well as locate the pawn or markers. As for the macro level, the players had developed their tactile perception while following the strategy of feeling and movement. They used touch to move their bodies and to move around on the game board from right to left and up and down, as well as receiving the necessary information from their environment.

Players’ Conduct with Respect to the Cognitive Expectations of the Game

One of the most important and interesting points about the game’s adaption is the development of cognitive skills and, particularly, the concept of number and addition for blind students. When playing the game, children approached the dimensions of the concept of number (number order, plurality, regularity) and addition.

The paramount importance of the number appeared to have been understood by the children. This was confirmed further by the correct answers given to the question asked of them. When the die indicated the equivalent of “three,” they immediately evaluated the result and knew that this represented “three” positions on the game board and they would ultimately place the pawn there. Another example which appeared during the game was the addition of 38+5, which is addressed with plurality, because their answer is about how many positions they have to move.

Relevant Dialogue:

Educator: “How much did you get?”
Player: “5.”
Educator: “Therefore, how many positions will you advance?”
Player: “5.”
Educator: “What will your new position be?”
Player: “I must proceed to 43 now.”

Most of the time, the participants would count the positions one by one on the game board in order to place their pawn on their new position. However, there were incidences where a mental mathematical calculation occurred resulting in an immediate placement of the pawn on the new position.

The rules and regulations of the game were discussed right from the very beginning since the children had to roll the die in order to determine who would be starting first. This specific concept was further incorporated with reference to the number both before and after the position of each player and also to the likelihood of a player accidentally moving his/her token onto the next line on the game board and thus being asked to move back to the previous line.

Relevant Dialogue:

Educator: “What number are you at?”
Player: “At 80.”
Educator: "What is the number prior to that?"
Player: “79.”
Educator: "What would the number after that be?"
Player: “81.”

As far as mathematical equations are concerned, it was observed that addition was performed using a variety of ways, even by the same players. Throughout the game, Player 2 used three different methods of movement on the game board. For the majority of the moves, the student used the addition strategy of the second stage and “counting from” the starting position, where she would begin counting from the end of the first combination. For example, “56+3 =” and she would start counting, “57, 58, 59,” characteristic of the construction of arithmetic operations on students with healthy vision. Another method was to follow the mental execution of mathematical equations, which was performed with ease. Lastly, on two occasions, she counted by starting at 1 and touched the squares (e.g., from position 5, she counted, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5,” as she proceeded to read the number on the new square where she placed her pawn). Having correlated her performance during the diagnostic test as well as while playing the game, we conclude that she has used the same train of thought in order to reach the mathematical result, but also faced the same difficulty with the addition equation in order to exceed the tens digits.

Contrarily, Player 1 chose to use the addition strategy from the second stage of “counting from” by starting his counting from the end of the first sum (e.g., “61+6 =”and starts counting, “62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67”), with counting starting at 1, touching the squares performing mental calculations. However, with regard to some situations, his mental calculations did not conclude in accurate results (e.g., 27+4=30). Another strategy he used with some calculations was to use the double calculation. For example, in order to determine the sum of 88+5, he made two simultaneous mental calculations with aural expression: “89-1, 90-2, 91-3, 92-4, 93-5,” meaning he accomplished simultaneous “counting from” and matching the number of dots on the die. Τhe player encountered the same difficulties in both the diagnostic test and during the game, with respect to additions exceeding the tens as well as mental calculations. Managing the mathematical sum was reached by using the same strategy as in the game.

When players fell on a square with a ladder or snake, they were asked how many positions they climbed or dropped on the game board, where they had to think mentally and answer.

The Players’ Social and Emotional Behavior

As indicated in the theoretic guidelines, the children who played the game were both classmates and very good friends. Throughout the duration of the game, interaction between the two players was observed. This was particularly evident with the switching of the player’s turn. Specifically, both players truly had the need to know if their opponent had finished his/her move and, in so doing, knew that it was their turn to move. Players neglected to take the initiative to inform that they had completed their move, which resulted in players asking each other at the end of every round. The need for verbal communication was evident based on the questions that were asked: “Is it my turn?” “Did you move?” “Have you finished?” “Let me know when you have completed your move.” It was further noticed that there was evident interaction when assistance or help was required. Player 2 would place her hand on the game board when her opponent was struggling and her assistance proved to be both essential and beneficial to the outcome of the game. Also, they would communicate after each other’s die role: “What did you get?” “What did you throw?” “What did you roll?” Perhaps this occurred in order for the other player to determine the move of his/her opponent, based likely on the hindrance of their visual impairment.

The players would ask for assistance and guidance from the teacher. In the board game application, the teacher is involved in the game acting as an organizer and mentor. She organized the children's play by repeating the rules of the game and asking questions about them, observed the children's play, and assessed their understanding as they used loud thinking in their movements. She also suggested to the players some techniques to get the mathematical result or to think more about some arithmetic operation. This occurred when they were confused with the change for the order on the game board, forgetting their original position, to ask for confirmation, or to be informed about the snakes and ladders. The questions they would pose were: “Where do I go now?” “Will you help me?” “Miss, I got ten!” “Do I proceed to the 10?” “Am I ok here?” “Do I stop here?” Also, they would ask with reference to the snakes and ladders: “How many snakes are there and how many ladders?” “When will we get to them?” “When you get 41, are you in the snakes’ jaws?” “Will we meet up with one?” “How many ladders are there in the game?”

With respect to the players’ emotions and feelings, both players were continuously happy and cheerful and they showed a great interest in the game. There was constant interaction between them and verbal communication regarding the coordination and change of one’s turn to play and the flow of the game (what position they were at and roll of the die they had achieved) for encouragement but also for help and assistance to each other. When the players arrived at a ladder, this made them very happy and it gave them hope that they would be victorious. Yet when the players landed on a position with a snake they would be discouraged (“I’m not playing anymore!”), but at the same time they would become more determined (“Step aside, now, I’ll throw the die and I will win!”). Competition was also clearly evident, which is characteristic of this educational game. The female winner was especially happy and rejoiced by saying, “Yes!” While the male loser was upset saying, “I’m going to cry now that you’ve beat me,” but accepted the result in the long run.


Children with visual impairment can have the same access as fully-sighted students in board games that have been accessible on the basis of their particular educational needs, gaining cognitive, social, and emotional benefits. This was shown by the application of the adapted Snake and Ladders game to blind children.

The fact that all of the visual information of the game turned into tactile, that particular attention was paid to the game board so that it was uncomplicated, and the materials were pleasant to the touch and easily recognizable helped children with visual impairment to participate effectively in the game. Recesses for positioning, magnets for pawn stabilization, braille numbers in each location, track identification, the use of a special box for shaking and dropping the die, and the use of different textured materials for ladders and snakes contributed to the adaptation of the game, as Gutschmidt et al. (2010) reported. The tactical strategies used by the children have also contributed to understanding the shape and the different materials of the game, as well as successfully completing the game.

The characteristics of the game, namely the existence of numbers from 1 to 100 (in order and by tens), moving to the next larger number by throwing the die and climbing the ladders, moving to a previous smaller number through the snake, and the rotation of players were elements that helped children reach the dimensions of the concept of number (numbering, plurality, regularity) and addition, using a variety of strategies, such as counting by ones, mental calculation, “counting from,” and double count calculation among others. Players throughout the game did not spontaneously use their fingers to make calculations as fully-sighted children do, but used the tactical strategies of passive haptic hand-over-hand recognition, which belongs to the microlevel. While in terms of macrolevel, players had developed their tactile perception as they followed the quintessential strategy. The participants used touch and their body to move to the game board (right, left, up, and down) and get the necessary information from their environment. It is worth noting that the player, in recognizing the game board as an object, has moved from place to place. While according to the research findings, the object recognition for the visually impaired is always done from the place in the whole (Klatzky & Lederman, 1987).

A positive element in the adaption of the game was the fact that the players were classmates and friends; recording qualities such as cooperation, interaction, interdependence, and a general framework of understanding each other to maintain the sequence of the game and to accept the defeat and victory. Certainly, despite the good cooperation, the game appeared to also foster wholesome competition.

By linking the theoretical framework to research results, we come to the conclusion that board games can be used during an educational process tailored to the particular educational needs of pupils with visual impairment presenting both cognitive and emotional benefits. However, new features in this paper are the usefulness of the board game Snakes and Ladders, which was appropriately designed as a teaching tool for the development of cognitive skills and, more specifically, for the development of dimensions of the concept of number (numbering, plurality, regularity), and the addition of blind students. It is a tool, appropriately designed with variations and adjustments, which provides the necessary tactile stimuli and can be used in the teaching of elementary mathematics for students with visual impairment.

Implications for Practitioners and Families

Any research is undoubtedly subject to some limitations and weaknesses, which are important to refer to for a more accurate interpretation of the results. Initially, the game was implemented by two players, a relatively small number, which significantly limits the ability to generalize the conclusions. In the future, more subjects could be collected, which might improve the representativeness of the sample.

The findings of this research can be particularly useful to teachers and families of children with visual impairment. Through the adaptation and diversification of materials, the game can be used as a tool during the educational process. The educational game Snakes and Ladders can be used in the classroom to approach the concept of number and addition in a pleasant and interactive way, as opposed to the traditional way of teaching. Parents can also use games with educational content in order to foster learning and social interaction.


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Table 1

Functionality and Use of the Game as a Material





How to perceive the function of the game’s board specialties (e.g., snakes of fiberglass, foam ladders, magnet recess for the pawn, braille for number)



How to perceive the role of different objects in the game (e.g., a special box for the die, a different texture pawn)



How to move to the game board positions



How to apply the rules during the game


Table 2

Tactile Behavior


Haptic behavior at the micro-level



Hand-over-hand  strategy (passive tactile recognition)



Hand-under-hand strategy (active tactile recognition)



Hand-over-hand and  hand-under-hand strategy (cooperative tactile recognition)



Whole body use strategy


Table 3

Tactile Behavior


Haptic behavior at the macro-level



Movement awareness (touch-motion, posture, environment)


Table 4

Behavior in Cognitive Requirements of the Game





Identify digits and numeric words



Perception of the number's plurality



Perception of the regularity of the number



Adding strategies



The use of thinking aloud (metacognitive strategy)


Table 5

Socio-Emotional Behavior





Relevant player/game board position



 Interaction between players (e.g. verbal communication)



Search for help/guidance from the teacher/researcher



Application of informal game rules (e.g., each player waits for his/her opponent to complete his/her move and then rolls the die)



Interest during the game



Reaction of a player to the ladder



Reaction of a player to the snake



Player response to the outcome of the game


Figure 1
The Board Game

Figure 2
The Box for the Die

A die sits outside an empty box; the other die sits inside the lid of the box.

Figure 3
The Pawns

Two cylindrical pawns

Figure 4
The Rules in Braille

A page with Braille text on it.

The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research is copyright (c) 2021 to the National Federation of the Blind.