Six-year-olds will soon be discussing drugs-related issues with their parents thanks to an updated version of the game Snakes and Ladders, which is being sent free to every Primary 2 pupil in Scotland.
Stepping Stones, a board game devised by Scotland Against Drugs to get parents and children talking about health-related matters in general and drugs in particular, was launched in Falkirk on Monday.
It was piloted last year in 11 primary schools in three local authorities. During the pilot, a total of 1,264 pupils in P1-P3 were issued with the game. In a subsequent evaluation carried out by the Scottish Council for Research in Education, 90 per cent of the parents said their children found the game easy, enjoyable and it had maintained their interest. The evaluation concluded that the ideal target group is P2.
One of the parents consulted said that the game addressed the problem of striking a balance between making very young children better informed and having them lose their natural innocence, adding: "This game provides a useful starting point and encourages wider discussion."
The game involves up to four players throwing dice to move a rabbit-decorated counter around the board. Twenty of the squares have a question about drugs. When the counter lands on one of these, the child and the parent discuss the issues arising from the question. The first player to get "home" wins the game.
Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, says that the game will help to broaden parental understanding of what early-years drug education involves and help allay any fears they may have about exposing young children to such issues. "The game aims to consolidate and reinforce previous learning in a positive and fun way," he says.
Pam Farningham, head of Andover Primary in Brechin, says that an in-school evaluation after the children had used the game for four weeks found that most children had played the game with their brothers or sisters as well as with their parents.
"We found that the pupils enjoyed playing and that it made them more aware of health issues. We now intend to incorporate Stepping Stones into the school's health education programme," she adds.
One of the Andover children who took the game home was six-year-old Hannah Ballantyne. Her mother Moira enthused: "The game was very entertaining and enjoyable and we found that the picture cards led to worthwhile discussion."
Barrie Pert, head of Ardgowan Primary in Greenock, another pilot school, also intends to adopt the game as a regular part of health and social education.
"Playing the game seems to remove parental anxieties about addressing the drugs issue, and some parents even suggested ideas for improving the game," he says. "We are really delighted with it because it is something that can be done through play, involves parents and consolidates what the school is already doing."
Deputy Justice Minister Richard Simpson, who launched Stepping Stones on Monday with Sir Tom Farmer, chairman of Scotland Against Drugs, praised the game and emphasised the importance of drugs education for young children. "We need to offer that help from an early age and make sure that it is right for the age group," he said. He urged all parents to "take the opportunity and play the game".
A free Stepping Stones game for every P2 child is being sent to all primary schools in Scotland. For further information, contact Marian Boyle, schools programme co-ordinator, Scotland Against Drugs, tel 0141 331 6150