Can a card game teach important life skills to Primary children? Jenny Cooper examines the claims for Minibridge – now enjoying a major revival in Scottish schools.

“They teach Bridge? To children?”  

The words are usually spoken with a mixture of incredulity and suspicion.  Incredulity, because surely no eight-year-old can grasp the rudiments of the world's most challenging and complex card game?  Suspicion, simply because it's 'cards'. For the misguided, this sometimes suggests gambling, ruined ambition and a blighted future where the gifted fall by the wayside!

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Minibridge - a simplified form of the game - is making its way into increasing numbers of Scottish Schools and achieving extroardinary benefits for the many children who play.

"I first wanted the children involved as a support for the development of mental agility but there have been very many more positives," said Karen Ross, Head Teacher of Balloch Primary School, Inverness.  "Children nowadays spend quite a bit of their time in front of a screen and this is a real life opportunity to interact with others in a challenging problem-solving situation.  "The children have gained hugely socially from this experience. We’re very interested in developing this with more pupils over the coming months."  Other teachers talk of "a brilliant experience" with Minibridge and cite a range of beneficial skills for pupils including  "communication, confidence, teamwork, strategy, number skills and logical thinking."

In addition, the game fosters a string of personal qualities highlighted by the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence such as developing a sense of fairness, patience, respect for your peers – and the tutor!  These are big claims. But all are borne out by experience and backed up with credible research – a real achievement when you consider the challenges posed by trying to teach these qualities to children at primary level.

To understand how it works, let's examine what we mean by Minibridge.

Most people have heard of the cardgame Bridge, even if they've never played it. The adult version of Bridge sits side-by-side with mind sports like Chess, Backgammon or Scrabble.  Fundamentally, it's a trick-taking game played by four people in two partnerships. The target number of tricks to be won – and the designated trump suit - are decided beforehand. The challenge is: can you make the number of tricks you've promised to secure?  

Achieving real expertise can be a lifetime's challenge, so Minibridge was developed - a simplified child-friendly version which dispenses with some technical formalities, allowing youngsters to start playing the cards almost immediately. Simplification also means the game can be taught by non-bridge players.

Our ambition is to create young people who are confident individuals, effective learners, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society.  Minibridge addresses all of these key capabilities, in addition to specific skills like Thinking, Arithmetic, Social Skills, Concentration and Decsision-Making.

Published research paints a very positive picture (see http://cbai.ie/juniorbridge/documents/minibridgeresearchreport.pdf) and feedback from staff in schools is incredibly encouraging.  Minibridge is that rare thing – an educational benefit eagerly grasped by pupils who are given the opportunity to play.  Evidence for this is plain in Scotland where the National Minibridge Championships is now an established (pre pandemic!) annual event run for Primary children by the Scottish Bridge Union.

Between eight and fourteen school teams normally contest the final in Stirling, hoping to win the title and its prestigious trophy. Although it's fair to say that sometimes the competitive element seems more important to the accompanying teachers/parents than it is to the children themselves – who have genuinely embraced the theory that taking part is more important than winning!

It appears there are compelling arguments for the educational advantages of teaching children some form of Bridge. If you would like your Primary 6 and 7 pupils to learn Minibridge please contact us.  The SBU will do their best to put you in touch with suitable tutors in your area.

Whoever said 'It's only a game'.... has never played it.