The Lyle S. Hallman Foundation has given more than $230,000 to expand several community outreach projects created by Dr. Daniela O’Neill, a professor of developmental psychology at Waterloo and the founder and director of the Children’s Communication Lab.

Sharing carefully selected board games with organizations across the region, the outreach projects have the potential to provide rich, playful learning opportunities to hundreds of local children and families.

“The Lyle S. Hallman Foundation invests in initiatives that support children as they learn and grow,” says Laura Manning, executive director. “Daniela O’Neill’s board games project was a wonderful fit with our priorities, given its emphasis on early development and community engagement.”

The Foundation’s gift will expand board game collections and events at Kitchener Public Library (KPL) and a Board Game Buddies recess program in local schools. Funds will also provide new collections to community organizations serving families and children in the region.

Delivered by Daniela and students in the Lab’s outreach arm, Talk2Thrive, the board game projects benefit children from two to 12 years of age. 

The wide variety of competitive and co-operative board games feature different themes to appeal to a range of interests. The games spark conversation in fun and informal ways, and provide opportunities to enhance early language, cognitive and social-emotional skills. 

“While playing the games, children, families and peers can learn new vocabulary and concepts,” Daniela says. “Children also practice important social skills such as waiting for a turn, coping with a setback or negotiating a strategy in a co-operative game. Sometimes older children will also notice connections between the board games and something they’re learning in school, such as storytelling or mathematical concepts.

“The games are carefully curated to meet the needs of different ages, and to be as inclusive as possible,” she says. “For example, the games in the library collection for young children don’t require English reading skills, and they can be played in any language. The games also have short playing times which helps to keep children and parents engaged.”  

Children play one of the games with an adult

Children play one of the games in the Board Game Buddies collection. 

Daniela used her personal funds to create the first collections for KPL and a local elementary school. Support from the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation — which builds on more than 20 years of giving by Lyle S. Hallman and the foundation that bears his name — will expand the board game collection at  KPL. Originally created for young children and offered exclusively at the main branch, the new collection will include a range of games for older children and will be available at all five branches of KPL. The Board Game Buddies recess program will expand from one school to 10, and board game collections will be shared for the first time with 10 community organizations. Funds will also support a free week-long summer camp focused on board game play and design for upper elementary school-age children.