I really love playing games with my kids for their educational value. I am so happy that we are (mostly) out of the toddler stage so we can play real games together. Meg can play games involving reading now. Even Kate, my pre-reader, played a very respectable round of Carcassonne with us the other day, a game with the core of a matching puzzle.
I want to clarify up front that I don’t play only “educational games”, but also real games—board games and card games—the fun ones on Grandma’s shelf or available at your local bookstore. I love watching all the learning that happens unconsciously.
I’ve seen a number of articles lately on the learning value of great toys, but I want to see homeschoolers champion the learning value of games. Play is not wasted time.
Games are great at developing character qualities, such as:
- PERSISTENCE: Sometimes, you need a reason to keep going. That reason might be “Mom made me.” Trouncing your relatives at Settlers of Catan, on the other hand, is a great reason to keep going. Persistence learned in one activity can metastasize into a persistent character.
- ATTENTION SPAN: Kids need to practice increasing their attention spans, but so does Mom. Surely I’m not the only adult who can barely sit still for a whole sermon anymore? The discipline of playing a single game for an extended period, Facebook-free, benefits anyone.
- MENTAL FLEXIBILITY: Learning new games teaches you how to pick up a new skill quickly. I can’t teach my kids everything they will ever need to know, but I can teach them how to learn. Games are my allies.
- WINNING AND LOSING: The 2016 election demonstrated that it’s incredibly hard to lose graciously. There’s nothing like getting stomped repeatedly by your spouse/younger sibling to help you develop character. In fact, the only thing harder than losing well is winning well (again, see 2016 election). We practice sportsmanship on both sides, every game, because what you practice is who you become. It matters.
- CONFIDENCE: After a long day of tearful school, fruitless cleaning, and cooking that nobody ate, a game is so encouraging. I can do something. I love Minecraft because it is shiny pixelated proof that if you want to put in the time and effort, you can pick up a mountain and move it over there, one block at a time. Teaching does have an effect too, really…it just might take another ten years to see.
Games also help the player learn academic skills, including:
- PATTERN RECOGNITION: Entire games revolve around sorting, categorizing, and patterns. Quirkle has six colors and six shapes, and you try to get six in a row with no repeats. This one is simple enough for pre-readers, but challenging enough for adults. In Splendor, you obtain temporary gems in five colors in order to buy permanent gems for your collection, which you lever into victory points. Categories and patterns? That’s the foundation of all science.
- MATH: Any game that rolls dice helps develop quick mental addition. Any game that involves keeping score reinforces double-digit addition. You probably get in more math practice from a single round of Pass the Pigs than from a single math worksheet, and there’s a lot more motivation to do it quickly and correctly. This constant, low-level math is unparalleled for developing number sense, and if you don’t get that foundation of good number sense, higher math is going to be nightmarish. By all means, let’s prove wrong that old meme: HOW TO DO MATH: Step 1. Write down the problem. Step 2: Cry.
- GEOGRAPHY AND MAPS: There are three main ways of learning the world: okay, four, if you count traveling. For those of us who can’t travel much (sad face), we can curl up with maps, we can have it hammered into our head by a teacher, or we can play games. I know several grown men who learned most of their geography from computer games like Medieval Total War. People usually remember where their conquered territories are. I was a curler-upper-with-maps type, which is good as far as it goes, but I apparently never hung out in northern Asia and only played Lord of the Rings Risk as a teenager, and as a result I am not clear on where Kamchatka is. My husband knows. I do play Ticket to Ride and play it with Meg.
- WORD GAMES: If you play with language, you’ll use it for real. Scrabble is classic because it combines mental skills. It takes not just a good vocabulary, but also the knack of turning a jumble of letters into words and the logical ability to pick the highest-scoring place to play. I used Scrabble as a teaching aid when I led a spelling bee prep course once. Another of my other favorite word games is Quiddler, which rewards making lots of short words and teaches you the true value of vowels.
- LOGIC: If I play this, that will happen. Chess is such a classic for logic strategy. Meg is just starting to play it with her dad and Poppi. I lose horribly at chess, but I like Checkers, Stratego, and Dominion.
Next post, I’m going to talk about some of the ways to tell a good game from a bad one.
Do you have any good stories about incorporating games into your homeschool? Have you come across any that helped a struggling learner? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka,