Kids learn best when they don’t know they’re learning. Over the years, we’ve invited our children to play games as a kind of “stealth education.” Here are a few of our favorites:
- Mad Libs. (Age range: kindergarten through high school.) This fill-in-the-blank game is the world’s best for learning parts of speech. Nothing motivates kids to learn nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs like the prospect of an epically hilarious story at the end.
- Dungeons & Dragons. (Age range: customizable from kindergarten through high school.) Two kids mentioned the classic roleplaying game, which we learned as a family. At its very core, D&D is a mental math game—roll the die, add or subtract a number, decide if the result is greater than or less than your opponent’s roll. Some of our sessions have also involved logic puzzles, cryptograms, and different languages. Any type of roleplaying game—whether fantasy, science-fiction, or history-based—provides dozens of ways to reinforce educational concepts.
- Starfall. (Age range: preschool and kindergarten.) When I asked 16-year-old Bookgirl about a school game she remembers playing, she immediately reminded me of this website. All four of my kids “played” on Starfall, learning phonics, math, and songs. For several years I paid the membership fee to have access to the entire site, and I consider it money well spent.
- Memory. (Age range: preschool and kindergarten.) Sparkler specifically mentioned this classic, low-tech kids’ game. I’d remove about eight matches from a standard card deck and lay them out face-down. Sparkler and I would then take turns turning them over and finding the matches. It’s a game that even a 3-year-old can master, especially since it’s also short enough to keep their attention.
- Scrambled States of America. (Age range: best for elementary school and middle school.) Actual “educational” games are always a gamble; too many aren’t actually fun to play. This one pays off. Instructional cards direct you to find states that border Canada, or have four syllables in their names, or a nickname with a bird in it. Players learn state names, capitals, and where they’re generally located in the country. The younger two kids actively enjoy this game, and even the older kids said it’s “pretty fun.”
- Bookworm Adventures. (Age range: middle school and high school; elementary school with help) We’ve played this computer game in our household since before any of the kids could read. Because it’s over 10 years old now, it’s not easy to find a reliable download, and CDs can be expensive. I recommend keeping an eye on Amazon or eBay until you find a CD for about $25; it’s worth that much. In this game, Lex the green Bookworm must spell words to defeat enemies. It’s exactly the motivation a 6-year-old needs to learn better spelling.
- Settlers of Catan. (Age range: best for middle school and high school.) This board game teaches supply and demand, barter and trade, and working around obstacles to get the resources you need. The artwork is beautiful, and the gameplay engrossing. It’s like Monopoly in that it teaches about economics. It’s not like Monopoly in that usually doesn’t end in tears and broken relationships.
Homeschooling isn’t all fun and games. Most of our days are full of mundane, repetitious lessons. That’s why it’s such a good idea to have a closet of “school games” to pull out when you need to break up the routine. Nothing like kids thinking they’re having fun, when they’re actually learning. It’s a win.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis.