Does a board game or card game need to be “educational” for it to teach our children important academic and non-academic skills? Should we be filling our game closets with games that are Educational-with-a-capital-E? Can you play games and call it homeschooling? Is it a waste of time to play a silly game? If your child is obsessed with a certain game, is it okay to play it over and over and over again? Or, is it a waste of homeschool hours?
These are some of the gameschool questions that I receive from homeschooling families. I’d like to tackle some of them today and share some anecdotes from our gameschooling journey.
Does a game need to be “educational” for it to teach something?
As a school psychologist and homeschool mom, I wholeheartedly believe that homeschooling can be almost all fun and games.
But what does that look like, exactly? Do your children and teens really learn anything when playing games during the homeschool day? And, how do you make it count?
Today, let’s chat about board and card games and whether they need to be Educational-with-a-capital-E.
When wondering whether a game needs to be “educational” for it to teach something, one must consider gameschool development.
Parents often write to me about gameschool frustrations. And I get it, I really do! Gameschooling can be downright ugly at times!
Zero attention span.
Difficulty following rules.
Can you relate??
I know how hard gameschooling can be, especially in the early years. But I want you to know that even the ugliest gameschool moments are learning opportunities.
Successful gameschooling doesn’t happen overnight.
I often compare gameschool development to reading development. It’s helpful to think of reading development when you’re feeling frustrated with ugly gameschooling.
Think about reading development and how it can relate to gameschool development. This will help you answer the question, “Does a game need to be educational for it to teach something.”
Learning to read is a skill and, like all skills, it requires hard work and heaps of practice before one can gain proficiency.
The same is true for gameschooling. No one enters the world knowing how to play games well.
We have to learn to follow instructions, take turns, collaborate, negotiate, compete, win with grace, and lose with grace. We learn these things over time, through repetition and practice.
Here’s another thing to consider: In order for children to want to put all that time and effort into reading, we need to provide them with oodles of positive early reading experiences. If reading is pleasurable, they are going to want to learn how to do it themselves.
The same is true for gameschooling. We need to give them opportunities to practice and to make it as pleasurable as possible. I always recommend that we try to make our gameschooling delicious.
Do you want tips for accomplishing this? I’ve got you covered!
Here are 8 tips for raising readers and gameschoolers:
1. Create a print-rich environment/ Create a play-rich environment
If you want your children to love to read, surround yourself with things to read. Here are some ideas:
- Access to a variety of reading materials, from books to newspapers to magazines
- Book baskets in every room
- When watching television, enable closed captioning
- Label items in your home, such as toy bins and dresser drawers
Similarly, if you want your children to play more and play well, surround yourself with playful resources and opportunities. Here are some ideas:
- Keep games accessible- keep cards in your purse or glove compartment, keep a basket of cards or trivia games on your kitchen counter and play for a few minutes during lunch
- Plan for play! Put a game out on the coffee table so your kids see it first thing in the morning
- Get outside every day and allow for unstructured nature play
2. Commit to reading aloud every single day/ Commit to playing every single day
Reading aloud is the most important thing you can do for your child’s future reading success. By reading aloud to your child, you are building his or her:
- Background knowledge
- Reading fluency
- Listening skills
Make a promise to read at least one book aloud to your children every single day. If you find you are too tired by the end of the day, start your morning off with a read-aloud. By reading a book at breakfast, you’ll be starting the day on the right foot.
Similarly, playing with your children and teens is the best way to ensure future gameschooling success. By playing board games with your children, you are building their:
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Attention and concentration skills
- Math skills
- Reading skills
- In addition to any other academic or non-academic areas that you wish to target through play.
Make a promise to prioritize play in your homeschool. If you find you can’t squeeze it in, try putting it first. This might sound scary, but I urge you to try it for a week. Connecting with your children can make for an easier homeschool day!
3. Allow your children to choose books…/Allow your children to choose board and card games…
Sure, they may not choose the books that you would choose, but if you want your children to be passionate about reading you have to let them discover what they love. In our family, each child has a library tote bag. Each week, they check out as many books as they can carry from the children’s section.
The same is true for gameschooling. Your children and teens may not choose the most Educational-with-a-capital-E game.
You may want to target a specific area of weakness not addressed in the game they select. That said, children learn through play! They are masters of learning through play.
4. …but sneak in a few titles/games to use for strewing
Children are always passionate about something. What is your child obsessed with at the moment? Guess what? There’s a book about that!
Every week, while my children are busy filling their library totes, I select a few additional books based on their current passions. Then, when we get home, I leave them out in plain view. Often, they will page through the book on their own but if they don’t, I just add it to our Coffee and Books stack and read it aloud later in the week.
The same is true for our gameschooling. My children don’t always select the most educational games, but that’s okay. They still learn something!
I want my children to enjoy play, and that means they will sometimes play a super goofy game when I’d rather we target math or geography. It’s okay, I promise.
Here’s what I do: I leave out a couple of games that work on the skill I’d like to target and I don’t say anything. Eventually, they will pick it up, and often they will ask to play. Asking them to play and offering popcorn or hot cocoa often results in a gameschooling win.
5. When they ask you to read Dinosaurumpus/play GUBS for the nine gazillionth time, say yes… even if you don’t love the book/game
Sometimes one of my children will approach me with a book that I have read a bazillion times. I’ll hear them walking down the hallway at bedtime and I don’t even need to see the book to know which one it is. In fact, I don’t even need to read the book. I have it memorized. For years, my children were obsessed with Dinosaurumpus. I can still recite it from memory!
If you want your children to love to read, they need to discover what they love. You might not love Captain Underpants or Rainbow Fairies, but if your child loves those books, you must honor that. This is how readers are born. You must fall in love with a book!
The same is true for gameschooling. Children learn through repetition. A game need not be Educational-with-a-capital-E for it to teach them something!
Would you like an example? Several years ago, my youngest son was obsessed with the quirky card game GUBS. We played it so often that my thumbs were sore from shuffling. And do you know what? I credit GUBS with teaching him to read.
Now, is GUBS an educational game?
Does it explicitly teach reading?
Also nope. Not even a little bit. This quirky card game has absolutely nothing to do with reading.
My point? Games do not need to be “educational” to teach something!
Children learn through repetition. Do not get discouraged if you feel that you are playing the same game every day! Passionate, delight-driven learning is amazing because it helps to make those little facts stick!
6. Make your read-alouds/gameschooling memorable
By creating memorable read-aloud moments, you are not only connecting to your children but you are also making reading a pleasurable experience for your child. When reading is fun, kids are going to want to do it!
I’m not saying that you need to make every read-aloud experience an over-the-top event, but just once in a while. Right now, we are reading the book Adventures with Waffles and you can bet we’ve been making waffles a lot!
The same is true for your gameschooling. No, you don’t need to make every gameschooling moment memorable, but it can help to make it memorable every so often. Add popcorn. Make hot cocoa. Play an escape room game and dress the part. Make house rules. Play silly games and laugh out loud.
Reading aloud connects us with our children. So too does gameschooling. And let me tell you- connection makes homeschooling a heckuva lot easier!
7. Focus on enjoying books/games, not on what your child is learning
Read the silly book and get lost in the moment. Enjoy the experience. Don’t count pages and chapters and set reading goals- just connect over the book together.
Play the game just to play it. Enjoy the moment as best you can. Don’t worry about what your child might be learning or what skills you wish they were learning.
In fact, don’t even talk about games as educational tools. If your child or teen views games as schoolwork, they aren’t going to want to do it!
8. Be a reading/gameschooling role model
Do you know what I do when I find a free minute? I read my book or play a game. Make sure your children see you reading and playing. Children learn by watching you, so give them something to imitate!
All play is learning, just as all read-alouds are important. A game doesn’t need to be “educational” for it to teach something.
It is often said that play is the language of childhood. Children learn through play. Adding more play to your homeschool day can help to fuel learning and boost connection.
And guess what? Connected kids tend to be more cooperative! Play can transform your homeschool atmosphere for the better.
And guess what else? Almost every game on the market today involves some stealth math. (You were worried about math, weren’t you??)
Education is so much more than academic skills.
When you sit down to play a game with your children and teens, you are teaching more than academic skills. You are teaching soft skills, those interpersonal skills that we all need to interact with others in the world.
Games help us practice communication skills, reading nonverbal cues, negotiation skills, collaboration, how to take turns, how to share, how to self-advocate, how to handle frustration, and how to win – and lose- with grace.
These are life skills. Practicing these skills will help your children right now and for many years to come.
Moreover, play is good for mental health. It lightens the mood, distracts, and makes us laugh.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, my family spent more time chucking burritos at each other than we did huddling over math books. And it helped us muddle through a pretty terrible homeschool season.
And, during the summer of 2020, when we were finally able to see our beloved grandparents for a weekend before hunkering down again, we connected -and laughed until we cried- by playing Beat That! outside on their deck.
Games don’t need to be Educational-with-a-capital-E for learning to occur.
If they want to play it over and over and over again, they are learning something. And I can share a recent example…
My boys love to play Dungeons and Dragons together. They absolutely adore it. And I love that they are connecting and making memories through play.
Well, during the winter of 2020-21, they enjoyed a D and D deep dive. They woke up every morning ready to play. And then something magical happened.
My youngest son (the one who learned to read by playing GUBS), hates to write. He will mathematically figure out the fewest letters required for any writing assignment. He will go boneless over even the shortest bit of writing.
But, he has the most amazing imagination. I would love to spend an hour in his mind because I am 100% certain that it is a complete blast.
Well… these two grew bored with their campaign (they only have a starter set right now) and decided they would create a new one. Both boys spent hours upon hours dreaming up, writing, and editing D and D campaigns.
They were doing this over CHRISTMAS VACATION. On their own accord! For many, many days! Pages and pages of writing!
This is the power of play.
I have witnessed the power of play when it comes to learning many times over the years- as a child, as a nanny, as a tutor, as a school psychologist, and now, as a homeschool mom. So much learning happens when we relax and let it!
How can we make gameschooling “count” for those year-end Homeschool Powers that Be?
I have some tips for you here:
- Make it Count! How to Document Gameschooling
- How to Document Your Gameschooling with this Free Gameschool Log
Would you like to learn more about gameschooling?
Here are some resources to get you started:
- The Ultimate Gameschooling Resource Page for Homeschool Families
- Gameschooling on a Budget: How to Play More without Breaking the Bank!
- How to Make Your Gameschooling Delicious and Irresistible
- Gameschooling by Subject: The Best Games for Your Homeschool
- 5 Absolutely Irresistible Games Kids Will Love
- Gameschooling by Age: How to Homeschool with Fantastic Educational Games
What’s your gameschool personality?
Find out here!
Add more play to your homeschool day with Gameschooling 101:
I poured my game-lovin’ heart and soul into this course. I truly believe homeschooling can be almost all fun and games. My goal is for other families to discover the joy of gameschooling and to add more play to their homeschool routine. Read more about Gameschooling 101.
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