Gameschooling is something we talk about and recommend here all the time. It is a wonderful option for helping children learn. But what about using games to homeschool your child with learning differences? Can games really help when a child has special needs and learning challenges?
When my son was diagnosed with several learning disabilities a few years ago, one of the first things we were told to do was get him into educational therapy. An educational therapist is an educator who works one on one with a child, outside a classroom (or in our case, homeschool) to help determine learning strategies and accommodations needed to see improvement.
One of the things that surprised me about my son’s educational therapy sessions were how many games she employed in the learning. You see, I had been beating myself up for years, assuming that my son would’ve had a better education if I had focused more on traditional learning and less on interest-led, play based learning. I blamed myself for most of his learning challenges.
When I saw the therapist doing the exact same thing and even using some of the same games I had at a home, I was relieved and also, little taken aback. I asked her if she thought the games were helping. She replied something to to the effect of –
When children have learning differences, games are sometimes the only way they are able to master these skills. Using a multisensory, play based approach works for all kids, but I find it to be especially helpful with struggling learners.
Research shows play-based learning enhances a child’s academic and developmental learning outcomes. Learning with play can also set a child up for success in the 21st century by teaching them problem solving and imaginative skills.
So why do we doubt it’s efficacy for children with learning differences?
Can games really help when a child has special needs and learning challenges?
For many of us, the day our child is “diagnosed” is also the day we are given a list of tasks, resources, and expectations associated with how to help them. Very little is focused on really understanding our children’s learning needs, and instead often feels like a checklist.
Our looked like this.
- 20 minutes of reading practice a day, every day
- Educational Therapy 3 x’s a week
- Occupational Therapy for writing 2 x’s a week
- Additional testing by end of the month
… and so on and so on.
It felt like I was failing my child if I deviated from the expected learning and allowed for fun and games. Luckily, the actual expert (the educational therapist) was employing a much more child-led, play based approach. This was enough to encourage me to lean into games in our homeschool, not only as an “extra” but as a primary vehicle for everyday learning.
Using Games To Homeschool Your Child With Learning Differences
If your child has learning differences and is struggling with a particular subject or topic, I recommend starting with a game, rather than using games as a kind of extra, reward, or last resort.
For example, when my son struggled with sight words, we played Zingo everyday. He loved it and didn’t resist learning like he had with the daily flashcards we had been using.
This turned into throwing a football through cut-outs labeled with practice words as he got older.
Not only was this a lot more fun, it worked. The more we made reading practice a game, the more proficient he became, even with dyslexia.
We also used Twister to learn math facts, labeling the mat with different numbers and encouraging him to twist and turn to reach the right answer.
Looking back, I can honestly say that adding games to his learning was essential. In fact, for some subjects, it was the only way he was able to comprehend and retain the learning.
Gameschooling For Older Children With Learning Differences
I think that I always assumed play based learning was much more appropriate for younger kids. It seemed so much easier to add for an 8 year old.
But my son is 15 now – and he still needs this type of approach in his education.
The older he gets, the more I realized that using games to learn is possible for all ages. The games look different to be sure, but it is still the same essential concept. We gameschool now with video games, trivia, and every once in a while, that same football cut-out (but now the labels list cities around the globe, or the answers to his U.S. History exam).
Resources For Adding Games To Your Homeschool
If you are looking for ways to add more games to your child’s learning, we have a ton of resources available to help you every step of the way. Here are just a few of my favorites:
No matter where you begin, please, let me encourage you, using games to help a child with learning differences is not only possible, in my experience it is preferable and so much more effective!