Using games to fuel learning has so many benefits for kids. But what about gameschooling for the mom who doesn’t like playing games?
My friend, Amy, is here today to share her love of learning, but not necessarily love of games.
Can I tell you a secret?
I might need to whisper so the whole internet doesn’t hear…
I’m not really all that interested in playing games.
Wait, is it possible to be a fun homeschool mom (and even to gameschool) if Mom isn’t a huge fan of games herself? Yes!
Gameschooling for the Mom who Doesn’t Like Games
If you struggle with the idea of “gaming” your homeschooling, please know, you are not alone. Today, I’d like to debunk a few gameschooling myths and learn how to include games in our homeschool, even if we don’t think of ourselves as a “fun and games mom.”
Myth #1 – You Have to Play Games Every Day
Gameschooling doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.
When you aren’t naturally drawn to playing games with your kids, you’re probably not going to feel like spending hours every day playing games.
It can feel discouraging when you come to the internet and leave feeling like you’re not really a cool, fun, gameschooling mom. After all, it seems like all the Fabulous Families are playing a variety of amazing games together every day!
But like everything else you see on the internet, remember that All the People are not doing All the Things All the Time.
And even if there are some cool families who spend hours every day playing games?
It’s ok if you and your children don’t.
A little bit still counts.
One of the key tenets of my homeschool approach is that the plan you actually do is always better than the perfect, idealistic plan you never start.
Don’t give up and do nothing just because your gameschooling personality looks different than other mamas!
Rather than comparing yourself to the homeschooler next door, embrace the game-playing schedule that works for your own unique family.
Maybe that looks like formal game playing once a week… or even once a month.
(I’m actually kinda nervous typing that, worried I’ll get thrown out of the cool club. But I know I can’t be the only mama who needs to feel like they have permission to follow a more relaxed gameschooling approach!)
Sometimes that means I have to choose to purposefully suggest to my kindergartner, “Hey, would you like to play a game with Mommy during our special time together this morning?”
Sometimes that means I leave white space in the day so children who are more inclined to play games on their own have the time and inclination to give them a try.
Sometimes that means I facilitate opportunities for my kids to play games with other friends who enjoy games. (bonus tip: game playing with friends outside the family totally counts as gameschooling!)
Don’t let an idealized internet view of gameschooling rob you of the precious time you can and do spend playing with your children.
Done is better than perfect. Some is better than none.
Baby steps count, y’all.
Myth #2 – You Have to Coordinate Games with School Subjects
Can I tell you something? Just about every explicitly “educational” game our family has ever tried has been a dud in our house. I can’t even count how many I’ve sheepishly donated at the local thrift store over the years.
Kids are pretty savvy. They know when you’re trying to sneak a new vege onto the dinner plate, and they know when you’re trying to not-so-subtly replace a worksheet with a game.
So I have just completely released myself from trying to coordinate games with the specific subjects we’re studying. Instead, we just find a few games my kids actually enjoy and want to play.
(Don’t tell my kids!)
They’re still learning all sorts of stuff as they play!
Especially if you or your family aren’t currently all that into games? I doubt anyone is going to get excited about a game board that’s really a barely-disguised math worksheet.
But a game like Prime Climb? Now that’s a really fun math game that doesn’t feel like school to my kids! (Also, that time our 6-year-old and 8-year-old sibling pair defeated their 13-year-old math-genius sibling? It will go down in family lore.)
You can also use a few simple tweaks to increase the challenge and interest level of an ordinary game. For instance, Go Fish is a childhood staple, right? All you need to play is a regular deck of cards. But we love to take Go Fish to the next level and play “Go Ten.”
We take out the face cards and count the Ace as a “1.” Instead of looking for an identical match, we ask for a complementary card that will add up to 10. So, for instance, if I have a 2 card in my hand, I’ll ask my child if they have an 8. 10s count as wild cards and don’t need another card for a match.
For whatever reason, playing this game with a regular deck of cards works better for us than trying to find some sort of official addition facts game.
If you find it difficult to include games in your homeschool day like I do, skip a “use this game to teach this skill” list for now and instead find whatever games you and your kids will genuinely be excited to play.
The awesome thing (and the secret sauce of gameschooling) is that you will still be reinforcing concepts like logic, math, language skills, and more!
If homeschooling has taught us anything it is that sometimes the best learning opportunities are the ones that come in unconventional ways!
Here are a few of our family’s other favorite games:
- Beat the Parents (A kids -v- parents matchup always makes for a hysterical family evening, and I love seeing the kids ganging up on us together instead of ganging up on each other!)
- Giant Uno
- Hoot Owl, Hoot (and other cooperative games from Peaceable Kingdom)
- Busytown Eye Found It
- Spot It
- Carcassonne (this is a magical game for the mom who doesn’t like playing games because it doesn’t go on forever! I’m looking at you, Dominion and Catan)
- Dominion (snide comment above notwithstanding, this is one that has been played often, especially when we have other friends visiting)
- We also love the Shakespearean Deaths card game, but that may just because we’re total Shakespeare nerds in our house. I wouldn’t recommend it for sensitive children due to the gruesome nature of most Shakespearean death scenes.
- We recently tried our first Escape the Room game in a box and included the grandparents! If you have kids who won’t get too stressed by a time limit and who love figuring out puzzles, this is a great social game idea. I liked that we were all working together to defeat the game rather than each other.
Myth #3 – You Have to Play Every Game with Your Kids
Sometimes I just can’t bring myself to play a game, but I know my children would really benefit from and enjoy some game time.
What’s a mom to do then?
Find games your children can play independently or with minimal parental assistance!
Ok, so one of the things I dread most during game time is sibling conflict. I just want this to be FUN and instead all I’m doing is breaking up fights and gaining more experience for a future career as a hostage negotiator.
Nope, sometimes there just isn’t enough coffee in the world to get me through that.
That’s why I love cooperative games, because we can all use a little peacemaking help in our lives, right?
Another benefit of cooperative games is that it levels the playing field if you have large age ranges in your family
Our younger kids are fans of the cooperative games from Peaceable Kingdom, and my older teens have enjoyed cooperative games like Pandemic.
A savvy homeschool mama friend of mine also suggested I look into single person games. This sounds like the perfect solution for a not-so-into-games mom like me. She recommended adding a few SmartGames to our collection.
The Secret To Gameschooling When You Don’t Like Games: Embrace What Makes Your Family Unique!
For a long time I assumed I just wasn’t a fun mom, and certainly would never have claimed the title “gameschooler.”
But my friend Mary encouraged me, “Step back a little bit. You’re probably a lot more fun than you think. You’re possibly looking at someone else’s fun and thinking ‘Oh, I should be that,’ but maybe that’s not your fun.”
And then Cait reminded me, “Play is important, and gameschooling is great for homeschoolers because it’s the intersection of homeschooling and play because you can quantify it in a way that is a lot harder with free play for parents. But the main thing is play. And I think everybody likes to play.”
Everybody likes to play…
My fun may usually look a lot more like Shakespearean melodrama in the living room, Hamilton sing-alongs in the kitchen, and plenty of field trips to historic battlefields than it does like board games at the kitchen table.
Your fun will look like the unique combination of serious and silly that makes your own family unique.
But that still means that joy, exploration, wonder, and delight are characterizing our homeschools.
Play isn’t just one thing.
Fun and games really can characterize our homeschools if we embrace the unique playfulness preferences of our own families.
And when we’re ready to step outside our comfort zones and embrace new challenges? We may just find that our definition of fun begins to expand!
A Note From Cait:
Isn’t Amy an absolute natural with this type of learning? I love her honesty and willingness to gameschool, despite her own preferences regarding playing games!
You should also know that Amy Sloan and her husband John are 2nd-generation homeschoolers to 5 children from 5 to 15 years old!
The Sloan family adventures together in NC where they pursue a restfully-classical education by grace alone. If you hang out with Amy for any length of time you’ll quickly learn that she loves overflowing book stacks, giant mugs of coffee, beautiful memory work, and silly memes. At any moment she could break into song and dance from Hamilton, 90s country music, or Shakespeare. Amy writes at HumilityandDoxology.com and hosts the weekly “Homeschool Conversations” podcast.
Are you looking for support on your play-based learning and gameschooling journey?
Check out Never Board Learning, an online membership community for creative parents and educators who embrace play-based learning. Never Board Learning features a private forum (not FB), guest speakers, Q and As, day-in-the-life family spotlights, a growing resource library, and more! Here’s a sneak peek:
Thank you so much for giving me the chance to share our family’s approach to fun and games in our homeschool! Your perspective over the years has been of great encouragement to me. 💓
Thank YOU for sharing your tips and tricks with the MLP community. Your advice is GOLD. Thankful for you!
I don’t love gaming (I like it okay, but it’s not an everyday thing for me), but my husband LOVES to play games. I’ve learned to embrace that “gameschool” can happen at the table with dad after dinner, sometimes as a family and sometimes while momma takes a quiet bath alone.
I love this, Amy! And a quiet bath alone sounds like a WIN 🙂
I love these tips! One of my favorite games to play with my little is Q-Bitz — he’s 5, so we don’t race or anything. 🙂 But I appreciate knowing that other moms struggle to enjoy playing games all the time, too.
Glad it resonated, Alexa. Q-Bitz is such a fun one. Glad you are enjoying it with your little!
Thank you so much for this. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. I *do* love some games at the right time, but it’s hard for me to just stop and play a game in the middle of the day. I’m going to try it!
You are definitely not alone, Sophie. Let us know how Amy’s tips work for you!