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How to Teach with Games

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

There is so much information out there about why playing and games are important to the learning process. You can find our post about why you should use games for learning here. Knowing something and implementing something are quite different things though. The question is, ultimately, how do to use games to help a child learn and feel confident that learning will, in fact, occur. It is going to take some intentionality, observation, and creativity as you expand the learning experience to include game-based learning.

Some games are obvious in their learning elements. Your child is not going to be surprised that they are practicing their spelling and vocabulary when you pull out a game of Scrabble or Bananagrams. There are a large array of board games, apps, and video games that directly teach your child a skill. You can see it and so can your child. These types of games are a great way to get started in game-based teaching. You will be able to pull them out confidently, knowing just what the game will teach. They work well to play as practice for skills you have been working on with your child. A game of Mobi, for instance, is much more fun than pages of practice problems for simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. You can find a great list of starter games for your gameschool here.

There are many games that are less obvious but will also allow for deeper discussion or more challenging skills. We have found Roll Player to be a surprisingly great game for learning. There is no apparent learning in our son’s eyes, but when I look at the game, I see it everywhere. The dice are causing him to do algebraic equations, which we haven’t even covered yet. He is doing strategy, reading, and budgeting his funds. As you play games with your child, intentionally look for what skills they are using and make a note of them.

Intentionally discussing the theme of a game will extend the learning value of the game beyond the basic skills it requires. For example, while playing Colors of Paris our son is practicing resource and time management skills. Our discussion leads to types of paint and materials artists use, who the artists in the game were, where and when they lived, what they painted, and the list goes on. Each time we play, I am intentionally pointing out new things to discuss if my son doesn’t naturally ask his own questions, which he usually does. Teaching with games isn’t a race. Allow for the learning to happen naturally. Dig deeper if your child has questions or wants to learn more. We watched several documentaries about Boudicca because she was on a card in a game of Similo History. None of us knew who she was, so we found out. Allow these natural curiosities to lead to learning new things together.

Perhaps there is a skill you want to practice or a topic you want to cover that can’t be found inside the games you have. This is a perfect time to adapt them. A very simple game adaptation is to use your games to practice foreign language skills. Create rules about what type of words you will use. A game of Guess Who or Dinosaur Tea Party might have the rule that you need to use the past tense in your language of study. Our favorite game to change is Word on the Street. We create our own clue cards that are themed to the topics we are studying. Another example is using a checkbook ledger to keep track of money in money-based games. It gives your child the practice and is a very simple way to change a game.

Playing games is a fun and engaging way to learn. Making games multiplies the learning. Making a board game is a fantastic game-based learning project. It will ultimately end with playing a game, but the lead up to that game play can be incredible. Encourage your child to express what they have learned through the creation of a game instead of a report. This project is especially helpful if your child does not like to write. Creating a good game will require significant research and putting that information into the game will require comprehension of that information. They will practice verbal and written communication as they teach and write the rules. This one project alone can cover language arts, math, art, and science/social science depending of the topic of the game. We have an 8 week design a game class, for free, here.

Start your game-based learning with what you have at home. Your collection doesn’t need to be vast. You can grow your game collection easily with print and play games that are very affordable or often free. You can find many options for inexpensive or free game options here. If you have old games that are missing pieces or in disrepair, save the pieces to start a game bit collection for your child’s game making projects. Ultimately, have fun with gameschooling. It doesn’t need to be hard or complicated. Whether you occasionally play a game for some fun practice or use games as your lessons, it will have an impact on your learners. Keep notes for your own knowledge of what has been learned or practiced but focus on the fun and engagement you are having together.

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