Games We Play: About games and learning
This is part 1 of a series. In this post I explain why we play games and how we play them so that kids don’t kill each other because they are loosing. I will also talk about how we adapted games to suit different age levels and how our games have changed as the kids have grown.Future posts in this series will give more specific games, ways we have played them, and the educational benefit of each.
Everyone was talking about games yesterday, which got me thinking about our favorites. We play a lot of games around here–video games, board games, computer games, physical games, word games, you name it. Games are a big part of an unschooling lifestyle and we, despite being a non-competitive family, love games.
We have found that games are the perfect prompt when nothing else will get a kid moving in the right direction. When boredom hits it is time for a game. A long car ride or a visit to the doctors office means it is time for a game. A quiet evening or a rainy afternoon is time for a game. Games are what happen when we have a guest, or when someone is away from home, when we are out of movies, or when we are waiting in line. A question, more often than not, is enough to prompt a game. Because we don’t do traditional school the kids think of questions as games.
“How do you spell…..?”
“Can you find….?”
“How do they make….?”
“Why do you think….?”
Occasionally a statement will start it.
“Nibble, nibble little ___________, who’s been nibbling on my ____________?”
“I have ____ _____and I need ____, how many more do I need?”
“I spy with my little eye something ______ .”
Sometimes the game is a simple question answer game, sometimes a game is on the computer, on the Wii, verbal, physical, a board game, a scavenger hunt, whatever suits the moment. And almost always, the game gets adjusted to suit our needs. Very seldom do we play strictly by the rules and often (much to the consternation of my mother-in-law) the rules get tossed completely. Games of Scrabble degrade into a crossword game of how many words can we make fit on the board. Games of toss degrade into how far away can I get and still catch the football. Even video games degrade into a game of pretend (Mario has spent more time being a brother to someone else than looking for Sunshine sprites) or games of dress-up (my kids have designed numerous superheroes for City of Heroes though they have never played the game.) More often than not it starts when someone playing a traditional game says “what if” and we all try to see what the results will be. Sure it means that we don’t remember the original rules for most games but we get to adapt and create and learn all sorts of things we wouldn’t be learning if we stuck to the rules.
When the kids were younger we adapted every game so that it was simpler to play (we didn’t buy Jr. editions because those are usually boring but we simplified the rules so each child could play and enjoy themselves). We also found that usually it is better NOT to keep score. Yes, we keep score when we play with grownups but if we are playing ourselves we don’t. Instead we focus on having fun and coming up with ways to make the game better.
If we do keep score then we use handicap or allow those who are at a different stage of learning to have different rules so the game is less frustrating. When we play word games then the non-reader (or early reader) gets points for recognizing or spelling any real words instead of 3 letter words (like in Boggle). If they are very new readers then they get a partial point just for finding a word even if it isn’t spelled quite right–I correct their spelling so they know next time but they get a half point for trying to find a word. As they learn they get less of a cushion and are expected to do it right. Now that I have all readers with only one new reader we play more by the original rules without much frustration.
My goal is for them to love the games without being frustrated at not having the knowledge or understanding to actually play. We find that by adapting the games to each child’s needs they still enjoy playing even if they are not very good at it, and the bonus is that as they play and we adapt the rules they get better at the game until they get to the point where they can actually play the game for real.