The Educational Value of Games
by Beverley Paine, Jan 2008
Through play children learn and develop the skills and understanding they need to cope as adults. Time spent playing a game is often underrated as far as learning goes because there isn't a concrete product at the end we can hold up and say, "See what I did today! Aren't I worthwhile?" The object of playing games isn't to impress others with our ability; it is to enjoy a challenge and to have fun. Winning isn't always the goal: working out how to play the game so that we have a better chance of winning is often the most satisfying aspect of playing. This is what naturally draws children to playing games: the learning that is inherent in all games.
As home educators we used games to help to introduce and reinforce educational concepts and skills in our children. Often I couldn't find an 'off the shelf' game that suited our individual needs so I had to make one. I once looked for a game that would help the children learn or revise basic number facts, not in a dull way such as repetitive drill work that the children found meaningless and boring, but as a part of every-day life, teaching them a skill they would need to naturally use. We already regularly played 'shop' games using props and items from our dress-up box, but I thought a board game would hone the particular maths skills further. All of the games we saw in the shops required reading skills beyond Thomas's level (he was four at the time), and Roger still needed occasional help. This meant that I would have to play with the children, which wasn't always convenient. Instead we created a game we called Shopping Spree that teaches as much about budgeting and strategy as it does about money handling. It also reinforces basic number skills in the most natural way possible! We made lots of board games just for fun too, but most of them had some kind of educational purpose. Often I kept this to myself, knowing that when the children played the game they would naturally learn the desired skill or concept. Making games required a lot of careful thought and planning, and a fair bit of experimentation.
The children enjoyed making games without my help as well. One complex game, using LEGO, took them four years to develop and would take hours to play. Making games is usually cheaper than going out and buying them, although Shopping Spree cost almost $40: thick card, play money and so on, soon added up, to our surprise! However, there are games I wouldn't hesitate to buy. Contact , made by Ravensburger is one of these. We owned several quality Ravensburger games, including Labyrinth and Enchanted Forest. Although these look like a lot of fun they reinforce very many basic educational skills across several curriculum subjects.
In adult life people play games all the time without realising it. I like to think of work as play, especially work that I love to do and would spend all day doing it if I could. Mathematicians and scientists love to play in this way and see their work as playing games: number games, spatial puzzles, strategy games and logic games. They take a "game" that has been played and won by somebody else and then they change the rules a little. They watch how the play of the game changes and how the outcomes change as a result. When mathematicians and scientists, as well as artists and musicians, play around like this they are experimenting. And every so often, they make up whole new games! This is the main way that children learn until they go to school. It's there that the message that learning is work, and that work and play are not the same thing, is reinforced.
There are lots of ways to change game rules: sometimes a simple change can have a major impact on how the game is played and how things turn out. You might decide to let someone skip a turn, have an extra turn, introduce another die, or change the point scoring system. You could, as we did with Star Wars Monopoly , make more Chance and Community Chest cards. When we made the game Shopping Spree , it took ages to get the rules right. Each time we played the game we found we needed to adjust the rules because the game simply wouldn't work. The skills learned by creating and making our own games covered just about every subject in the curriculum but really came into their own teaching and reinforcing maths, language and technology skills.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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