VaHomeschoolers Voice Rewind- September 2008

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2008 issue of Voice Magazine.  Don’t miss Parrish when she speaks at the 2016 VaHomeschoolers Conference & Resource Fair on April 1 & 2, 2016.


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Playful Learning

Parrish Mort, Cartersville

 Much can be learned in play that will afterwards be of use when the circumstances demand it.

—John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic


We have all heard that “play is learning,” and as homeschoolers, we have the luxury of living this axiom through free and creative play or by playing games. In my family and in our co-op, games have always been a great way to learn or review any subject.

games for mathWhen my children were young, we often played games from Peggy Kaye’s series of books. A favorite game from her Games for Math was Grasshopper. On extra-large (5 x 8) colored index cards, I wrote the numbers 1 through 17, one number per card. We would lay the cards randomly on the floor all around the room, number side up. Then each child would go and stand on a card. Since my children are three and a half years apart, I always appreciated games that allowed for variations based on skill or knowledge, and Grasshopper was great in this way. I would begin by telling my oldest child something like, “find the number that is four more than the one you are standing on and walk like a crab to that card.” For my younger child, I might just tell her to find a specific number and to hop like a frog to that card. We would continue with lots of giggling and silliness until the oldest had done tons of addition and subtraction, the youngest had identified all the numbers, and they both had been transformed into snakes, kangaroos and any of an array of varied moving creatures. We laughed, and we learned.

Later we added educational board games to our homeschool days. Some were great (Bioviva® and Where in the World?®) and others were duds (Amazing Africa® where it is impossible to play unless you are already an expert on all the African countries). One that has been a lasting favorite for our family has been the Professor Noggins® series. The games in this collection are quiz style and are available in over 30 different varied topics, including Outer Space, Ancient Civilizations, Freshwater Life, Insects and Spiders, Countries of the World and Farm Animals. I highly recommend it as a supplement to history and science studies; there is a topic for most anything you could be studying.

Professor NogginEach game includes a set of 30 quiz cards and a three numbered die. On the front of each card is the topic of the questions for that card (example: from the Explorers set, a card topic is Navigation). On the back of each card are six questions—three under the title “easy” and three under “hard.” Having two levels of questions is one of the strengths of this game. Before you begin the game, each player can determine what level he or she will play. This makes it enjoyable and practical for a parent to play with a young child. But let me warn you: just because you are older doesn’t mean you are smarter or that you will know the answers. Many a child has delighted in my lack of knowledge on various subjects when playing Professor Noggins.®

Play is simple. A player rolls the die and that determines which question he or she will have to answer. The player to the right reads the question. It may be a true/false or multiple choice, or it may just be open-ended. If the answer given is correct, the player gets the card. If the answer is wrong, the card goes to the bottom of the pile to be played again later.

To add to the fun, there are brain buster questions (really hard ones) and Noggins’ Choice, which awards a player the opportunity to take a card from another player. The directions say the winner is the person who collects the most cards. I say everyone who plays wins because all the players learn so much.

I also have found games to be wonderful for more focused learning. At the end of a unit or series I am teaching in my co-op, I often create a Jeopardy®-type game. I write questions that act as a review for what we have studied, and the kids love it. Since I don’t believe in anyone being put on the spot and am not trying to test, I divide my students into teams. I even allow them to use their notes because I would much rather they look up something they can’t recall instead of forgoing an answer. And remember, Jeopardy is a game of speed, so they use notes only as a last resort. At the end of a game, I am always so impressed with how much knowledge the kids have acquired and retained and with how much fun and laughter the game has created.

I have adapted other games as well, such as Taboo,® which is also a team game. One player has to get teammates to say a word or phrase in one minute. The catch is that the player giving the clues can’t use designated related words. In my version, the words to guess on the cards would be some key figure, event or vocabulary word we have studied. For example, the phrase might be “Mayflower Compact,” and the list of banned words might include pilgrims, ship, month, powder, and agreement. This game forces students to really understand the topic and to stretch their vocabulary in their attempts to find new ways to express themselves without using the banned words. The game guarantees laughs because sometimes their attempts only make sense to themselves.

I have had many different types of students in my homeschool co-op classes over the years. Some have been more competitive, and some have been more reserved; some had a knack for the topic, and some weren’t really that interested in being there. But regardless of the student’s disposition, the games always seem to get everyone involved, laughing and appreciating what they know. So I stand by the statement: play is learning, and for my family, play is one of the best kinds of learning.

Parrish Mort is the former President and Executive Director of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers and mother to two wonderful young adults. For more great articles and ideas like this one, JOIN VaHomeschoolers and get Voice delivered right to your home as a membership benefit!

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