We’ve all been there – a school concept baffled and frustrated you until a creative teacher presented the idea in a way that just clicked. For me, one of those moments happened in a high school history class. We were studying The Red Scare and how quickly it overtook and terrified the American people. To our naive, 15-year-old brains, it was hard to understand how this could happen so easily. Our teacher was prepared for this and used a social deduction game to prove how quickly we would turn on each other. I don’t remember the details of the game, except that we were each given a note card. Some cards had a red dot on them to identify us as “communists.” The class quickly devolved into accusations and chaos. The game specifics have blurred over the years, but the lessons learned remain.
This experience and similar ones from other students (corroborated by numerous studies, some of which are cited or referenced in this article), prove that children learn by active involvement in experiences. When children use all five senses, the brain creates pathways that improve and quicken the retention of information.
In their book, How People Learn, Bransford, Brown, and Cocking illustrate how multi-sensory learning can affect the brain. One of their studies reared rats in cages with and without play objects. The following excerpt illustrates the result of this study:
The weight and thickness of the cerebral cortex can be measurably altered in rats that are reared from weaning, or placed as adults, in a large cage enriched by the presence both of a changing set of objects for play and exploration and of other rats to induce play and exploration (Rosenzweig and Bennett, 1978). These animals also perform better on a variety of problem-solving tasks than rats reared in standard laboratory cages. Interestingly, both the interactive presence of a social group and direct physical contact with the environment are important factors: animals placed in the enriched environment alone showed relatively little benefit; neither did animals placed in small cages within the larger environment (Ferchmin et al., 1978; Rosenzweig and Bennett, 1972). Thus, the gross structure of the cerebral cortex was altered both by exposure to opportunities for learning and by learning in a social context.
Children and adults are active learners; they learn best by being involved in activities which use as many senses as possible. Learning that isolates concepts without any associated experience don’t trigger emotional and sensory ares of the brain, which limits retention and comprehension. Combining activities that engage multiple areas of the brain allows the brain to fire in different ways, and create more reference points for the information. In a report by D.G. Treichler, as cited in the journal “Trends in Cognitive Sciences,” he stated that “people generally remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they see and hear.” Using learning that combines as many senses as possible benefits students of all learning styles.
What is Gameschooling?
Gameschooling is a term that has been around for a very long time; however, the origin of the word are uncertain. In recent years it has come to mean intentionally including tabletop gaming in your regular home school curriculum. Families who gameschool see games as essential to their daily ritual. It has recently been popularized and integrated into mainstream homeschooling, further embraced by the revolution of “unschooling.”
Each family gameschools a bit differently. If you prefer structure and curriculum, there are gameschooling groups that have suggested games for different subjects; if you unschool and prefer an informal schedule, try any game or let your adventurous children pick out their favorite! Do what works best for your family.
Social media, especially Instagram and Facebook, have facilitated and grown the community for gameschooling families. Groups like Gameschooling (Homeschooling with Games) post daily suggestions and tools. Members are encouraged to post their tips and tricks for integrated games into schooling and to ask questions from the community. Within the group, there is a variety of subject-specific game lists and suggestions for teachers/parents to choose from and utilize.
We spoke with the creator of this group, Megan Grooms, about her experience with gameschooling and how the group came to be.
Interview with Megan Grooms, creator of popular gameschooling group.
Q: Tell me a little about how and who you gameschool. Why did you decide to gameschool?
We’re a long-time homeschooling family and my first three children took to learning as many kids do. My 4th child (out of 6) was different. He craves movement and hands-on learning, it was a constant struggle to meet his needs. One day I bought a printable game from Teachers Pay Teachers, it was a Candy Land© type of game with cookies and candy for the tokens & a cute little peppermint stick trail to follow. To move forward a spot, players had to do a subtraction problem. We played the game and my son nonchalantly said: “I like playing games for school.”
It hit me hard and fast – gameschooling was what worked for my son!
I have 4 kids of compulsory age at the moment, they are 5, 12, 14, and 16. My older kids are grown-ups and unfortunately they missed out on many of our gameschooling experiences.
Q: How long have you been gameschooling?
We started to intentionally add games to our routine about 7 years ago. We have been homeschooling for much longer, over 20 years.
Q: Do you feel like gameschooling is for every family? Why or why not?
I don’t believe anything is right for every family, but I do believe strongly in delayed academics in favor of play. I do recognize that there are a lot of reasons why families may eschew tabletop gaming, and one of my goals is to show people that there is another way to approach gaming. Games go so far beyond Monopoly and there is a breakthrough game for everyone. I want to help people find the motivation to play that first game, then the second, then the third…
Q: How has your gameschooling approach changed since you began? What is working for you now?
When we began gameschooling I was too deliberate. Games became frustrating, kids weren’t sitting still, & I was ending the games early due to arguments. It was not a nice time. The problem was that I was choosing games for their educational value and not the gaming experience. Once I let go of the ideas that games had to be overtly educational, and that I needed to schedule them, things really blossomed.
Q: What is your biggest surprise about gameschooling? Is there an unexpected benefit or drawback in it?
All games are educational! Before gameschooling I would look at games like Pretty, Pretty Princess (which my family renamed Pretty, Pretty Person) and see fluff with no educational value whatsoever. Once we began gameschooling I saw so much more; communication skills, color matching, turn-taking, being a good sport, family bonding. These “soft skills” as I call them are more important than many of us realize.
I see three drawbacks:
- It’s very easy to spend a lot of money on games. The positive, however, is that your friendly local game shop (FLGS) usually allows you to try before you buy, sometimes offer a used game selection, and many offer trade-in incentives.
- You will run out of storage room. I urge you to visit some resale shops for storage furniture, or do what I do and hang shelves in the garage. Whatever you decide to do, it’s probably not enough storage anyhow 😉
- Sometimes kids don’t like to play games & may act out when you’re playing. Try casually introducing shorter games or another style of game. Basically, whatever you’re trying, do the opposite and see what happens. If they still don’t want to play games, no worries, try again in a few months.
Q: What would your absolutely perfect gameschooling day look like?
I’d wake up at 10am and all of my kids would still be asleep. I’d have time to play a quick solo brain game while I drink copious amounts of coffee without getting the jitters. My kids would start waking up and cook themselves a healthy breakfast complete with whole grains and fruit. Then we’d pick a few quick-play games (we really like quick plays for the day as we’re so busy.) My 5-year-old would take a nap. The kids would clean up as I cooked dinner, and then we’d settle in for a longer game in the evening.
Do things ever end up going like that? Nah, but one can dream.
Q: What is your favorite gameschooling memory so far?
GameschoolCon©! I know, you expected me to share a memory about playing with my children, alas, no. I absolutely loved every minute I spent at the convention. I got to hang around with hundreds of other people who gameschool, and I even got to speak about our experience.
Q: Do you find your family is able to enjoy games for entertainment after gaming for school?
While we certainly have family game nights that are enjoyable, we believe that every gaming experience is educational.
Q: Do you find your kids enjoy/connect better with their schoolwork more now that they gameschool?
Absolutely! They get to pick what they study and I can ALWAYS find a game that will benefit their interest in some way. Fortunately, most of my kids enjoy gaming as much as I do, so it’s been an easy addition.
Q: What has been your favorite, go-to game?
For quick play, it’s a tie between NiYa & King Domino, both by Blue Orange Games©.
For longer play and family game nights it’s a tie between Betrayal at House on the Hill (Avalon Hill©) & Mysterium (Asmodee©). My husband would list Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder©) but I only grudgingly play TTR. And no, none of us like Settlers of Catan© (heresy, I know!)
Q: What was the moment in time when you absolutely knew you had made the right decision to gameschool?
December 2015. We had just left our hometown of Orlando, FL to move to Washington State. We didn’t know a soul in Washington and the days and evenings were often very lonely. To break up the tension one night I pulled out Explore the World (Outset Media©) and we all sat down to play. We had such a good time. At one point my son had to make a tower out of household objects in a minute or less.
Seeing the glee on his face as he ran back and forth sealed the deal for me. This was working, these are the moments all parents dream of having.
Q: What would you go back and change if you could?
I would step back and realize that games don’t have to be categorized as a math game, or a reading game, or whatever, to be educational. I wouldn’t have turned fun-time into fight-club.
Q: As a gameschooling mom, what is your own special take on it – or what have you learned that you would like to pass on?
I want all educators to know about the value of play, and not just for young children! We don’t need to over-educationalize (that’s not a real phrase but it should be) every single thing you do. Relax and let the learning happen naturally.
Q: About the group you’ve created, why did you decide to create it?
I wanted to find a way to connect with other homeschoolers who believe in the value of play and gaming. I wanted to find a forum where people could talk about the educational value of gaming, something you just don’t hear about in the tabletop gaming world. I wanted a place where people could get game recommendations without having to wade through irrelevant posts about religion, something difficult to find in the homeschooling community. I wanted a place that was safe for LGBTQ+ folks, people of color, & people with varying abilities; the underrepresented population of gamers who are often unwelcome in the homeschooling & game community. I saw that other people wanted this too and the group was born.
Q: How long have you been running it?
We’ve been around for 3 ½ years, though the website has existed for 7 years. The group really started taking off in late 2018, in fact, we just welcomed our 9,000th member!
Q: How has it benefitted you?
Almost every game I now own (over 100!) is due to the group. I’m certainly not an expert and I have learned as much from the group as anyone else.
Q: Tell me a little bit about it and the service you provide.
The intent of Homeschool Gameschool is to bring the world of gameschooling to parents & educators around the world. We aim to do this in a fashion that emphasizes the inclusion of minority populations. Our group is an extension of the website HomeschoolGameschool.com, where you can find game reviews, game lists organized by subject & grade, and other cool stuff. We also have a shop where you can download cool printable games, posters, and gameschooling logs. I hope to see you there!
Back to school game suggestions
Do you include games into your schooling routine or to reinforce topics learned at school? We would love to hear about it! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.