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As homeschool parents, we look for creative ways that make learning fun for our children without sacrificing quality education. A child who can participate in all three learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, has a distinct advantage. Most educators agree that a higher percentage of learning occurs when there is interaction. A great way to incorporate all three learning styles into your lesson plans is by using puzzles and games. Puzzles and games are not just fun; they are educational too, right? Actually they are. Some day little Noah may use these skills to become a burgeoning astronaut and here’s why: Experts are saying puzzles are powerful. According to Istar Schwager, Ph.D., an educational psychologist and Consulting Editor of HighlightsParents.com (www.HighlightsParents.com) there is strong connection between brain development and the problem-solving skills used to solve puzzles.1 Problem solving requires two types of mental skill: analytical and creative. Analytical skills include ordering, comparing, contrasting, evaluating, and selecting. Creative thinking uses the imagination to step outside of the box of logical answers to find a larger range of solutions. Children need to develop both. Author of Puzzle Based Learning, Professor Zbigniew Michalewicz from the School of Computer Science, University of Adelaide, says, “What is missing from most curricula—from elementary school through college—is the development of problem solving skills.” Taking time for puzzles and games during your school day can build these skills without a lot of effort.2 Puzzles develop vital spatial concepts: under and over, in and out, above and beneath. Some researchers from the University of Chicago believe that learning spatial words and concepts at an early age increases children’s capacity for later spatial thinking. This means more success for children in math, science, and technology when reaching high school and college. This translates into better paying jobs. Puzzles enhance sequencing, patterns, and memory skills, all necessary for higher forms of mathematics and technology. They also develop eye-hand coordination and small motor skills in young children. The mastering of these small motor skills lead to better writing and keyboarding—something crucial in our modern, computer-based society. Adding knowledge-based puzzles widens the learning potential. There are puzzles on geography, the solar system, parts of anatomy, famous artists and their works, and bilingual numbers and letters. Kaplan (www.kaplanco.com) makes many good educational puzzles, such as their Numbers Sound Puzzle. This twenty-one-piece wooden puzzle pronounces the name of each number when a piece of the puzzle is placed correctly. Their super size (20” x 30”) Giant Lifecycle puzzles (4) can be purchased individually or as a set. They are made of durable foam and perfect for 4-year-olds and up. For the older child, 8 years old and up, they have a two-hundred-piece Solar System jigsaw puzzle.
TAG (Think and Grow, www.tagtoys.com) produces many sturdy, award-winning, laminated puzzles that are designed for 1- to 6-year-olds. They have a Size Comparison Puzzle and Make-Your-Own Picture Puzzle in which the child draws his own puzzle picture on washable pieces and is able to reuse them. Puzzles aren’t the only fun way to bolster learning success. Incorporating games into your school time also hosts a cornucopia of advantages. Board games are rich in learning opportunities: language arts, spelling, vocabulary, reading, math, strategy, problem solving, and critical thinking. As an added bonus they also build social skills, encourage fair play, taking turns, being a good sport, and learning to stay within boundaries. They can also satisfy healthy competition or the desire to master a new skill. Preschoolers: Willy’s Wiggly Web promotes eye-hand coordination while children cut a spider’s web to free bugs. Stone Soup (www.peaceablekingdom.com) promotes memory and cooperation. Lacing Left to Right (www.therapyshoppe.com) for children aged 3 and older offers a plethora of fine motor and directional skills. Highly recommended! Math Skills: For younger children, games that build simple math skills include the classic Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land. Yahtzee and Math Bingo are perfect for using multiplication facts and reinforcing addition skills. A new game for children aged 8 and up is Rodeo Rummy a counting dice game that teaches how to play Rummy and requires additional skills to tally up the score. Language Arts: A fun, new, award-winning game is You’ve Been Sentenced! (www.mcneilldesigns.com). Build zany sentences that are grammatically correct and make sense or you will be “sentenced.” Bull’s Eye (www.dnafamilygames.com), for ages 8 and up, works on language and math together. Classic words games are Boggle, Scrabble, and Alphabet Bingo. Critical Thinking Skills and Problem Solving: Games in this category include Stratego, Blokus, and a current favorite of many, Settlers of Catan, for ages 8 and up, which enhances probability calculations, negotiation, planning, and risk. Two new games on the market for younger children aged 5 and up for reasoning and logic are Meta-Forms (www.foxmind.com) and Race to the Treasure (www.peaceablekingdom.com). In these games, players strategize, cooperate, and build the path to reach the treasure together. Creativity: This is the other half of problem-solving skills that encourages a child to find solutions by thinking outside of the box. Creativity is critical in business, communications, and entrepreneurship. Pitch It! (www.pitchitgame.com) is for ages 13 and up, although our 10-year-old loved it! This is my hands-down favorite game, in which kids must create a product, slogan, and logo to pitch to an unusual people group, such as marketing barbeque grills to opera singers. Morphology (www.morphologygames.com) for ages 8 and up is a hands-on building game in which each player must get his teammate to guess a word or action by “building it” with the materials given. Social Studies and Science: History can be enhanced with 1812-The Invasion of Canada (www.academy-games.com) for ages 10 and up. Learn facts about the war while setting up your battle pieces and strategize to win the game. Travel around the globe with Reading Nook’s (www.thereadingnook.com) 10 Days in Africa
strategy game. Animal lovers will like Fauna (www.foxmind.com) for ages 8 and up; it teaches animal facts and geography. Economics can be learned through the classic games Monopoly and Life, as players learn to save, spend, and invest money. Nutrition and Manners: A great way to learn about nutrition (other than workbooks) is to play MyPlate Food Bingo (www.smartpicks.com) for ages 9 and up. It encourages eating nutrition-dense foods with important questions such as “What are gluten-free grains and added sugars?” Responsibility Bingo for grades 1– 5 (www.kaplanco.com) teaches character skills such as responsibility and respect. There are even games to learn manners for ages 5 and up with Blunders, and fun Manner Mats placemats (www.patchproducts.com) to reinforce them at dinnertime. Bible: Expand your knowledge of Christian history by comparing people, places, and events with Apples to Apples, Bible Edition. Or blurt out topics like “Names of Christ” or “Sons of Jacob” in the fast-paced game OUTBURST Bible Edition. There is even BibleOpoly in which you build churches instead of hotels and lose a turn by landing on “Go Meditate.” How can you incorporate games and puzzles when your list of bookwork is ever growing? It helps to plan. Some families use games once a week in place of a particular subject to mix things up; for instance, instead of studying language arts on Thursday afternoons, instead, play a game that reinforces language arts skills. Using games as a reward is a great motivator to complete daily or weekly school subjects so children can have “game time.” Older children can play a game with restless younger children. Games can also be used when a child is behind in math or language or has a short attention span. Boys in particular have a need to “wiggle.” Making your own homemade games such as Bingo, Go Fish, memory/matching, or phonogram cards can enhance a young child’s eye-hand coordination. Children can use scissors to cut out images from magazines and glue them onto card stock. This is a great activity for a younger child who may need to keep busy while Mom is schooling the older children. Kris Bales, author of Weird and Unsocialized Homeschoolers blog, suggests repurposing traditional board games to practice basic skills in vocabulary, math, sight words, or events: “Players roll the die and must answer questions/state facts before moving the number rolled. For example, a child might read six sight words if he rolled a six.”3 Educationally Challenged Children: By keeping games and rules simple, you give the ADHD child time to master skills incrementally, which helps him to feel good about himself. Carol Brady, Ph.D., a Houston child psychologist , counsels parents of ADHD children to look for games that help build the capacity to focus, handle frustration, and play by the rules.4 Playing games increases one’s concentration and expands learning boundaries in a non-threatening environment. Ellen Kingsley, contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Living Well with Attention Deficit, lists the following Milton Bradley games as helpful for children with attention disorders:5
• Incremental Learning: This can be bolstered nicely with the Fishing Game. It’s great because it grows with a child when he is 5 to 8 years old. He can master simple skills one step at a time. • Anticipating Consequences: Chinese Checkers is simple and helps kids develop their capacity to plan and think ahead. • Anticipate Success and Dealing with Failure: Chutes and Ladders fosters these qualities, something vital for the ADHD child. Dr. Brady believes “you can help them practice how to manage failure, particularly when you’re so close to winning. And you can stress the importance of recovering quickly from disappointments, because if you continue on, you still can get to the top.” 6 • Problem Solving and Organization: Clue, the crime-resolving game, can create a safe environment where children can learn that impulsive actions are counterproductive. There are games and puzzles for every age, and now that the facts are in, take time to include puzzles and games in your homeschooling schedule. They are far more than fun; they help develop the minds of tomorrow. Each family member can be included, and you can rest assured that there will be a whole lot of learning going on. Who knows? Little Noah just may become the next astronaut after all. Jan May is author of Isabel’s Secret, the New Millennium Girl’s mid-grade novel series, and Creative Writing Made Easy. During her fifteen years as homeschool mom and creative writing teacher, she has discovered that given the right tools, any child can write and love it! She enjoys creating wholesome books with vibrant faith. Visit her website for kid’s crafts and recipes: www.newmillenniumgirlbooks.com. Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Pitch It! Want a fun night with the kids and build thinking skills and promote creativity at the same time? Try Pitch It! (pitchitgame.com). It’s my hands-down favorite game for kids 10 and up by MoeFamilyFun. It was great for multiple age levels, including adults. The box states that it is for ages 13 and up, but our 10-year-old loved it and even won a round! It exercises the use of both analytical and creative critical thinking skills by asking players to come up with the best million-dollar idea. This game consists of two decks of cards. One deck has “What” cards, which assign a product to be sold, such as coffee makers, raincoats, or bug spray. Another deck has “Who” cards, which designate to whom players will pitch the product, such as
zookeepers, barbers, or opera-performers. The fun begins when you have to come up with a product to sell barbeque grills to opera-performers! Each player gets a play sheet to prepare a sales pitch in three ways: • Product name—make it catchy, clever, or distinctive • Slogan—make up a fun jungle or slogan to entice the buyers • Logo—draw your logo or a picture of your product Once everyone has filled out a play sheet, each player takes a turn “pitching” his product to the others. Everyone votes on who they think has the best, second-best, and third-best ideas. Each player is awarded play money, based on his achievement. The one who reaches five million dollars first wins. A game can be played in about 30 minutes. From the start, this game put a smile on every face in our test group. It was quirky, fun, and imaginative. All the kids gave this game a 9 out of 10 score. This is a great tool to foster the entrepreneur spirit! All the kids, including me, gave this game “two thumbs up.” You’ve Been Sentenced You’ve Been Sentenced! (www.mcneilldesigns.com) by McNeill Designs for Brighter Minds is among my top picks for educational games for homeschool children. It was fun, engaging, and overflowing with learning opportunities for kids 8 years old and up. (Adults loved it too!) This game was easy to understand and included everything a homeschool mom could want: language skills in grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, and spelling. It was so much fun; our test group of kids didn’t want to stop playing. Each player chooses ten cards with word and phrase variations, such as flip, flips, flipping, and flipped. A timer is set and each player must make up the best grammatically correct sentence he can. It’s silly when Rembrandt carries milk to Mars in his shoes! Each player has the opportunity to defend his reasoning for choosing his words, and the rest of the players “sentence” him with either a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.” The player who receives a “thumbs up” then counts up his cards, and his score is recorded. The first player to reach 200 wins. One round takes about 30–45 minutes to play. There are also special add-on decks (purchased separately) that spice up the game, such as Sports Highlights and Gourmet Cuisine cards. This game is a great way to enrich any language arts program. I can see why this game continues to get rave reviews. I give You’ve Been Sentenced! an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
MyPlate Food Bingo Amongst the growing number of educational games out there, one rises above the rest and for some good reasons. MyPlate Food Bingo (www.smartpicks.com), published in January 2012 by Smart Picks, has already won five awards, including the 2012 Parents’ Choice Approved Award. This game is a mom’s dream of reinforcing healthy eating and exercise habits. This is not our parents’ idea of the food groups of the past generations but accommodates the contemporary eating lifestyles of the twenty-first century, especially whole-food, plant-based choices. This game has all the fun of traditional Bingo, along with a healthy twist. A child will learn about the new food plate instituted in 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which replaces the familiar food pyramid. MyPlate Food Bingo has five categories: Whole Grains, Veggies, Fruits, Non-Dairy, and Dairy Sources of Calcium, and Proteins. The whole grain category is packed with powerhouse grains such as buckwheat pancakes, quinoa, and sprouted grain breads. Players also learn fun facts and tips about food such as this one: “Use goggles or hold a slice of bread in your mouth to avoid crying while cutting onions.” MyPlate Bingo includes thought-provoking questions such as “What are gluten-free grains and what are added sugars?” It also suggests using the game to introduce unfamiliar healthy foods to your family before or after playing. It encourages kids to “get moving” and includes exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. I would use this game in my homeschool any day of the week. I give this game two green thumbs up. Endnotes: 1. Schwager, Istar Ph.D., “Solving the Puzzle: Why do Kids Love Puzzles” (HighlightsParents.com). 2. Michalewicz, Zbigniew, “Puzzle-Based Learning,” introduction (www.puzzlebasedlearning.edu.au). 3. Bales, Kris. “Adding Hands-on Activities and Experiences to Your Homeschool,” 15 August 2012. “Games” (www.hsclassroom.net). See archives. 4. Brady, Carol, Ph.D. “The Best Toys and Games for Kids, Part Two,” (para 1), (www.additudemag.com). 5. Kingsley, Ellen. “The Best Toys and Games for Kids, Part Two.” “Keeping It Simple,” (additudemagazine.com). 6. Brady, Carol, Ph.D. “The Best Toys and Games for Kids, Part Two.” “Anticipating Success and Dealing with Failure,” (www.additudemagazine.com).
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