GAMES as an educational tool

November is here!!!! Yay! Two little Batmen hyped up on sugar, with Halloween hangover are going to LOVE strict schedule, worksheets and memorization drills!

Brb, dying laughing at my own joke. They most definitely would NOT love that. 

I expect today to be a complete chaos full of sensory overload, sugar and dyes aftermath: two silly boys and the dog bouncing of the walls, exhibiting all of their Dabrovsky’s overexcitabilities simultaneously. Day like this is perfect to start My Little Poppies’ Gameschool Mini-challenge. 31 days, 31 prompts, pictures, 31 ways to add more sneaky learning to our days.

We are eclectic and heavily influenced by unschooling. I often describe our homeschooling style as falling down the rabbit holes (read more about it here.) Games have always been a part of our day.  These are some of the reasons we enjoy gameschooling.

  1. Learning becomes more engaging experience. We get to travel through time and space, meet great inventors and create silly worlds, become engineers, scientists, artists or magicians. 
  2. I’m quick to point out that my 5 year old does not handle losing well, but let’s face it: losing sucks, regardless of the player’s age. Friendly (-ish) game night is perfect to practice teamwork and good sportsmanship for kids of all ages. 
  3. Kids enjoy challenge and find internal motivation to reach the goal. I recently noticed that when I try to encourage the boys by saying “Come on, this is easy!” they bristle up and refuse the work. However, when they sit down to play a videogame, I hear excited and proud shouts “That was hard, but I DID IT!!!” To my surprise, this tactic worked even for least preferred tasks (handwriting practice.)
  4. We put emphasis on problem solving in our house.  I don’t want to be a referee, judge and jury 24/7, so we encourage kids to work out problems and solve conflicts on their own.  Games are one of the resources that teaches them problem solving strategies.   
  5. While playing games, kids can improve their fluency, especially math and reading games. 

While games are great, we encountered a few difficulties along the way:

  • It can be hard to accurately assess the progress. 
  • Sometimes goals of games do not align with learning goals. ABC Mouse was a giant flop in this house! All kids cared about was collecting the tickets. They just randomly clicked on the screen, guessing answers.  
  • Family game night with kids  can be…challenging. Different personalities, ages and abilities don’t always mix well.  

    These tips and strategies emerged when Peculiar Kid #2 was born. They continue to change and evolve as family dynamic change. 

    1. House rules rule! 
    2. Whenever a new game appears at our house, kids ask me if the can “free play” it for a while:  familiarize themselves with the pieces, make guesses on what the rules may be, create elaborate backstories (I jot them down in the journal, Brave Writer style. Win/win!) This approach reduces anxiety and uncertainty that often affects perfectionistic, emotionally intense 2e kids. 
    3. “These rules are so clear and make so much sense. After reading them, I’m 100% confident I can play this game on the first try,” said no one ever. Watch play throughs!  Dice Tower and Table Top were game changers (pun intended) for our family.  
    4. I like to pair games with books, tea parties or subjects we currently study. Ancient Egypt with Pyramix, Nikola Tesla’s life and work with Circuit Maze, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang read aloud with Snakes and Ladders. 
    5. Create your own games! 
    6. Playing board games (or attempting any schoolwork) with toddlers around is hard! Families with older children can play after the littles go to bed. Letting our 2 year old in on the fun works best for our family.  While we play, he makes dice towers,  “keeps the score,” sorts cards or eats all the snacks. 
    7. Let some games be just for fun, with no learning agenda! As a homeschooling mom, I tend to turn everything into a learning opportunity. Real life example that may or may not have happened last week. “Oh, the tire pressure sensor is on! You know why? Let’s have a mini unit right here on the spot! Temperature dropped 30°F overnight, leading to decrease in tire pressure by about 3 psi (1 psi for every 10° drop. Insert long winded math discussion here,) that change triggered the sensor. Honey, are you awake?” What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, don’t turn everything you do into school project. Have some fun!!! 

    What are your tips to add more sneaky fun learning into your days? How do you keep family game night FUN for all participants? What challenges do you have and how donyou overcome them? What are your favorite games? Why am I asking so many questions? 

    Teaching backwards: why we don’t focus on the basics.

    While researching different curriculum options for our homeschool, I was deliberating between two alternatives: stick with the basics or follow our interests .

    “Back to basics!” “Everything is built on the basics!” These cliche messages were repeated often enough throughout my life, they became thoroughly ingrained in my mind.  In traditional education reading, writing and arithmetic are considered the basics. They are the bare minimum needed to function in today’s society. This is where we decided to start.

    January, 5th 2017 @ 8:00 am. Sharp pencils, unmarked workbooks, shiny new maps; sensory box, pompoms and measuring spoons for the toddler. I got this!

    January, 5th 2017 @8:05 am. Kindergartner is working hard tracing letters; toddler is happily digging in the sensory box; mommy is drinking still warm coffee while simultaneously patting herself on the back. I got this.

    January, 5th 2017 @8:12 am. Bright morning light shining through the window bounces off the reflector’s surface  (why is it even on the table?) and captures 110% of my 4 year old’s attention.  It leads to the discussion of light properties, electromagnetism and time travel (Einstein’s theory of relativity, not wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey…stuff.) Toddler is happily emptying the contents if his sensory box onto the floor. I don’t got this.

    And just like that,  12 minutes into our homeschooling journey,  we had to change our entire approach to home education .

    It has been nine months since we shifted the main focus from basics to interest led learning. When asked about out homeschooling style, I often compare it to falling down the rabbit hole: we find a fascinating subject and explore it, we often go off in a tangent and take unexpected turns. Why not, who doesn’t like plot twists?


    What was  included in box curriculum


    Math is universal! It is beautiful.  It is fun.  It grows from common sense. Everybody loves math! Right?


    What do you mean “No?!?!?” Don’t break my heart! But why?

    In traditional education, the teacher introduces numbers to the students.  He then shows them how to add, subtract, multiply, divide. Each new concept is followed by dozens of repetitive problems and a test.  Drills. Memorization. Confusion. Boredom.

    What we do instead 

    Beast Academy 2A

    Life of Fred

    Khan academy


    Basic principles of math are simple. Some calculations may be tedious, but math makes sense.

    Preschoolers easily grasp ideas behind fractions,  number lines, geometry and algebra elements. I see 3, 4 and 5 year olds exploring difficult concepts and taking on the challenges. Silly kids, they weren’t told yet that they hate math!

    Kids love the challenge of games. Why not use this attribute and incorporate games into learning? Instead of using endless worksheets and tests, give them problems to solve.

    According to Piaget’s theory, “children acquire mathematical knowledge…by constructing them from the inside, in interaction with the environment,” in other words, given the chance to explore and experiment, they will use their knowledge to  invent new ways to find solutions, explore patterns and make connections.  Let’s make math fun!


    What was included in the box curriculum 

    Spelling You See

    What we do instead 

    Dictations, copy work, reversed dictations, poetry, word games, narration, using writing in every day lives.

    Most children’s fingers aren’t developed enough to hold a pencil and write until the age of five, but most parents would agree that kids have PLENTY to say before. I tried to make a video of my son telling me a story; about twenty minutes into the most imaginative tale, my phone’s battery died. He kept talking for another 20 minutes. Shocker!

    Young minds are capable of creating amazing worlds, but lack of transcription skills can lead to frustration,  and that in turn can lead to a writer’s block.

    Brave Writer program incorporates copy work, dictations, reading aloud, storytelling, art appreciation, nature study, poetry tea time, word play, music exploration, movie review and discussions, recitation and narration. It is perfect for a reluctant writer. I’ve been told by my five year old that he doesn’t need to learn how to write: we could just use voice-to-text technology or hire a scribe to do the writing. Clever, kid! You want a scribe? You got it!

    I love writing down his stories, and he gets reassurance that what he has to say is valuable and worth being written down. Sometimes I have to resist the temptation to correct the grammar and truly LISTEN to the content. Talking is brave, being interrupted and corrected all the time is discouraging. Even as an adult, when somebody unkindly points out my mistakes, I shut down and stop talking. Most of us are tactful enough with the adult, to either ignore the mistakes or point them out kindly, in private. Why does that tact disappear with our children?

    Foreign language

    What was included in the box curriculum

    Elementary curriculum box did not have an option to add foreign language.

    In his book How Children Learn, John Holt describes what would happen if we tried to teach children to speak. “First, some committee of experts would analyze speech and break it into a number of separate “speech skills.” We would probably say that, since speech is made up of sounds, a child must be taught to make all the sounds of his language before he can be taught to speak the language itself…Perhaps, in order not to “confuse” the child…we would not let the child hear much ordinary speech, but would only expose him to the sounds we were trying to teach.”

    I spent 10 years learning French in a classroom setting from amazing teachers: grammar worksheets, memorizing vocabulary words and dialogues, drills. I was so excited when a foreign exchange student from France visited our college class. Two hours with that student in class was eye opening: while we could understand each other,  a lot was lost in translation.  The conversation didn’t flow.  In that moment I realized how far I was from speaking French fluently. What was missing?

    What we try to do instead
    In contrast, I learned English backwards simply by being in a language rich environment. Surrounded by books, radio, TV with subtitles, newspapers, magazines, and native speakers. I was forced to figure out how to communicate with the world around me.

    In our homeschool we use songs, stories and read aloud in foreign language. We discuss similarities and differences between our native language and the one we are studying.

    Free play

    It’s our favorite subject! It’s THE most important subject! Learning that happens during unstructured unscripted free play is invaluable. I love watching my kids’ spontaneous improvisations: odds and ends from my husband’s wood shop, random treasures they find in their toy boxes and kitchen cabinets becomes see-saws, ramps, balance beams, bridges, catapults, slides. In less than an hour they explore math, physics, engineering, team building, physical education, effective communication, decision making, risk taking, self-regulation and so much more.

    Preschoolers in our co-op also enjoy engineering challenges and loose parts play.  With a handful of open ended prompts, they learn vital skills. Cooperative games and messy sensory play let them explore the world through experiences using  their senses such as, taste, touch, smell, sight and sound whilst having fun. Their creativity is mind blowing and we learn so much from them!

    It is very easy to underestimate the intellectual capacity of children, but they have the ability to learn complicated concepts even if they’re still struggling with the basics. In the words of the famous Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” Students (that includes grown ups too!) in the School For Peculiar Children will continue with interest led learning and continue to enjoy our crazy and fun adventure.

    *Yes, I’m watching Magic School Bus Rides Again as I work on this post. I mean the kids, the kids are watching it!*