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February 06, 2017

Cait Curley

The Importance of Play: Gameschooling in the Home

Topics: STEM Education / Play, Learning Through Play, STEM, STEAM

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About Cait: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, MA/CAGS is a school psychologist, mom to three amazing children, and an unexpected homeschooler. She loves nature, good books, board games, strong coffee, and dancing in her kitchen. You can read about all of these things and more at My Little Poppies. You can also find her hanging out with Kara at The Homeschool Sisters Podcast, contributing to the Huffington Post, and chatting about gameschooling in the My Little Poppies Gameschool Community.

If you had told me five years ago that I would end up homeschooling my three children, I would have laughed at you.

I never imagined myself here.

My husband and I are both products of public education. Before having children, I worked at a school psychologist in and around Boston. I always assumed I would stay home with my children until they were school age, at which point I would return to the career I loved.

And then I was blessed with a funny, brilliant, creative, energetic, frustrating, demanding, and exhausting little person. We always knew he was different, but his different was our normal. It didn't matter... until he went to public kindergarten.

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When our son was in kindergarten, his academic skills were 2 to 5 years above his grade level. He read Harry Potter on the bus ride to school, but did he perform well? Not at all. In fact, he floundered. He was the fidgety kid in the back of the class, tipping in his chair and singing the Frozen soundtrack in reverse order. He was the kid who brought his paperclip collection to school to fidget with, the kid who doodled on his neighbor's paper rather than listen to the teacher. As the year wore on, the pile of behavior slips increased in height. At home, he was a joyful learner and yet, when I picked him up from school, he'd climb into my car and grimly ask, "Do I have to go to school tomorrow?" At only five years old, he was wholly misunderstood.

His kindergarten year culminated in an evaluation. Results indicated that our son was twice-exceptional: gifted and learning disabled. After several frustrating meetings with the school, heaps of research, and many sleepless nights, we landed in the world of homeschooling.

One size does not fit all.

Within weeks, our son's smile returned. His natural curiosity and love of learning returned as well. His transition to homeschooling was an easy one.

The transition was more challenging for me. This was new territory and whenever I stumbled, I fell back upon what was familiar: the public school model. Like many unexpected homeschoolers, I attempted to recreate a version of public school at home.

And it backfired brilliantly. (Just as it had when he was in school, surprise surprise.)

Clearly, I needed to break free of the public school mindset and switch gears.

Here is what I've learned about homeschooling: The first year of homeschooling is an evolution of sorts. It is filled with fits and starts and successes and tears until, eventually, you manage to find your groove. Often, that groove looks nothing like the public school days of your past... and that's okay!

Our homeschool days center around high-quality read alouds and educational games. Over the past four years, I have witnessed incredible learning unfold with the help of books and games... and the conversations that happen in the space between.

As an educator, I understand the importance of play. It is through play that children learn to interact with the world around them and with each other. Play allows children to explore, to test, to dabble, to create, to imagine, to practice, to fail, and to try again. It is an important part of a child’s social-emotional and cognitive development. Play helps the child discover his or her unique interests, likes, and dislikes.

When we started out on this path, we were unexpected homeschoolers. Now, we are gameschoolers.

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What is gameschooling?

Put simply, gameschooling is homeschooling with games. Gameschoolers use games as part of their homeschool curriculum. In fact, some gameschoolers abandon all other curricula entirely!

Games are an important part of our homeschool curriculum and family culture. I have always loved games, but since homeschooling, I have become a huge advocate of game-based learning... because I've seen it work again and again!

I am convinced that, with a little planning, you could create an entire curriculum using educational board games and high-quality read alouds.

The importance of play

Children learn how to navigate their world through play. Board games can help children develop the following skills:

  • Social skills
  • Learning to lose – and win- with grace
  • Self-regulation
  • Turn-taking
  • Sharing
  • Listening
  • Logic skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Strategy and planning
  • Verbal communication
  • Cooperation
  • Focus and attention
  • Following directions
  • Creativity and imagination
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Games don't judge

I could tell you so many game-based learning stories. Games have helped my children learn to read, memorize math facts, identify coins and make change, and to tell time, among so many other skills. Whenever a child is struggling with a certain concept or skill, I put aside the workbook and pull out a game.

The tears and frustration end immediately.

Games provide children with a safe space to practice and build skills in a no-pressure, non-judgmental way. There are no red marks, no corrections, no homework, no pressure from others to perform well. If the game doesn’t go the way you wanted it to, you can start over and try again.

Moreover, games are fun. And when you provide children with hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that are fun, they learn more.

As an added bonus, by building a family culture around gaming, you'll be strengthening relationships, boosting connections, and making memories to last a lifetime.

Homeschooling can be *almost* all fun and games

In our homeschool, we play board games every single day. They are part of our homeschool curriculum. Time and time again, I have witnessed amazing learning and growth happen with this approach to learning.

Homeschooling certainly has its challenges, and it isn’t always easy, but on our best days I simply cannot believe how much fun we have. So much learning happens when you relax and let it!

Would you like to learn more about gameschooling?

Here are some articles to get you started:

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