May 03, 2018

Wendy Barlow

Using Games in Early Education

Topics: Learning at Home, Learning Through Play, STEM


"Mommy play with me?" Parents out there, how many times have you heard this? There are times when my 5 year old asks me this and she means her Shopkins, or her stuffed toys, but then there are times when she means games. Games!

Not Candyland or Cooties, although we do have those, but "Mommy's games." These are games that are generally not rated 3 and up. That right there is when I drop everything and go! (Not really, but you get the idea).


Gaming has taught my daughter a lot of new skills. She has learned 21st Century Thinking Skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and even creative and imaginative thinking. We have played games that she has continued playing long after the game has left the table. Games have lead her into worlds she has never known, taking on the role of a heroic knight, or a zoo keeper, and even an ice cream truck driver!

One of the questions that I get asked quite often and that I see posted on the boards that I frequent is, "How do I get my (insert age here) year old to play games?" This is a hot topic and one that I hop on to answer a lot. For me the answer, or answers, is simple. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Don't be Afraid to Skip the Easy Stuff: My daughter, Emily, is 5 and has been playing games since she was right around 2. She owns the classic toddler games, but did not cut her teeth on them.  It's okay to skip Chutes and Ladders. One of her first games was Roll For It by Chris Leder, published by Calliope Games. Matching the dice she rolled to the cards was amazingly simple and she loved getting the matches. Dice games are great for little ones; matching the rolls to cards is a great way to help them develop, understand, and love math.
  • Share Your Favorite Games: When your child sees you playing a game and asks to play too, don't roll your eyes and pack it up. They're asking you to play what they see, not something else, so let them play too. My daughter frequently plays games that are above her age group. We include her by pulling tokens from the bag, moving the pieces around the board or drawing new cards for us. She sees that I'm excited about the game and she wants to be a part of it too. So, we let her! She loves being part of the team and working collaboratively with us.
  • Adjust the Gameplay: There are some games that can be "dumbed down" to make it accessible to a kid. There are times when we play open handed, even if the game is competitive, so that we can play with her. There are times when we change the rules a bit or even remove some, so that she can enjoy the game too. When she starts to catch on, then we add them back, or teach her new ones. She learns the rules a little at a time, logically progressing through them.
  • Don't Underestimate Them: Kids are so very smart and adaptable! They can pick up on things and remember rules that even we forget. I recently took a chance and picked up a game that has cards with a lot of text. At the start of each game I read the cards to her and then we began the gameplay. Here's the cool thing: she remembered the card effects! As of now, when we play the game she usually beats me by 2 points or more. She may not be able to read, but she can remember and she does!  I can't say this enough, do not underestimate kids. Try it and surprise yourself!
  • Try Something New: Take your child to a game store and see what appeals to them. See what types of games they gravitate to. Do they seem to like space games? Animal games? Star Wars? Then look for something that you can play together. Let them guide you and if it's something that doesn't tickle your particular fancy, then try it out. It may just turn out to be a great game mechanically and one you can share for a long time!


I am excited that my daughter has turned into a little gamer. If you're a parent or someone who knows a kid who wants to game, the best advice I can give to you is - just do it! I promise you, you’ll be surprised and maybe even learn a thing or two yourself!




Wendy Barlow is a mother, teacher, and avid boardgamer.  One of her favorite past times is exploring new worlds with her students and daughter through educational play.  She writes the biweekly blog, Come Play With E! about adventures in gaming with a 5 year old.




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