Why Games are Better Than Worksheets

By Carolyn Forte


constitution-quest-gameDo your kids run for cover when the “school books” come out?  If so, please stop to consider why you are homeschooling.  If “develop a love for learning” is on your list of why’s, you may want to take a second look at your “curriculum.”  In many cases, a game or activity can accomplish the same scholastic goals with a minimum of stress and with the added benefit of promoting a love of learning rather than an aversion to “school.”

In deciding whether more can be accomplished with a game than with the “formal lesson,” you need to look carefully at the goal or “learning objective” of the lesson.  For instance, if the lesson is about adding numerals to 10, it may include a number of practice problems and more than likely, they will run to several pages.  It takes quite a lot of practice to become proficient in recognizing number combinations and their corresponding sums.  Sometimes the books will include clever tricks to speed up the process, but more commonly, the lesson just includes a page or more of problems, day after day until the book “concludes” it’s time to learn something new.

It occurred to me one day that Abraham Lincoln never did a single workbook.  How did he learn his arithmetic?  He had almost no schooling, yet he became a very educated man.  So I began to wonder, are all these worksheets necessary?  Obviously, not!  I surmise that much of Lincoln’s early learning had to do with necessity.  Helping to build a farm, tending animals and handling other daily chores involved numbers.  He was curious and once he learned to read, he managed to find books from which he could continue learning.  Kids are naturally insatiable learners if we do not squash their learning with too much “school.”

How many addition problems might you find in the average drill page?  Twenty? Thirty?  Now, how many times will your child have to add the dice while playing a half hour game of Parchisi or Sorry! or Shut the Box or any other board game that uses dice?  My guess is it would be a lot more than 30 and no whining! Plus, you get the added benefit that any addition errors are instantly corrected by the other player or players.  Do you need to teach him to add higher than 12?  Get some 10 or even 12-sided dice and play with them.  The games will move faster and the kids get more advanced addition practice.

For a fast-paced game to replace worksheets for multiplication, Goose Egg is one of the best.  It includes two games in one box: one for beginners who are just starting to learn the multiplication tables and one for more advanced students who can recite the tables, but still may be slow to recognize multiples of a single factor.  The beginner game plays like bingo on steroids, involving lots of activity rolling giant dice and frantically placing chips in 30 second stints.  There’s a twist too.  If a player rolls zero three times before filling his card, he’s out!  Unlike most multiplication games, this one includes zero; children quickly learn that anything times zero is zero.

The more advanced game included in Goose Egg is for children who are fairly familiar with the multiplication tables, but who do not yet easily recognize the multiples of a single factor (3,6,9,12, etc.).  It also plays in 30 second rounds, but the game play is entirely different.  Players must calculate according to the roll of the dice and strategically select a location for a game chip to create a path the top of a pyramid of numbers.

The same can be done with many other concepts in math, language arts, science, history, geography and even the arts.  Activities like cooking, gardening and carpentry can also do the teaching for you.  When children see the practical use for numbers and get to experiment for themselves, they learn much faster and retain the information much longer.  There are children who enjoy doing worksheets but even they have a limit.  If you reach it, reach for a game instead.  But, if you have children who hate worksheets, don’t worry about it.  Learning with games and real life activities will teach them just as efficiently.  Just look in the book you are following, decide which concept or concepts you want to work on next, and then search for a game or activity that covers that concept.

Of course, you will come across some items, especially in higher math, which are too complex for a game.  By the time your children get to that point, I hope they have a solid in the basics of that subject from games and hands-on activities.

©2016 Excellence in Education