As parents we are familiar with the world of edutainment. We have endless choices of games and programs that are games with a focus on learning. A free site that gets used in my classroom is www.abcya.com That said, how do we know what is the best choice for our children? Do these games and programs even work?
Before we go into the actual games, we need to discuss learning styles. Your child’s learning style will determine the type of game they will be most likely to enjoy and get the most out of. The three primary learning styles that impact children in games are Visual Learners, Auditory Learners, and Kinesthetic Learners. Visual learners are going to enjoy games with lots of graphics, bright colors, fun artwork, and maybe charts. Auditory learners will enjoy games where they get to listen to snippets of stories and hear others have discussions about different aspects of the game. Kinesthetic learners enjoy games where they get to be hands-on that have lots of pieces to move and manipulate. It’s good to think of the people you are going to be playing with to come up with the best game for your group.
While this article focuses on mainstream family-style games that are available, we would be lax if we didn’t mention that there is a huge world of board games designed specifically for classroom learning. These games are designed to drill down and reinforce specific learning concepts like letter recognition, language acquisition, phonics, reading comprehension, storytelling mechanics and so forth.
Lakeshore Learning and Edupress are staples in the educational field. We’ve played a few games in this style, and they do not have the spark that we like to have in our games. Unless you were using your gaming time as a type of additional homework, we don’t find the replay value to be very high or the desire to play to be very high. But, there is no denying that this type of game is a useful learning tool. They at least add a skin of fun over traditional learning.
What is all the buzz about The Science of Reading?
In and around the instruction of reading there has been a paradigm shift in the education field. Without going deep into the weeds of educational theory and practice, the shift has been building up and really came to the foreground of the education field in the past few years. Educational practice has moved from a Balanced Literacy Approach where there is explicit phonics instruction, but the greater focus was comprehension and utilizing cues in the books/texts instead of first looking at the letters in the words.
Now there is a greater focus as an educational community on the data about how students best learn. What has been learned is explicit high quality phonics and phonemic awareness instruction. (Just as a quick definition, phonics are working with letters on the page, and phonemic awareness is manipulating just the sounds in words without any text.
Florida Center for Reading Research has free student activities Pre-k to 5th grade. Check it out here!
With this new knowledge working with letters and word building for beginning readers is even more critical to develop the bank of skill needed to fluently read. There are quite a few games that involve building words, and with a little background about the phonics of the English language it can be a huge asset when you play a word game with a beginning reader.
Here at Engaged Family Gaming, we have come up with a collection of games that are a lot of fun to play that teach some of these Literacy concepts as well.
Games with Literacy Concepts
Scrabble 8+ (Vocabulary Development and Letter Arrangement)
Scrabble, by Hasbro games, is a classic for a reason. It has retained its popularity through the years (think Words With Friends) because it is fun to play and challenging. In case you’ve never played Scrabble, it is a word game in which two to four players score points by placing tiles, each bearing a single letter, onto a gameboard which is divided into a 15×15 grid of squares. The tile must be placed in a crossword pattern (words flow left to right in rows or downwards in columns). The words must be standard and acceptable words in an agreed upon dictionary. Players score points based on the numbers on their letter tiles and can add bonuses from cues on the gameboard.
Scrabble has many variations, including a Junior version designed to help younger kids with letter matching and recognition. This is a great game for kinesthetic learners because there are small pieces to manipulate which these learners LOVE to handle.
Bananagrams 7+ (Vocabulary Development, Letter Arrangement, Time Management)
Bananagrams, by Banagrams, is a similar game to Scrabble, but it doesn’t require a game board, pen, paper, etcetera. It is a letter tile game that comes in a fun banana shaped zip up pouch. It is easily portable and gives you more freedom than Scrabble because you play independently for speed while making your individual crossword board. There are no complications from trying to get the perfect spot on the board, or waiting for a slow player to make a decision, or from losing out on the triple letter space. This game moves quickly because you are working against a clock. There are some unique challenges and ways to manipulate game play which add some fun elements into the game and can allow you to put a crimp in your opponents’ play. In our playtests of this game, we found that this game can be more of a challenge for younger players because it lacks some of the structure built into Scrabble, but some of your outside the box players will enjoy this one much more.
Much like Scrabble, this game appeals to kinesthetic learners because of the tile manipulation. Also, since there is no game board, please make sure to play this one on a smooth surface. The tablecloth became way more of a hindrance during play than any of us anticipated.
Rory’s Story Cubes 8+ (Language Development, Vocabulary Development, Story Sequencing, Storytelling)
Rory’s Story Cubes, by Gamewright, is a pocket-sized creative story generator. The original game comes in a box with 9 cubes (dice) with different images on each side. Players simply roll the cubes and let the pictures spark their imagination and tell a story out loud based on the pictures on their cubes. There are several expansions to the base game with different themes (actions, voyages, clues, Batman, intergalactic, etc.). There are infinite ways to play with Rory’s Story Cubes. The rules suggest playing solitaire or with others. The 8+ age suggestion is misleading. This game can definitely be played with younger players.
We’ve used this game as a party game or ice-breaker and I’ve used it to work with my youngest on speaking & listening skills. My oldest finds a way to use these as story starters for creative inspiration in his writing activities. They can also help early learners with literacy development and problem-solving. Again, because this game involves dice rolling, it is great for kinesthetic learners. And, because the stories are told aloud, we’ve had great luck honing our children’s auditory learning skills with this game. Finally, because of the creative images on the cubes, this game works as a great inspiration for visual learners. All around, these are a terrific learning tool to add to your arsenal.
Last Letter 8+ (Vocabulary Development, Letter Recognition, Picture Cues, Time Management)
In Last Letter, by ThinkFun, each player gets five cards featuring intricate, fun, and brightly colored illustrations. Players must race to come up with and shout out a word from one of the picture cards in their hand. The word MUST begin with the last letter of the word previously called. The first player to get rid of all of their cards will win the round. This game is an awesome game for visual learners! The fast paced nature of this game might make it more challenging for younger players who are slower to process what they are seeing in front of them. If play around the table gets too excitable and loud, you may lose younger auditory learners as well. But, be prepared to be surprised by the creative words kids come up with from the images that adults would not normally think of.
Zingo 3+ (Letter Arrangement & Recognition, Vocabulary Development, Picture Cues, Time Management)
Zingo is a new classic with a few different variations of the game available. It’s like Bingo with a fun twist. The original Zingo is a matching game that encourages pre-readers and early readers to match pictures and words to their challenge cards. The Zingo! Zinger dispenses tiles as players race to be the first player with a full card and yell “ZINGO!” With two levels of play, this matching game builds language skills through fast-paced play. This game is designed to develop early literacy skills for very young players. Zingo Sight Words and Zingo Word Builder are also available and these games introduce more challenging literacy skills. Our children request these games regularly and LOVE to play them. While these are learning games at their core, they use fun and exciting game mechanics to keep young players engaged!
Dixit 8+ (Language Development, Story Sequencing, Storytelling, Picture Cues)
Using a deck of cards illustrated with dreamlike images, players select cards that match a title suggested by the “storyteller”, and attempt to guess which card the “storyteller” selected. Each player starts the game with six random cards. Players then take turns being the storyteller.
The player whose turn it is to be storyteller looks at the six images in his or her hand. From one of these, he or she makes up a sentence or phrase that might describe it and says it out loud (without showing the card to the other players). Each other player then selects from among their own six cards the one that best matches the sentence given by the storyteller. Then, each player gives their selected card to the storyteller, without showing it to the others. The storyteller shuffles his or her chosen card with the cards received from the other players, and all cards are then dealt face up. The players (except for the storyteller) then secretly guess which picture was the storyteller’s, using numbered voting chips. If nobody or everybody finds the correct picture, the storyteller scores 0, and each of the other players scores 2. Otherwise the storyteller and all players who found the correct answer score 3. Players other than the storyteller score 1 point for each vote their own pictures receive.
A large part of the skill of the game comes from being able to offer a title which is neither too obscure nor too obvious. The game ends when a player reaches the end of the board (30 points). Much like Rory’s Story Cubes, this game helps children to learn storytelling skills, story sequencing, and helps broaden appreciation for art and gives players the ability to articulate thoughts concisely and to comprehend metaphor.
About the Authors:
This article in its initial format was created by Jenna Duetzmann.
The update for the article has been done by Linda Wrobel, who as a first grade teacher is on the ground learning the shifts in educational practice, and seeing the impact of beginning readers.
For Additional Games to Support Learning
What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!
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