My son doesn’t like to go to bed. Really, really doesn’t ever like going to bed. So we’ve developed a routine with lots of things to ease us into sleep. There’s the bedtime snack, the teeth brushing, the story-time, tickle-time, and finally a bedtime game.
These games started years ago and have evolved as my son’s knowledge base evolved. Originally, we started out with very, very simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication problems when he was around 4 (what’s 2 4’s, how many is 5 and 3, etc.). They gradually evolved into more and more difficult questions.
Caleb called this the “Math Game,” and often asked to play with the grown-ups he hangs out with (who inevitably chuckle uncomfortably and protest that they are no good at math). What we used to refer to as Word Problems in school are now the primary questions in this game. And this one definitely goes both ways. He comes up with just as good problems as we grown-ups do.
The “Word Game” began simply by seeing whether or not he could determine what the first letter of the word was. He enjoyed the game, but it took a while to evolve beyond that, since he wasn’t much into words and reading. Eventually it morphed into the first two letters, and then to spelling only very short words. Now (at 8 years old) it is spelling any words, and it is called the Spelling Game.
The Geography Game started sometime after we got a few GeoPuzzle map puzzles (Asia and Europe are what we have so far). To play, you name a country in the world, and then name what continent it is on (or region like Central America or the Middle East). I can see this becoming more and more specialized as he ages as well: countries (and states) and their capitals, major exports, animal life, major rivers, mountains, lakes, etc.
We also play rhyming games— trying to get as many rhymes as possible with one word going back and forth between both of us. There is the homophone game (though we never call it that) where we have to come up with 2 words that sound the same but are spelled differently (I think that is a homophone!), and you have to spell each word if challenged.
I fully expect to come up with more games like this as he learns more and more about the world. A game works best when he has a tiny bit of knowledge about an area–like we couldn’t have played the geography game when he was four and couldn’t really even conceive of the rest of the world—, but not a comprehensive knowledge–like find the first letter in a word would be a joke now.
We call these games, because we’re having fun, but really they are tests. But unlike when your disapproving mother-in-law is quizzing your homeschooled children, there is no fear of failure here. We never play for longer than my son wants to play, and the games never push him beyond what he is comfortable with. There is no penalty for getting something wrong. It’s more like a game show than the bar exam.
But it puts knowledge into practice. Caleb has been exposed to various countries and where they are in wildlife/nature videos, puzzles, on our big living room map and globe, and in books, but these games put that knowledge into practice.
“One real encounter, even for a few seconds, is far more useful than several hundred observations.” Bjork cites an by psychologist Henry Roediger at Washington University of St. Louis, where students were divided into two groups to study a natural history text. Group A studied the paper for four sessions. Group B studied only once but was tested three times. A week later both groups were tested, and Group B scored 50 percent higher than Group A. They’d studied one-fourth as much yet learned far more.
Testing gets a bad rap. I always thought this, even when I was in school. I have always enjoyed taking tests. The problem with tests in the schools is that they are not for LEARNING; they are for judging, critiquing, labeling, etc. They aren’t for your benefit; they are for the benefit of your teacher, and often for your detriment.
The key is to have fun, be playful. Caleb treats learning as a game, because that’s all it ever is to him. Learning happens best when you are relaxed and engaged. Bedtime is the perfect time for learning (at least for a bouncy little boy that doesn’t like to go to sleep). :)