Thoughts about Games

I remember on occasion, at school, we would play a game in class that had to do with something we were learning. And for the most part we enjoyed those games, but one day of Jeopardy doesn’t make up for a 50 of rote memorization and boredom.

Games and other enjoyable things should not be seen as a pleasant diversion that may be associated with learning (as long as you are good!), but as an actual method of learning.

I believe that the fact that games are fun makes schools less likely to use them, because learning isn’t supposed to be fun. “You are here to learn not have fun!” I remember many a teacher telling us.

But as Peter Gray so eloquently explains in his book Free to Learn (arguably the best book published on unschooling and learning in general since John Holt was writing or even ever), when you are having fun, when you are in a pleasant, heightened state of mind, that’s when real learning is likely to take place.

If someone is playing a game of their own free will, and engaged perhaps, in some friendly competition, their senses are alert, and they want to learn the things that will help them improve in the game. If a game uses fractions, you are going to learn fractions very quickly to make sure what the other people (who might already know fractions) is really right.

Caleb picks up concepts in games very quickly, concepts I remember being in middle school having to do SUPER boring worksheets on. Once you get the idea, you then practice the concept in a game (or in play, etc) until it’s second nature.

And that practice, since it’s connected with a higher purpose, is enjoyable. I think math has such a bad connotation for people, because Math in school is irritating and boring. But learning how numbers work is just life: figuring out change, sales tax, how long it is going to take us to get the 3 miles home from the store if we’re going 30 mph, how much this toy will cost with our 20% off coupon when it’s already on sale for 25% off the list price.

If no one forced you to figure out word problems and do worksheets full of this stuff (and penalized you for getting the answers wrong), there’s no anxiety involved with figuring those things out. If you are wrong, so what? You’ll know more about how to figure it out next time.

Also in games, even competitive games, everyone helps each other out. You don’t want to win because someone cheated himself out of $1,000 because they added wrong. You want to win fairly (or you should!).

Competitive games get a bad rap from the Waldorf, “crunchy mama” crowd for various reasons, but I disagree about games being harmful.

If you model fairness and good sportsmanship, that gives your kids a good foundation for real life. Competition is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to be a destructive force in the world. It can be a force that brings the best out of us, rather than the worst.

Playing games with your family, seems to me, to be a great place to start learning about friendly competition. You learn that your competitor is not your enemy to be taken down at all costs, because they are people that you love. You learn that playing fairly makes the game more fun.

Thanks for reading my ramblings today, and I’d love to hear what your favorite games are. I think I’ll do one more post about some other games that we like tomorrow, and then I’m going to do a serious of posts about the tools in my workshop.




One thought on “Thoughts about Games

  1. I love this! I have always appreciated games for their learning value. I have a friend who recently started setting aside “learning” time for her two-year-old and when I asked my two-year-old (in my friend’s presence) what color each of the trains was, she marveled at how easily I incorporated learning into play. I share this store not to brag on myself or even really tattle on my friend, but to point out how ridiculously segregated the two concepts have become, thanks to our education system.

    There is something to be said, though, about learning to temper one’s competitiveness according to the other person’s nature. There are people with whom I will display much more competitive behavior because they like to play that way, and others with whom I will relax and show very little competition at all. I can remember when I was a kid what a turn-off it was when somebody was too competitive for the group they were in, or—to a lesser degree—not competitive enough. This is still true for me, and I would guess much more so with kids.

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