A while back I did a few posts about some of our favorite games and the skills Caleb has picked up from playing them. Those games were very math heavy, so I wanted to do another post about the word oriented games that we have been playing lately.
I have a very low opinion of games that are intended to be educational. But really that’s not always because there is something wrong with the game (though frequently they aren’t very good games), it has more to do with the attitude behind the person foisting the game on the kid (myself included!).
Games for reading are certainly better than just grinding it out in misery, but if the adult is forcing the child to play in order to force him to learn something, than that kind of misses the point.
Games are for fun-overtly educational or not, they shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat knowledge into a kid (that analogy was very heavy-handed of me, I know). If your kid isn’t having fun, if he’s whining and acting disinterested, let it go, it’s not the right time.
I LOVE word games: Scrabble and Boggle are my favorites, but most any game with words is right up my alley. But Caleb has not been interested in words, reading, or spelling. So I had to bide my time. Sometime around the beginning of the summer, he started to get interested. He turned 7 in February, so that actually makes sense from a Waldorf perspective.
I had shown him some online phonics games a year or so ago, but like I said, despite the appeal of technology, he wasn’t interested in words.
I like online phonics type games, because he is playing against himself and the computer will tell him whether he is wrong or right. If it was me all the time telling him he was wrong, he’d be offended.
The best online phonics site I’ve found is Starfall.com. It’s bright and colorful and fun. Some other ones I looked at were very boring and confusing. Starfall is simple to use, and it has all these fun songs about things like “Y can be a vowel…y can be a vowel…like A E I O U…” Caleb has probably spent between 15 and 20 hours on it over the past 2 or 3 months.
Boggle Junior was the first word game we ever played, but it’s not a very good 2 person game. It’s hard for him to spell duck, but not for me, so there was no competitiveness that makes a game fun to play together. Still, I like the concept, and we have played it 10 or 15 times (games he likes though, we play multiple times every day while he’s hooked on it). Maybe a certain type of kid would enjoy taking it out by himself for fun, but Caleb is not that kid. He’s a social guy. If you had 2 or more kids at similar reading levels, it would also be more fun.
This is a book written by a reading tutor about games to play to help a child with different reading concepts. I found it at my library, and I’d encourage you to check yours for it, because I’m not sure I’d buy it. It did have some fun games though. There was one where we actually made a board game and dice for it.
There were pictures of different things that you copied out of the book and then cut up the strips of pictures to make a path of pictures . You roll the die, and if it lands on Wh, you have to go to the picture of the whale. There was also a TH, SH, and a CH (and possibly something else I’m forgetting). The instructions were for a spinner, but I had some wooden cubes around that I thought would be easier.
The game is fun, because winning is just a matter of luck, not knowing how to spell the words, and it gives an introduction to the 4 letter combination. You could take the same concept and use it for any sort letter combo, you’d just have to make up your own pictures for each space.
Memory with matching words instead of pictures
The other idea I got from that book was making memory cards out of blank business cards (not the most economical choice, but hey, whatever you have on hand). Instead of pictures, you use words. I’m thinking of selling wooden memory tiles with chalkboard paint on one side so you can use them over and over again as your child progresses to harder words. But I have to test the idea first to see if it would even work. Let me know what you think.
Memory is always fun, because our kids are almost better than we are at it. When I flip over the cards, I say each word, and I encourage him to do the same when it’s his turn. I’m not sure if this memorization is actually carrying over to real life, but hey, it’s fun, so it can’t hurt.
If you aren’t regularly playing the game yourself, your beginning reader might not be very interested. Caleb, not knowing very many words, wanted to play, because I play online with my brother all the time, and in person when we’re in the same state.
Since he doesn’t know many words, he looks up words in the dictionary (dictionary skills! didn’t even think of that) or off of some 2 and 3 letter word lists I printed out for him. For some reason, he still insists on keeping score and moaning about his low scores (can you tell he’s been listening to his elders, lol).
He’s definitely learning new short words from playing Scrabble with me.
[as a note, the best place to play scrabble online is the Internet Scrabble Club]
Upwords is the scrabble take off game where you can stack the tiles on top of each other to make the original word into another word. I never liked it much. The board is too small, the tiles are all worth the same number of points, and because of those things it’s harder to be creative.
But for a beginning reader, those negatives are actually positives. They even up the playing field so the game isn’t so lopsided, score-wise. Stacking the tiles also helps teach word families (I’ll admit I just looked that up that terminology; it means groups of words that have a common feature or pattern – they have some of the same combinations of letters in them and a similar sound.)
In both Scrabble and Upwords, I give him a lot of help. I try to feed him words so he comes to the final solution by himself. Basically I’m teaching him how to play, how to find words by common combinations. He does make quite a few words on his own though, either ones he knows or ones that he’s looked up.
These are our favorite games. Boggle, being a speed game, isn’t much fun yet, though we did try it (at his request).
What word games do you like to play with your beginning readers? What do you think of my chalkboard memory game idea? I figure you can start using it for just the alphabet, maybe matching Big A and little a. Then move on to simple words. You could even draw a picture of a cat on one and write the word cat on another. You think it’ll work?