Raise your hand if you just don’t like games. Or feel that they should not be a priority in your day – just silliness. Or that you don’t jump for joy over Candy Land. Or your mind always comes up with excuses of other things you “should” be doing. It’s completely okay to feel all of these. We all do sometimes. However, let’s sit back and think about these thoughts.

Would you do that if your kid came up and asked you to help edit their paper for class? Would you put down the the soapy dishes to show them how to do a tricky math problem? Tell them that you don’t have time to read a book to them? I’m guessing it’s a little harder to just say no to these situations.

If you find something valuable, you will find the time and the patience to make it a priority. It’s all in the value you assign to something. Is it worth it for you to take the time? Games are worth you stopping chores. Dare I say, put them on the schedule right under math or reading time. Make it a priority just as much as the others.

Now that I think about it, maybe I need to look at Minecraft differently. Some would argue the same value from the world building, right? Ug.

What is Gameschooling?

Have you seen that word thrown around in homeschool and parenting groups? Guess what? They aren’t doing anything you can’t start to do.

These parents and teachers who have embraced gameschooling have just made a choice – it just requires a mental shift. A choice. Choose to see the beauty in games for their learning value in addition to the fun and bonding it allows with kids. And these grownups take the time to play games. That’s it.

But Aren’t They Just Playing?

Boy playing Quixx
Playing Qwixx and working on math skills

Nope. They sure aren’t. Look for the skills offered in the game – mental math, reading harder words, interpersonal skills, logic, strategizing, sportsmanship, and so much more. Don’t forget the joy from just having fun together and bonding with your kids.

Consider putting down the addition worksheet to pick up Quixx. This game is listed as for ages 8 and up. However, my littlest started playing this game at about four. He was just working on small adding. I could tell him that he’s too young or not good enough at math (please don’t do that), or I could see if we needed any adjustments and let him have a go!

This game Qwixx is my top recommendation for kids who need to work on basic addition facts because they roll six dice on each of their turns, and they have to add each dice combination to figure out what number they want to choose. Teachers would call this subitizing – recognizing groups of things (dots) as a number without having to count. I call it “letting my little kid count the dots to add until he is able to do it without counting”.

But what else is he working on? He is planning his strategy as he figures out which line is the better choice and checks to see if other players are doing better than him on certain colors. He’s working on fine motor as he grips the pen, picks up dice, and throws them. He’s teaching the bigger kids that they need to be patient and learning that they love him enough to wait if he needs more time. He’s tracking the dice with his eyes and listening to make sure they all landed where they were supposed to. He’s sitting up a table instead of lounging working on core strength. (It’s a skill. Ask a teacher how many kids fall out of their chairs!) He’s adding double digit numbers and subtracting penalities at the end of the game. And his math skills are getting better and better each time as he is constantly adding.

Wouldn’t you rather play this than give your kid another math drill worksheet?

Here are my top real-world tips for helping you change your perspective to bring family games into your family culture and at home schooling.

1) Include the Littles

Boy using a hundreds chart to help to play the game Qwirkle
Using a hundreds chart to help track game points

Don’t limit your kids by the age requirement listed on the box. Sure, make sure it doesn’t say it’s for ages 12 to 16 and purchase it for your six year old, but a few years of age difference shouldn’t hold you back. Go ahead and try out the game with your kid who is a few years younger. This is especially true if there are bigger kids who your kid has been watching play.

Let the littles learn alongside the big kids. Peer pressure works great for kids to do things outside of their normal age limit. My littlest was beating his brother and sisters at Set at four years old. Memory games? Running circles around his grandparents. If they don’t have the math skills needed, take the game at a slower pace, and they will surprise you with how quickly they learn those math skills.

Qwirkle is again in this picture – we do love it so! Look at the adjustment we made, however. If your kid is too young to do the mental math to add up the score, feel free to help him come up with another way. Mark it on the hundreds chart, show him how to count up. Use it to tally a total score. It doesn’t mean he isn’t ready for the game. It just means he needs a little help, and you model for him that it’s not only ok to seek help but help him figure out the best way to do it.

2) Evaluate the Faves

Think about the games that your family plays on repeat. Does your son tend to prefer dice games with tactile, noisy pieces? The girls love beautiful, colorful pictures? Quick games or longer games? Complicated or simple?

Once you figure out what makes your family chose favorites, these are the types of new games you should be investing in because you know that your family will most likely be drawn to play them. Once I figured out that I personally like dice games, my game shopping changed. This is one less factor that may keep it from just collecting dust on the shelf.

3) Watch a Game

Does this sound familiar? You’re trying to read the rules to the new game and teach your kids, but they’re getting more and more frustrated with you. Then, you both want to give up on the new game before you ever get to play it. Both of you are frustrated. He might have said you were a really bad game teacher. Purely hypothetical, right?

Search for the game on You Tube and watch the directions together as gamers talk you through it and even play a demonstration yourself. It makes new game play much less stressful. Not to mention, we’ve all lost rules and not known what to do.

I also look potential game investments up online before buying to see if it’s a game we would enjoy. Watch others play a game before buying a new game to sit in the closet and never get played. That’s $50 I’ll never get back because it sounded good on the box. Only reading the game box description is not reliable. A lot of money to spend on a dust collector.

4) Change the Rules

Little boy playing colorful tile game
Making matches and playing with color through Qwirkle

I love this picture of my youngest. The pudgy little hands and the obvious lack of understanding of Qwirkle. But, do you see his focus and his pattern making on his own? At three, he wasn’t old enough to play the game, but it’s a great game that allows him to “play with” the colors and shapes and patterns. This is so much better than a worksheet about finding similarities or matching shapes. Not to mention the finger grip and small piece moving that he gets to do at the same time. This option is better for him and for the parent!

Yes, I just told you previously how to easier learn the rules, but now I would like you to feel free to change them. No game police are going to show up and tell you that you were supposed to go around the board twice instead of once or that you have to use all the pieces. Skip the confusing or long parts. Simplify it so you all enjoy it more. Make it work better for different ages. Figure out what part of a game makes it too hard or too complicated to set up, and skip those parts.

It’s your game. Use it as you want! Just make sure you know the real game rules, so you can play with friends.

5) Find Your Game

Maybe you don’t like to play games because you haven’t found a game for you. Search for games that you all enjoy playing. Get a game that your adult friends enjoy and invite the kids to learn the rules with you. My kids know which games I like and are more likely to bring those to me to play. They don’t bring me strategy games like Santorini or Chess. However, I’ll always play Splendor, Azul, or Mastermind — the tactile thing we talked about might have been about me.

A word of caution: Make sure you phrase your response as “That’s not my favorite” or offer alternative games. If you start calling a game stupid or pointing out why the kids shouldn’t like it, they won’t want to play it either… Then you’re back to wasting your money. Remember, just because you don’t like it that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t either. They’re listening to your opinions, and they will become their own!

6) Ignore the Cost

Playing the game Blink outside
Playing Blink outside on the porch table

The big, new (expensive) games look beautiful and every one is buying them. Why can everyone else make a $70 board game look like you need to have it? Can I really be a gameschooler if I don’t have an entire wall of never ending games? Absolutely. Don’t fall for the peer pressure. I feel that so many games I’ve seen are similar to others, and honestly, I don’t need multiple.

Cheap is okay. Oftentimes, they’re the best. Most of the games that collect dust in my house are the expensive ones. While we do love Ticket to Ride, it takes a longer time, lots of space, and you have to set it up. However, the $10-$15 games get pulled out all the time. Open and go. More money doesn’t mean better for your family.

Don’t hesitate to buy used games either. Thrift stores and garage sales are my favorite place to score a $3 game. Yes, sometimes you are taking a gamble that a piece might be missing but will your game play really be affected if you’re missing the rope from Clue? Nope. If you’re blessed to have a library that lets you borrow games, take advantage of that. I’m so jealous!

As of posting, this game Blink is listed for $7 and is 11 years old. We carry this game on trips and play it way more often than all the Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride and Santorini in our closet. If you’re looking for bang for a limited game budget, games like this are so much better an investment that the newest, flashiest game.

7) Hit the Road

For several homeschool travel years, I took memory work and workbooks with grand, misguided plans to have sit down school time. Guess what? I never got them out of the bag which took up space in the car for months. If you’re travelling short term, leave all the “real school” at home and embrace gameschool. Your kids are just as able to practice math skills on a game as a worksheet. Granted, it’s harder with upper-level math, but for kids 10 and under, it’s totally doable.

You can’t play games when you travel if you don’t have them with you, right? This is also not the time to take the big complicated games but the family favorites. Fast, quick, and small is the way to pack. They take up less space, and there is a much higher chance that they will pick that over mindless cartoons on the hotel TV.

8) Keep Them Close

Your kids will play games that they see frequently and have easy access to. Games that are upstairs in a kid’s closet won’t be played unless you make an extra effort. A busy mom juggling four kids doesn’t want to go search for Mastermind, pull it out of the stack, watch the stack topple, and then have to clean up all the pieces all over the floor. I know I’m not the only one with the leaning tower of kid stuff.

Pick five or so current favorites and keep them close. Send the kids to go pick out new ones every few weeks and let them rediscover those forgotten favorites. Keep some next to the breakfast table. Hide them in the living room to pick games over TV show. Let them have some solo games in their rooms for quiet time.

I love when I hear giggles and realize that all the kids have gathered to play a board game together without me doing anything. They did it because they could get to it easily.

Playing the game Harry Potter chess with family
Playing a new Christmas game with a willing aunt Harry Potter Chess

9) Give as Gifts

A new game makes the best gift. For friends, for kids, for teachers… Everyone needs more games in their lives, and there’s no better way to increase your own game collection, than by gifting them to yourself – I mean kids. And don’t forget to load your Christmas list with games from Grandma too.

Think of it as Oprah’s favorite things. If you love something, share it with others. Match a game to their personality and show that you know what they like. Bonus? Once they know how to play, they can play with your family!

And remember how I said to “find your game”? It’s competely allowed to gift yourself a game you want to play when no one else gets the hint to buy it for you.

10) Repeat. Again.

You know how your kids love to read Goodnight Moon over and over again? You are so tired and recite it more than read it, but the kid keeps bringing it to you before bed. There are shelves of books, but it’s the same ones again and again.

We all love what’s familiar, and we grown ups pick our favorite pew at church and table at the restaurant. The same is true with kids and games. If your kid wants to play round after round of Quixx, let him, and be willing to play over and over yourself. He’s having fun, it’s already out, and you won’t have to review the rules again. This is one of those instances where Mom just needs to change the expectations.

Allow them to have favorites. Guess what? That just means they’re getting better and better at it. You’re not going to say, “You have mastered the basketball hoop. Move on to baseball.” Similarly, sit back and watch them develop their strategy, add their scores faster, and start to beat you.

Playing Qwixx outside - one of Mom's favorites
Playing Qwixx outside one of Moms favorites

How do you start using games in your family and homeschool? Ten dollars, patience, and a change in mindset. I hope you are encouraged to take the time to play a game today!

I’m always looking for games to add to my collection that will last. What are some of your family’s favorite games that I need to add to my game stack?

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