By Carolyn Forte
Play enhances learning to an astonishing degree. The late Dr. Karyn Purvis, Director of Texas Christian University’s Child Development Center stated, “Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10 and 20 repetitions!” Do you still want to “teach” your child multiplication tables with flash cards?
Did you wonder why it took so long to memorize math facts, states and capitals; the difference between an adjective and an adverb? Games and other brain-engaging activities can vastly increase learning while reducing stress. Card games, board games, puzzles, crafts, music, models and hobbies create brain connections with abandon. Your child is always learning, but for the learning to last, it must be meaningful and relatively stress free. Adults have a tendency to think of learning solely in “school” terms. If it looks like school, it must be learning, if it doesn’t look like school, it probably isn’t real learning.
Does that sound familiar? It takes some imagination and an open mind to get out of that box and realize that many of the greatest writers (Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter), mathematicians (Nathaniel Bowditch & Albert Einstein), inventors (Thomas Edison & Palmer Luckey), statesmen (Abraham Lincoln), scientists (Francis Collins) and explorers (Daniel Boone) didn’t have much schooling or were dismal students. They learned in their own ways what they needed when they needed it. Choosing their own pace and direction, they developed their talents and the world profited from their freelance learning!
It is not as difficult as you might think to encourage real, lasting learning. Addition facts come quickly if you play games that have dice or cards that must be added to move or win a point. However, it isn’t play if it is called “school.” You will lose the benefit with most children if you tell them they have to play this game to learn addition. Attitude is everything when it comes to learning with play! A classic addition game is Shut the Box, which contains a row of levers with numerals 1-10 on the levers. The player rolls the dice, finds the sum and flips down one or more levers that add to that sum. There are several spin-offs of this great game: Chips is a pocket version and Double Shutter has a double row of levers. Any board game that uses dice will teach addition to 12 and you can always buy 10-sided dice to use instead if you want to practice higher addition. The card game 21 will also teach your children to add. A very popular bingo style game is Giant Dice. It will keep your child’s brain working to find the most useful answer depending on whether he adds, subtracts or multiplies the dice. There are also many games for learning the multiplication tables: The Wonder Number Game, MadMath, Giant Dice, Goose Egg, Prime Pak and Math Maze. The key is to keep it fun and interesting. If it seems like a chore, the game will be no more productive than a boring worksheet. It is important to choose games that your children enjoy (Hint: different learning styles enjoy different types of games.) and play them often but not necessarily for long periods of time unless your children really enjoy them and don’t want to stop. Games and activities are available for every concept in arithmetic and many algebraic and geometry concepts as well. Some games are very basic while others develop more advanced skills. The ability to think ahead, sort through possible tactics and choose a winning strategy can be developed through games and other types of play. The kind of learning utilized to wade through the average textbook requires little actual thought and a lot of memorization. This is the lowest form of learning. It is of little value until it can be applied to something real. Very old math texts used to be composed almost entirely of “thought problems.” Today, most texts have less than 10% “thought” or “word problems.” There is a lot of memorization and very little reasoning. Many games, however, require a great deal of reasoning. The simplest ones, like Giant Dice, give the player a choice of strategies (add, subtract or multiply). More advanced games, like Math Maze or Prime Pak, offer the brain unlimited possibilities for problem solving. Games can be a great help with teaching children to write as well. Did you know that the novel, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, was the result of a game? Mary and some friends were sitting around telling stories to each other. They decided to have a contest and see who could come up with the best horror story. Mary won. There are a number of games that will help a budding writer from “story starter” games like Tell Tale and Twisterz to “how to write a complete story” games like Create-a-Story and the Expository Writing Game. Story telling is a skill and children learn it bit by bit, first by relating their little stories about something that happened today and gradually learning to put it on paper correctly with all the punctuation so that it makes sense to the reader. Too often, adults expect children to jump from one to the other with no intermediate steps! Telling a story about your day and getting it down on paper are very different activities requiring much different skills. Charlotte Mason advocated years of “narrating” stories before she recommended writing them. Story telling games are an alternative to narrating someone else’s story and they help develop creativity and logical thought. Few Americans can place Liberia (recent Ebola outbreak) or Somalia (pirate attacks) on a map of the world. Playing geography games can give you and your children a better understanding of the world while providing fun family interaction. Start with easy games that include a map (GeoDerby, Geo Dice) and work up to more challenging games (Where in the World?, World Wise Card Games). You can learn the U.S. Constitution with The Constitution Quest and Attorney Power will help you understand famous Supreme Court cases. Do you want to remember all the elements in the periodic table? Elemento will help you learn them all as well as their atomic numbers and their practical uses. There are games for every area of science from astronomy to zoology! You can learn history, art, music, geometry, economics, architecture and even memory skills with games. Be sure to discover the amazing value in using unstructured play and games to master subjects from A-Z as well as the wonderful side benefit of the power of these activities to create improved communications and connectivity to your family.