Lessons for Life Through Games

“LIFE” may be the name of a game, but real life is certainly more than a game. The game itself has a limited number of options and is somewhat predictable. It’s not a favorite of mine for that reason.

However, there are games that do teach life lessons which have a wide application. Lessons are learned surreptitiously, easily and naturally. Children welcome valuable skills and strategies to win at a game, with no resistance to instruction.

Let’s keep this secret between us as parents and grandparents.

Competitive sports and games that move quickly, with multiple players cooperating for a goal, have a special advantage. Not only is each player having to exercise their own skill and knowledge, but they have to have a “big-picture” of what everyone else around them is doing. They learn to make good decisions “on the fly” in order to achieve the goal. If they take too much time bemoaning a mistake, another good opportunity may pass them by. You learn more by failing, than by succeeding. Words are not needed for this lesson to sink in.

Taking care of yourself so you can take care of your team mate is another life skill. Cheering for another who excels and comforting someone who is struggling are character strengths that can be developed through sports and team play. If you have found a wise coach, these character qualities will be exemplified to the team on a regular basis.

It is a wonderful thing to win against another team. It is an even better thing to overcome your own perceived limitations! Even middle-schoolers can set goals for self improvement and conquer themselves, before conquering another team. We must not protect children from this struggle. That is what builds character.

Encouragement helps in competition, but children often learn best when there isn’t too much criticism by adults. If they are left to figure out the best strategies for teamwork on their own and find solutions, they will stick. This skill will benefit them not only in sports, but in friendships, cooperation in community, academics and future employment.

As in competitive team games, Chess, Risk, Baduk, and other board or card games where strategies are involved, help children to anticipate their competitor’s moves. However, there is more time to analyze possible scenarios than in a sport or team game. Children also learn to read people, increasing their skills of perception. They learn the benefit of thoughtful play and become less impulsive. As they develop a greater understanding of the game, they can record their moves and evaluate what to do differently if that situation arises again.

Games that teach creativity and involve humor also have an important role. Games such as Pictionary, Guesstures, or the free version of Charades develop presentation skills, besides fostering closer trust relationships.

There are plenty of games that are clearly educational. Those can be fun too. However, those making the biggest claim to educational profit tend to be the least appealing to kids. Those resistant to school learn best when they don’t know they’re learning.

How to Help Your Kids Love Learning Again

Are your kids tired of “school?” Does learning seem like a chore to them? It’s probably not their fault. We’ve been trained to rely on textbooks as authorities of what our children must know, and persevere through them faithfully.

Oh, the tyranny of the textbook! Each subject is presented as separate and distinct, stripped of its vitality and laden with seemingly irrelevant facts. Why do we do this to ourselves? Or, to them? How can we teach the love of learning when it isn’t exciting to us?

Textbooks are useful as a resource. But if you want to teach without quenching curiosity, I think it’s best to keep it as one of several resources.  How about bringing subject matter into a real-life application? Instead of merely stuffing your memory with isolated facts,  you can refocus and create a living lesson!

It is true that advancement in understanding needs a foundation of basic information. Children enjoy memorizing lists and basic fact families from a very early age. This can be done through songs, games and challenges. The grammar stage is when they are hungry to know and identify items in categories. But if these facts do not become connected to a deeper meaning, by the time they hit 9 or 10 years old, their interest will evaporate. There is no reason to wait until they are on the verge of losing interest, either. Knowledge should be applied to bring understanding. They need to move from “the what” to “the how” and “the why.”

Several curricula make use of the library, experiments, and field trips. Even an occasional interview with an expert (or a video clip of one) may be included to add interest. These are a great help! But we still lose something when we strive to separate subjects from each other. Real life isn’t like that. It doesn’t seem natural. Meaning and significance are lost.

How can the four core subjects of math, reading, history/geography, and science come together in one lesson? What about Bible, spelling, handwriting, and literature? If you are following a distinct sequence for each subject, it wouldn’t be easy. But not all subjects need to be taught in a particular order. So, question the table of contents!

This week in history, we have been studying the Pilgrims meeting with Squanto. Here are a few associated topics that could be melded together fairly easily: in science –  germs and infectious disease, hygiene and food preparation, weather, horticulture, and physics (buildings and ships).

Science crosses into math when discussing navigation tools and means from the age of discovery, compared to today. Geography also plays a part both in routes taken and cultural differences. Bible lessons flow from the desire of the pilgrims to worship freely, their treatment of the natives they encountered, and their determination and work ethic in persevering.

Besides matters of faith, the Mayflower Compact touches on sociology, economics, and law. Vocabulary can be taken from this document and sections can be copied. Discussions of the moral rightness or wrongness of settling there against the king’s wishes can be discussed and even debated, with evidence brought for each position.

Math, Science and Reading can also be implemented as your children use original recipes and prepare Johnny Cakes (corn bread) or meat pies from early colonial days. If you double or triple the recipe you not only practice liquid and dry measurement but also add and multiply fractions. The nutritional value of the food available to the Pilgrims is another interesting topic.

Unit Studies make an effort to bring all the disciplines together and many of them do a good job. But again, a curriculum that someone else wrote can be limiting.

I encourage you to be spontaneous from time to time and talk with your children as you help them develop life skills. Let the questions that rise from real work inspire some research and reflection.

One other benefit of this type of learning is that your children see wonder in the world around them. Knowledge does not seem so difficult to attain. Ideas in isolation are soon forgotten. When the creative mind and the senses become engaged, they gain understanding of subject matter and transition into wisdom as knowledge is applied to their lives. There are plenty of mysteries to be discovered. Be free of the tyranny of the textbook. Let learning be a joyful adventure for you and your children!