Goof’s Guide… Play to Learn

Thank you to everyone who came to our second Boarding School event. And for letting us take the photos in this article. I had a blast!

I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not a teacher. I don’t work in early learning. Most of my experience with children is involved with my nine younger siblings running around the world. But this is important.

Board games make you smart.

You know… you should stop doubting me. I’ve shown time and time again in these one sided rants that I’m right about these things. And this time I’m not even breaking new ground. Play based learning is an actual thing. I want it clear I’m not talking about educational games here. I’m talking about games whose only function is to be fun and enjoyable.

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I remember when I was at a Dungeons and Dragons Encounters night with a few of my friends and this guy showed up promoting his new play. He said “this is exactly the sort of thing people who make entertainment out of math would enjoy”. I was stunned. He was right. Dungeons and Dragons is just mathematic hypotheticals with a coherent story.

Deckbuilding demands you take probabilities and statistics into consideration. Social Deduction games like Coup or Avalon teach you about reading social cues and non-verbal behaviour. Cooperative games like Pandemic or Sentinels of the Multiverse teach team problem solving. Five Tribes and Tsuro teach predictive thinking and pattern recognition. And all of these games teach imagination.

I’m honestly surprised tabletop games aren’t used more in schools. The things I remember most from school are from when I was engaged in something I was really enjoying. When you force children to learn while they’re bored, their minds are likely to wander. But engage them in something fun and enjoyable and they’ll be eager to learn more.

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Think about those mathematic hypotheticals again for a minute. Who cares how many marbles you have in a bag of various colours. I feel like we were on the right track there at one point in time. We used situations people were likely to encounter or old school games that got people excited. But nowadays marbles are played a hell of a lot less than Magic: The Gathering.

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When you pose a question like:

“you have 40 cards left in your deck. You really need a land. You know that you have 15 lands left in your deck. What is the probability the next card you draw will be a land? Write the amount of lands you have compared to other cards in your deck as a fraction”

Or:

“You know your companion just hit the ogre with a 15 to hit. You have a +7 to your attack roll. What do you need to roll on a 20 sided dice in order to hit the ogre?”

It’s so much more interesting than however many apples you have compared to oranges!

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Look at the activity books children have to write in. Regardless of the topic, you’re attempting to teach through repetition. What’s more likely to hold interest? Filling out numbers or words on page after page, or playing a game over and over which teaches the same basic skills.

The strongest evidence for what I’m saying is the fact this is happening all around the world already, you just don’t see it in the same light. And it’s been occurring forever. The class kids cared about the most when I was in school was Health and Physical Education. Think about it for a moment. We were taught hand-eye coordination, exercise, team skills, and cooperation. Sure we had classes where we were taught theory. I’m not arguing against teaching the academic side of subjects. But in HPE so many of our classes were games. Cricket, soccer, tennis, football… these are games.

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Think about if this is what homework was. The kids come home and still get to be kids, but you bond with them over a board game. You teach them while laughing and having fun yourself. I encourage people to play games with their kids anyway, but if this was the focus of the evening I honestly believe we’d have less stress and closer connections. Homework is inherently a solo activity which you can occasionally help with. Gaming teaches those same skills, but in a family orientated setting. Not to mention it keeps kids engaged with learning when they get home, rather than turn their brain off in front of the television with the hope it kickstarts the next morning.

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“Eww… homework”

We think about games like Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit as wholesome family fun which teaches language and general knowledge. And they totally are. But so many still look at Dungeons and Dragons as though it’s a waste of time and rots your brain. Which is just idiotic. The average D&D player does more reading, writing and basic mathematics than scrabble and trivial pursuit players combined. These games just have an interesting flavour thrown over the top of them. Wizards, dragons and spaceships are far more fascinating topic wise. But the added imagination doesn’t detract from the skills people learn while they play.

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The average school day is about six hours. During that time, kids have about an hour to play for their breaks which still leaves about five hours of learning each day. We all know it’s hard to get kids to focus on any chore or lesson for extended periods of time, yet on weekends we see kids spending hour after hour playing games. Imagine focusing those games into important lessons. Imagine if we can keep the learning going over the school holidays.

I play a lot of videogames too. And I think there’s a lot of positives to computer mediated gaming. But sitting around a table with other people, engaging in conversation about shared storytelling or having to judge the motives of other players. It’s unique, and it’s special.

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I’d love to see this implemented. I’d love to know if any of you out there use tabletop gaming in the class room, or if you have played games in class which helped you to learn. Let me know in the comments. Let’s talk about this. Education is important, and I think gaming is a powerful underused tool.

If you enjoyed this then share the joy on social media so others can enjoy it too. And check out our other articles. They’re always good for a laugh.

Please comment, lets get the conversations flowing!

2 Comments on "Goof’s Guide… Play to Learn"

  1. I studied special education and one of the best assignments we had was to create a series of games to teach a string of mathematical concepts (e.g. “number sequencing from 0-9”, “addition using numbers up to 15”). Only downside was cutting and laminating and cutting SO. MANY. FLUPPING. LITTLE. PIECES…

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