Sunday, July 11, 2010

Learning Games my Girls Loved to Play Anywhere

As I've been rolling over fall lesson plans in my mind, I'm remembering stuff I did with the girls when they were younger. Learning games and such. I shared some of these at Friday School (our homeschool co-op in Jersey), and the moms really liked them. I'm not sure how many readers I have here with little ones, but I thought I would share anyway. Adults can enjoy them, too. And the big advantage -- they can be played anywhere.

The Minister's Cat -- I learned this game watching old "Christmas Carol" movies. I'm not sure exactly how it was originally played, but this is how we play it. Everyone takes turns coming up with a word to fill in the blank of this sentence: "The minister's cat is a <blank> cat." As in . . . "The minister's cat is a funny cat." "The minister's cat is a round cat." "The minister's cat is a purple cat." With little kids I would sometimes have them come up with an antonym to the word I chose (fat - skinny, tall - short). As they get older, you can make it more challenging by having all the words start with the same letter. (This is a great way for you to inject some new vocabulary words, too -- affable, articulate, amiable . . . )

Why is this a good game? It teaches kids the concept that certain words have certain functions in a sentence -- these words describe. Eastin used to always stick in her favorite -- "The minister's cat is a ketchup cat!!!" -- and laugh like a maniac, because she knew it didn't make sense. But the fact that she recognized it doesn't make sense showed the learning that was happening. It also increases vocabulary, as I said before. And it's a great way to kill time waiting for your food at a restaurant (our favorite spot to play this game).

Veo, Veo: We played this one for a while when we were learning Spanish colors. It's basically "I Spy" in Spanish. "Veo, veo, con mis ojos . . . amarillo!" (I see, I see with my eyes . . yellow!) Bonus points if they know the Spanish word for the yellow object that they guess, also. Obviously, a good review for Spanish vocabulary, but the initial phrase also is something to reference later when teaching grammar (the first person singular -o ending, the -s on the end of the plural possessive pronoun, etc.).

Twenty Questions: the Kandt variation: Again, a favorite restaurant game. When we play, we usually limit ourselves to people. And the educational key here is . . . we specifically taught them the efficient way to play. Divide your total pool of possibilities into large categories to eliminate first. For example, "Is this person alive?" is a great question to start with, but "Is this person in this room?" is not. Something I just read recently called this "lateral thinking", and it's a great problem-solving skill.

One year when we were studying animals, we started playing the game focusing on the animal categories we were studying. "Is it a vertebrate?" "Is it a mammal?" "Is it often domesticated?" etc. This reinforced the lateral thinking AND the information they were learning in science. They had a great time trying to find animals that would stump mom and dad.

Botticelli: A game from Keith's growing up years -- and a next step after our people 20 questions game. This actually is more for older kids and adults, because it's more complicated and requires a general knowledge of well-known people (but 10-year-old Eastin has been playing it for quite a while). The "leader" with the target name for everyone to guess gives the first letter of the target person's last name. Then, in order to earn the right to ask a question about the target person, players have to stump the leader with a description of someone else whose name starts with that letter. For example, if the name starts with B, someone might ask the leader, "Are you the inventor of the telephone?" If the leader guesses right ("No, I'm not Alexander Graham Bell."), then no question can be asked. But if the leader is stumped, the player can ask a yes/no question to get more info about the target name ("Are you alive?") After that, all people chosen for stumping questions have to meet that criteria as well (that is, they must be alive if the target person is).

It's more complicated to explain than it is to play . . . but the girls love it, and again, it is VERY educational. We bring up famous people that are new to them . . and they learn new facts about people they are familiar with (because you want to make those stumping questions pretty obscure to stump them) . . and again, they are doing more of this lateral thinking. This one's a great travel game, because it can take a long time.

Ah -- now I'm in the mood to go out to lunch so we can play. "The minister's cat is a redundant cat . . ."

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