A homeschool mom wrote to ask me where my episode on gamifying your homeschool was. The problem is I don’t have one! But I thought it was a fantastic idea. This is The Homeschool Sanity Show, the episode where we talk about making our homeschooling more like a fun, motivating game.
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You might have heard of gameschooling. There are some excellent online influencers who share games for teaching just about every topic. I’ve shared games for teaching language arts as well as holiday games. I’m a huge fan of games as a break from traditional teaching. Kids love them and depending on the games, we parents do too. Not only are games fun learning, but they can create family memories you will cherish.
I incorporate games into Grammar Galaxy as well. I particularly like active games because they’re a welcome break for active kids. The fun involved in a game releases dopamine in the brain which aids in retention of the material.
Gameschooling is great. But there is more to gamifying your homeschool than simply adding educational, fun games to your curriculum.
Gamifying Your Homeschool
Gamification means adding game principles to your homeschool life so that you and your family are more motivated.
Let me share an example to explain. Imagine that you were invited to play a card game. There are many rules: you must play certain cards for points but there are other cards that will cost you points. You begin trying to play to earn points. But you forget and play some cards that cost you points. There aren’t any written rules to refer to.
After some time goes by, you ask how you’re doing in the game. Are you ahead, behind, winning, or losing? You’re told to just keep playing the game and you’ll figure it out. New rules seem to be added to the game every turn that cost you points. When you make what you think is a play that will earn you lots of points, you’re told that you can’t make that play now.
My kids have had me play a card game just like this. I reminded them of this game over Thanksgiving and asked them for the name of it. They couldn’t remember. Maddening! I hated the game and never wanted to play it again.
Sometimes our homeschooling is just like this. Our kids do some schoolwork. They feel good about it. But they made some mistakes. They didn’t show their work. They didn’t put enough effort into it. And we let them know. We make them redo the work. We may even give them extra practice work if they didn’t understand a concept.
Or they did very well. They did the work so quickly that we worry we aren’t challenging them. So we ask them to do more advanced work. We ask them to read more or to move on to another subject. We might even add a curriculum to their workload.
The same process can happen with chores. Didn’t do them well enough? Do them again. Get extra chores added on. Do them well but fast? You can handle more chores.
Are you getting the picture? Our kids may feel like they’re playing a game where the rules aren’t clear but what is clear is that there’s no way to win. That isn’t motivating. For anyone.
So how can we fix this to properly gamify our homeschools?
First, the rules for winning at school and chores need to be limited, clear, and preferably posted. We aren’t motivated by a game that tells us to “play cards,” so our kids won’t be motivated to “do school.” They need to know exactly what must be done to earn credit.
If you’re worried that what I’m sharing contradicts with getting kids to take initiative, please don’t. When kids know exactly what is expected of them, they’ll be more likely to take initiative to learn or help more.
But for that to happen, the rules have to be limited and winning has to seem possible. If there are so many rules to remember that I don’t know who to do first, I’m going to want to quit the game before I even get started. If our students have so many assignments that they can’t remember them all, they will feel defeated before they begin.
In addition, winning has to seem achievable. I have started to play video games where the high scorers are listed as motivation for us to compete. I just have to play once and get a paltry score to realize that I will never reach that level, nor would I want to spend the time necessary.
When we have students who are underperforming, our tendency is to want to fill up their lesson plan with work to help them catch up. What happens instead is they feel hopeless and don’t want to even try. Instead, we want to help our kids see that they are winners in school and life. We want to do what we are good at–even if that thing requires time and effort.
In my How to Motivate Any Student class, I share that the first time I played on a part-3 golf course, I hit a flag with my ball on the drive. I was convinced I was a great golfer, and I wanted to keep playing. That was true even though golf is a time-consuming game. We see people spending consider time and effort developing skills in all sorts of areas of life, most likely because they initially believed they had some talent or ability in it.
We can give our kids that initial confidence by making the work easy enough and quick to complete. We know this when it comes to habits and life changes for ourselves. We know we can’t run a 5K without first walking and jogging short distances. We won’t be motivated to organize if it’s going to require weeks and hours of effort. That’s why we work in short, timed bursts.
To use that gamification strategy of making winning possible for our kids, we may have to do some experimenting. Keep cutting down the workload or reducing the level until your child is agreeable. Grammar Galaxy‘s mission steps take just 10-15 minutes each to complete. Some homeschool parents are concerned that this just isn’t enough time. But what happens when you require just 5 minutes of reading a day or 10-15 minutes of language arts a day is kids think it’s doable, so they’ll start. They’ll keep reading because they enoy it. They’ll want to do a second and even a third step in their mission because it was easier than they thought.
Third, a gamified homeschool requires visible progress. Imagine playing a board game where you can’t see how close you are to winning. You have no idea where your marker is. Sometimes our homeschooling is like that. We’re just “doing school” and not even a calendar date indicates the end of the work because Mom feels we need to continue into the summer. I am not suggesting there is a problem with schooling year-round. I AM saying that kids need a finish line to be motivated. I’ve mentioned before how my kids became super motivated to finish their work at the end of the school year when they had a list of everything needed to do before having a long break.
Have a chart posted in a visible spot (like on the refrigerator) that shows progress in books read, math lessons completed, or chores done. Research shows that without any rewards (even without praise), public progress charts improve performance.
Kids also need to know that their work is meaningful and can’t be minimized in an effort to get them to do more. Here’s what I mean. The games of Sorry and Candyland can be so frustrating to play specifically because all your forward progress can be wiped out in one turn. Homeschooling shouldn’t feel like that for our kids. To that end, we should avoid having them redo a whole curriculum. Instead, we might consider switching to a new curriculum or adding supplementary work to shore up the learning. The only reason I would ignore this advice is if your student is on board with redoing the curriculum. We also don’t want to add chores for a student who finishes work quickly and thoroughly.
The final thing a gamified homeschool requires that I’ll discuss today is the unexpected. If you knew you would never win or would win at Solitaire every time, you would not want to play. Variety is the spice of life and it’s what makes games fun. I’m a big believer in routine. We do our best work and are likely to be well rested with a predictable schedule.
But we all need some spontaneity too. Instead of having a regular game day, you could announce that you’re going to spend the afternoon playing board games. Cut your student’s workload in half after assigning it. Go on a surprise field trip. Watch educational movies instead of doing the scheduled lessons. Do fun science experiments. Invite friends over to play. Do your school routine backwards. Even have kids put their clothes on backwards if you like. Put one of your students in charge for the day. Use shopping and cooking as school. Turn your chore list into a randomized game. Roll the dice and do the chore with that number. List some topics your kids are interested. Roll the dice and study the subject that comes up for the day. Have slips of paper with surprise activities or breaks in a jar and let your child choose one when the mood strikes. You can also use a randomizer app on your phone for this purpose.
As long as these surprises don’t become routine, kids will feel like they are playing a game in being homeschooled. Of course, learning is its own reward. But some of our habits can minimize the natural motivation of homeschooling.
When we make the rules for winning clear; when winning seems achievable; when kids see visible progress; and when they regularly experience the unexpected, we have gamified our homeschools and will likely have more homeschool sanity.
Thanks again to CTC Math for sponsoring the podcast.
Have a happy homeschool week and a very merry Christmas to those listening this third week of December.