Video Games

I can already see you rolling your eyes at me. How can I suggest video games as a learning tool, or even as part of our homeschool curriculum? Well, maybe part of the curriculum is a bit too much of a stretch, but … we have definitely found some advantages to video games, and have gained from letting the kids play them. In one of my past blogs about reading, I told how my son’s reading skills were advanced simply by his desire to play a game. In this blog I’d like to expand on that, and show how many different games can be used as an aid.

When my son was in first grade his favorite game was The Legend of Zelda. Actually, that’s still his favorite game, but I digress. The Zelda series has, by its design, quite a bit of reading as part of the game. It’s a game of both skill and thinking, and reading is a necessity to play. When he first started playing, either I or his older sister would read him the dialogue, and help him to think it through. I reasoned, at the time, that he was only 6 years old and a beginning reader, so it was only reasonable to help him along in this way.

Then we hit a snag in his schooling. His reading skills stalled at beginner; he couldn’t seem to move past slowly sounding words out, and I was at a loss as to what to do. Then one afternoon, when he asked me to again read the words from Zelda to him, I came to a realization. I told him no. I explained to him that he was now learning to read, and if he wanted to continue playing his favorite game, he would have to read the words himself.

And so, for the next few weeks, pushed by his desire to play and love of that game, he started reading all those words. And an amazing thing happened: his reading improved. And then it improved more. And by the time a few months had gone by, he had gone from barely reading to reading quite well, and all through The Legend of Zelda.

My 5th grade daughter found another game called World of Goo. This game is an interesting one, and at first I was skeptical when I heard other homeschoolers talk about how great it was for learning. The object is to get all these little balls of goo basically from one side of the screen to the other, but to do so you have to build connecting lines and towers. But that’s where the learning comes in. These towers of goo respond correctly to physics and weight, so my daughter, while having fun, was learning spatial relationships, physics, and gravity in a setting I could never duplicate. The younger ones enjoy watching for the fun aspect, but she has learned so much through just this game.

All in all, I’d say some video games have useful things to teach our kids, if we let them.

Holiday Vacation

Christmas, Christmas time is here … so it’s that time of year again, and of course my children are bursting with Christmas spirit. More to the point, they’re full to the point of bursting with excitement over their soon-to-arrive presents! I have to admit that I’ve given in to the temptation to hold Christmas over their heads, as in: “Get your schoolwork done” or “Clean your room, or Santa isn’t going to bring presents!” I always feel guilty after using such blatant coercion but I can’t seem to help myself.

In other news, my daughter has reported to me at least a dozen times what day Christmas vacation starts for her friend, the girl next door who attends public school. She was literally counting down the minutes until Christmas vacation started and they have TWO WHOLE WEEKS OFF!!! (Emphasis added by her.)

So how to handle school vacations? When my daughter was younger, and more unaware of the public school’s schedule, I very often worked her right through many a “school vacation week.” My reasoning was twofold: to end our school year even sooner, and to not stop if we were in the middle of learning something new. However, she soon made friends at Girl Scouts and in the neighborhood, and it was hard to sit and do school with kids knocking on our door wanting to play.

Even though we follow most of the public school’s vacation schedule, we still finish at the beginning of May, which is nice, I must admit. In light of this fact, this year I started our Christmas break a full 4 days earlier than our public school counterparts. I’ve gone round and round with why I did this, but the full truth is very simple: we have family coming over for the holidays in a few short days, and typically I can either: homeschool and clean the basics, or take a day off school and REALLY clean.

Just because we’re not sitting down with books I’ve found that we can still learn a great deal even if we’re not “doing school.” My daughter loves learning about the origins of holidays, so I’ve gathered both her and her little brother to learn about the origins of all the holidays at this time of year, and the various ways they’re celebrated around the world. This didn’t take me long at all in my holiday cleaning/cooking schedule; I simply went online and printed out some printable worksheets for them to do. Since my daughter is in 5th grade and can handle more advanced material she gets the meatier stuff, and for my son in 2nd grade he has simple word searches and vocabulary sheets pertaining to the holidays. After they finish their sheets my daughter condenses down the history she read and tells her brother all about it.

This year promises to be a great holiday season. We’ve put away our regular studies, the house is shaping up – as much as a house with 4 kids can shape up – and the kids are happy AND learning.

Happy Holidays!