Friday Funday: Board Games in the Classroom

I teach special education, exceptional children, kids who have differences, differently abled kids–whatever you want to call it, that’s what I do. The kiddos I teach are amazing human beings. They struggle every day with things that others find easy, but, in so many important ways, they bring so much more to the table than so many others. I’ve worked with people with disabilities for almost 30 years, and one thing I have learned is that the more differences there are, the more things stay the same. 

Kids like games. That’s always true. Kids learn better by playing games. They don’t want to be tricked into learning, but they also don’t want to have to slog through a bunch of boring material to get to the result, where they have shoved a handful of facts into their brains long enough to put the answers down on the test and forget it all moments later. 

Although we still do a lot of traditional learning, the kids have really loved what we refer to as “Friday Funday”. I’m speaking about this here because I think it is important that parents, teachers, everyone knows just how important gaming can be to kids when they learn. 

A lot of games that are marketed to teachers are not really games at all. They are learning with a slightly “gamified” slant. My kids have always seen right through that and feel that they are being tricked. Like most of us, they want to learn things in a fun and exciting way, and in a way that is memorable. 

A student’s D&D character

One way that we do this on Friday Funday is picking specific games that teach a variety of skills but are still enjoyable. A lot of my kids are working on writing and putting together coherent sentences. Rory’s Story Cubes helps with this a lot. They roll out their stories and compose the little words in between. We also have a Dungeons and Dragons set of mini sessions that teach the same story telling without them really noticing. I even have one student who helps me work on a campaign I’m running for some teenagers. This student is a fantastically smart boy and wonderful, but often doesn’t want to engage in classroom work. But when it’s about building stats and writing back stories? We are ALL IN. The great thing about those games is that they also have a lot of collaboration. The kids work together and discuss. I feel that students learn better when they are bouncing ideas off one another and I step back to watch the learning happen but provide guidance where necessary. What kid loves listening to an adult talk for hours? They like my involvement, of course, but the point is that they are the ones learning and engaging with the material. If they are writing, telling stories, getting along–all of these are good things. 

Instant math skills!

Math can also be taught through games. D&D is, of course, a very math heavy game. Many of my students are learning basic math facts. They’ve been learning them for a long time and will continue to be learning them for a long time. Repetition is everything for my students. So, adding their ability modifiers to various rolls, subtracting health points (hopefully not that frequently!) and watching more than/less than for rolls are all very useful for my students. We play Dragonwood, which involves watching which numbers are the same and some basic addition and probability. 

We play Sleeping Queens, Codenames Pictures, Forbidden Island and Cube Quest. Some of these games have great applications to basic academics, but I also like to look for games that enhance social and emotional skills. My students often have services that require them to work on skills like taking turns, being kind, etc. However, all children benefit from this type of learning. Social-emotional learning is one of the most important things that kids are being taught in school, whether it’s taught explicitly or not. Game play is very important to kids for this reason. It helps them to become better adults. 

I’m wondering who else has used games in their classrooms or with their own children to teach skills, and what games are helpful for you. 

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