Learning Games

You can make learning a lot more fun for your children with learning games of all kinds–store-bought ones certainly, but lots that you can create yourself.  Here are some great ideas:

Learn and PlayLearning Games that use “reading” or “writing”

There are many simple card games and other games available commercially, including ones at Dollar Stores or Thrift Stores for very little cost. Even common “table games” that for example, have cards that need to be read, work well. Flashcards and workbooks are also available inexpensively, but instead of insisting your child work through every page of a workbook, use pages that apply to a particular learning need, or let the child choose pages that they are interested in. You can also create learning games (like “I Spy something that starts with “c” … OR travel games like “Who can write down the most sign words?”), or just make up your own worksheets related to a book the child is reading, or a particular sound difficulty your child is having. “Real reading” and “real writing” are far better than “worksheets” when you can do so–for writing grocery lists, notes to grandparents, etc.; for reading, how-tos, recipes, etc.

Games as learning motivation:

If your child is unhappy about doing “school work” (worksheets, assigned reading), offer to play a game with her afterwards. Keep a selection of games handy (you can get many great used games at thrift stores, or as hand-me-downs from friends whose children have outgrown them), and choose one which in some way relates to the concept the child has been working on. You can also “add to” the game with extras (like word cards) that relate to the learning concept. Thus the child is “rewarded” for doing her work, but at the same time is putting it into practice. Just don’t talk about the game as a learning experience–make it a fun time in which learning “slips in.”

Hands-on Learning Games:

For children who are “hands-on” learners, magnetic or foam or sandpaper letters are great for “writing” words or even sentences/short stories. As the child “feels” the shape of the letters, it will help him to learn even better. Leaving magnetic letters on the fridge is a great way to encourage a child to play with words, or even leave messages (“I love you, mom!” “I want cookies”). Also, hang a good-sized white board or black board at an easy level for the child, put up a sheet with the alphabet letters on it, and let the child write and draw freely whenever they wish. You could also start a grocery list on the board, and let the child add to it.

Letter Tile Learning Games:

You can also often get games with letter tiles at thrift stores–for example, old Scrabble or similar games. Even if some letters are missing, children like to just use the tiles to make up words. You may well find that your child can spell words with tiles that he struggles with when writing. This is because when writing, the child is having to do two complex things at once: think of how the word is spelled and sound it out, while at the same time trying to correctly form the letters. Some games like “Jr. Scrabble” or “Boggle Jr.” have the words printed out on the game board or on cards, and your child can find the correct tiles (or letter dice) and place them on the words. Or you can give your child magazines or newspapers (or books) with large-letter headlines, and the child can place the correct tiles on top of the headlines, and then you can read them together. Often, a child, sounding out each letter as he places it on the written word, is able to “sound it out” more easily than trying to sound out the fully written word. Also, pictures with the articles/headlines may give your child a “hint” about the word.

Learning Game Uses for Sight Word Cards:

A simple set of “sight word cards” can be used in many ways other than just as flash cards. -One way to use them is to divide them into groups of words that start with (or contain) the same vowel sound, or beginning consonant, or blend or digraph (st, ch), etc. By dividing them into groups with a common element, the child can relate them to each other and learn that particular sound or spelling rule more easily.
-Another method is to divide the cards into groups of verbs (action words), nouns (people, places, things, qualities), adjectives (words that describe nouns), adverbs (words that describe verbs), conjunctions (joining words), articles (the, a, an), pronouns (you, he, she, they, etc.) and of course all those little prepositions (relationship words: at, by, from, into, in, with, on, after, for, to, etc.). Then the child can (with help, to start with–later, on his own) pick a card from each pile and put them together into a sentence. You may start with just three or four piles (For example: noun, verb, article, adjective–from which simple sentences can be constructed, such as: The brown cat ran). Then more piles can be provided for more complex sentences. After the child has laid out a sentence, he can copy it, hand-written, on paper or or on a blackboard or a sentence strip.
-Use sight word cards along with other games. For example, for “Snakes and Ladders,” after the child has rolled the dice, she must read a sight word card correctly in order to move forward.
-Use two matching sets of sight word cards to play card games like “Go Fish” or “Memory.” When the child gets a matching set, he must read the word in order to keep the cards, or else they go back into the game.

Common Noun Labels for Everyday Learning:

Here’s a fun game to learn to read common nouns–such as names of objects around the house. Make matching cards with the names of things found around your house. Tape one set to the different objects, furniture, appliances, and so on. Then give your child the other set, and have her go around the house and find the matching card for each word, and “read” the word. If you do this game for several days, your child will quickly learn a lot of words by “sight.” To make it more fun, make a graph to show your child’s progress. On one axis of the graph, put the days; on the other axis of the graph, put the number of minutes it takes the child to find each item and read its name. The graph will start with a high number of minutes, and then get shorter and shorter. You can also do this with items in your car while on road trips; or on road trips or bus trips you can have your children write down words they see on signs. These kinds of games help children feel they can easily read “hard words” even while they are still struggling to learn to read using phonics.

Memory Scrapbook or Blog Learning Activity:

If your family is going on a holiday, encourage your child to make a memory scrapbook. For a child who is just beginning to read and write, provide scissors, and tape and glue, and simply have the child collect and place postcards, tickets, brochures, and any other “memorabilia” in the scrapbook. At the end of each day, go over that day’s scrapbooking with your child, and read the materials together. Later, after you’ve returned home, you can review the entire trip at any time, and because of the child’s memories which have been enhanced by creating the scrapbook, and reviewing it at the end of each day, you may be very surprised at how many words the child will now recognize. For children with more developed reading and writing ability, have them add their own written comments, captions, and even stories to the memorabilia each day. Again, read together both the memorabilia and of course the child’s own writing.

Another alternative to the above activity, especially for children with more advanced writing skills, is to have the child create an online daily blog–with photos the child has taken–online. Again, do a daily reading, and then a full reading when back home.

Imaginative Words Learning Game:

Give your child a vowel card (a, e, i, o, or u), and half a dozen or so different consonant cards (don’t provide too many choices, and at first avoid unusual letters like q, v, y, z). Have your child choose two consonants, one to put on each side of the vowel. Have her “sound” the “word” (with the short vowel sound). Have the child “sound it” in a stretched-out way. Discuss: Is this a real word or is it an imaginary (“nonsense”) word? If it is a real word, have the child write it, then sound it again “stretched out”, and then say it normally.

Animal Sounds Learning Game:

An activity many younger children enjoy is reading animal sounds. Write words like “moo, oink, meow, cluck, quack, arf” and so on. Even though these might seem like difficult words for a beginner, if you tell the child they are animal sounds, and have the child “sound out” the word by stretching out the letters, there is a good chance the child will be able to figure it out. Once he has figured it out, have him try to make the animal sound in the most realistic way possible, while looking at the word. Children often find this a lot of fun, and it is good “sounding out” practice. If the child is struggling, you might have an animal book or animal cards handy, and point out a picture of the animal, then point at the word again–and chances are, your child will be able to figure it out.

“Key Word” Learning Game:

I like to play the “key word” game with children who are reading non-fiction pieces. You can also use fiction stories, but being able to identify “key words” is a very useful skill for non-fiction reading and research, so I prefer to use non-fiction pieces. Also, students who read slowly, and feel under pressure to finish an “assignment” or an “exam” in a limited amount of time, tend to read the piece once, then answer the questions they are sure of. But for the questions they aren’t sure of, they will more likely just “guess” the answers–or even not do them, rather than go back and re-read, because if time is limited, they simply don’t have the time–and children who are slow readers also usually don’t have the skills to “skim” for the answer. This is where the “key word” game is useful.

Before your child does an assignment in which she is required to read, and then answer questions, photocopy both the article and the questions. Then read each of the questions together. For each question, have your child highlight the “key word” or “key phrase” for that question (use a different highlighter color for each question–or you can mark them in other ways: single underline, double underline, squiggly underline, circle, box, etc.). Also talk about possible synonyms for each key word, as sometimes the questions will use different words than the ones used in the article. When you have gone through all the questions, review the list of key words. Then you read article together, slowly. Each time your child reads/hears one of the key words, or a synonym, she highlights (or otherwise marks) it in the appropriate colour (or mark). When finished reading, go through the questions again. Read each question, note the key word/phrase, and find highlighted instances of the word/phrase (or synonym) in the story. Re-read the sentence in which that word or phrase is used. Usually, the child will be able to give the correct answer; if not, read the sentence before and the sentence after, for context.

Once a child is adept at this “game,” you can allow her, after the “key word” search, to first answer the “easy” questions, and just use the “key word” method for the “hard” questions. Also, another way to approach this exercise is to read the piece aloud to the child first. Then ask the child what she thinks are the “key words” and “key ideas” (before looking at the questions) and discuss those words and ideas. The child can then attempt the questions–looking in them for the key words and ideas already discussed. And if she still has difficulties with a couple questions, she can go back, “skim” the piece for the words/phrases and highlight them–then read their sentences for the answers.

Most children like this “skimming for key words” and enjoy it as a game, just glancing through a piece and marking as many instances of it as they can. You can even just present the child with a list of key words; it doesn’t necessarily have to be done to answer questions–the skimming skill will be useful when answers to questions are required later on. To make it more “game-like,” you can use a timer to limit the time, or have two or more children compete. Keep a record of how many words the child finds while “skimming”–and over time, as the game is replayed, the child will be happy to see how much more quickly she can find the “key words.”

Categorization Learning Games:

Children like to play “categorization” games, a number of which are available commercially, or are found as exercises in workbooks–but of course you can easily create your own. Categorizing is an important skill that will be used frequently in reading, writing, arithmetic, and many everyday life situations and work situations. An example of creating your own “category game” is on road trips, during which you can have your children call out, or write down, things that belong in different categories (plants, animals, stores, signs, licence plates, etc.).

While most children find categorizing pretty easily, some children do have certain problems, which you can watch out for, and provide extra practice with. For example, some children have difficulty in categorizing more “narrow” groupings. A child might do fine with “food” but have difficulty with “sub-categories” such as “fruits” or “desserts”–and even more defined categories such as “berries” and “cakes.” You could help a child with this by looking together at cookbooks, or reading menus, or going to the grocery store to see how they set up foods in categories and sub-categories.

Another “categorization” some children have difficulty with is “emotion” words. A child might not be able to separate positive emotions (cheerful, happy, pleased) from negative emotions (mad, sad, fussy, angry). You can help your child “see” these emotions by using “emoticons” and/or “smiley faces” to illustrate different emotion words (An excellent selection is found here. You may find that having the child draw his own emoticons/faces will help him really sort out emotions into categories–and is also a good exercise for children who have difficulty with expressing their own emotions/feelings. For children who are graphically-oriented, or very hands-on, these “non-commercially-produced” category games/activities are often far more useful than worksheets or even card/table games.

Do you have other learning game ideas? Please add them below in the comments! Thank you!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

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