I am a board gaming obsessed parent. Being able to introduce games which not only support Mini-meeple’s formal education, but also enhance his personal development, is my licence to play more games.
When we started the home-schooling-home-working experience back in March 2020, we had no idea what we were doing. The school had no idea what they were doing. Why would we? Why should they? Mummy and daddy went to work. Mini-meeple went to school. We laboured and complained. He learned and thrived. Socially, educationally, developmentally. That was the deal.
But suddenly it wasn’t. The Government announced schools were closing, and parents had to manage. Teachers rallied, don’t get me wrong. but some age groups, schools, local authorities, and families were better equipped, better informed, and simply better adapted to remote, home led learning than others.
Parent Teacher Grade: F
We were very lucky. We had enough food, laptops, iPads, smart TVs, and a private garden at our disposal. Many did not. We also had our health intact (physically if not mentally), and were used to monitoring and helping with homework. But we still panicked. We still struggled. And we still regret how we approached Mini-meeple’s education during those first 6 months. Effectively, first time round the home-education roundabout, we failed. Hard.
An Engineer and a lawyer versus a 5 year old and we lost. And even when we won, we lost. Seeing him glaze over in front of a screen showing a 30 minute video he was instructed to watch, or disappear under a mountain of dull worksheets, was a mummy gut-punch. But we had to work, and he had to learn, and the only thing we had to go on was the suggested reading that would drop into our inbox every morning.
He tried, we tried. He lost interest, we lost our patience. We were trying to be everything but achieving nothing. The words “I don’t really like mummy-daddy school, and I miss my friends” were a bruise on my soul.
Mummy Must Try Harder!
Needless to say, when Lockdown 2.0 started later in the new year, his school was much more prepared, and we received a wealth of additional support. Not only that, however, we adapted our approach.
Slowly at first. But with confidence growing, we moved away from mindlessly following prescribed activities and lessons, just because they fitted in with work calls and deadlines.
The focus moved from what his teachers wanted to record on their charts to what was best for him. At this uncertain time. In these unexpected circumstances. We started to realise that education wasn’t limited to sums on a sheet, or what can be taught in a classroom setting – I know, we should have been able to grasp this a lot faster, but we were in full on Pandemic Panic mode initially.
So a lesson about ecosystems went outside into the garden where we could see a fuzzy bumble do its special dance. Our patio became a huge chalk board for working out simple equations. Alexa also provided the soundtrack to epic PE dance parties and some rocking baking tunes when we were cooking up a storm in home economics.
Not only that but Mini-meeple himself revealed a new and unexplored avenue of learning. I have written previously about home-schooling during lockdown as well as touched upon successful education systems that focus on development through play.
But the connection didn’t really manifest for me until I saw him pick up a sheeple from All Creatures Big and Small and happily act out a farming scenario, using the knowledge he had built up through reading his story books. I then saw him count the number of buttons I had collected in Patchwork, select a patch, and give me the correct “change”. I was floored.
Don’t get me wrong. Mini-meeple has games. Lot of games. He loves nothing more than playing games. And we have a great time playing “his” games and “our” games together.
But (and this is probably more to do with my own childhood than anything else), games were for afterwards. They were the reward. After the graft. After the chores. After the “hard” or “boring” work. Not treated as part of the learning process. Until, of course, it became blindingly obvious that they could be. Not only that, but that they unequivocally should be.
Selfishly, my mind then skipped forwards to the potential joy that would be guilt free opportunities for lockdown daytime gaming. But more than that, I realised that we could enhance and encourage his development on the sly.
Now, Mini-meeple is a sharp one (when he isn’t engaging in air-toot contests with Bearded Moon, that is!), and any efforts to manoeuvre him are spotted a mile off. Reverse psychology falls on deaf ears – in fact, he is far better at manipulating me than the other way around.
And so we knew we were onto a winning formula when he unknowingly demonstrated that game time could have developmental and educational benefits. If a video or a sheet of questions didn’t appeal or weren’t clicking for him, we suddenly realised that we could change tack and bring out a board game he knew and loved that connected either mechanically or thematically.
Similarly, if a big concept was difficult to broach or grasp, a dialogue broken down through connected play made it more accessible.
Probably most importantly, if an issue was troubling him, then it could be tentatively explored whilst playing or even forgotten through distraction until he was ready – the pressure of a one-to-one conversation taken off the table.
And not forgetting just having fun together in a social, relaxed way.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, although Mini-meeple is back and school and lockdown has lifted, we are still using board games to support his social and academic development and we show no signs of stopping. As a result, I have been inspired to begin a new series of mini reviews featuring board games which shine particularly brightly in terms of game oriented learning. And all the better if they do it on the down low!
So, if you see a game on my site or other media channels which are tagged #faveouritefoefunlearning then you’ll know it is one which helps to support Mini-meeple’s learning and development.
I have no doubt that Mini-meeple is going to learn a lot as he plays and explores the world though games. But do you know what? I am pretty certain that I am going to learn even more than him! 😊