Why Games Are a Must in the Primary Classroom

I have always loved to play games.  So, 12 years ago, when I began my teaching journey as a first year first grade teacher, I decided games would not just be for inside recess.

I put board games and puzzles in my literacy stations while I did guided reading groups.  And I didn’t just give them a whole station just because I loved games.  I also knew that games were an important part of helping kids develop skills they needed as an adult.  At my teacher core, I believe primary kids learn best through play.

But….the stress of the classroom came.

And peer pressure from others came.

Higher standards and higher expectations came.

And even though I knew games were beneficial, I didn’t feel confident in WHY I thought games were so important.  After all, I was just a first year teacher.  What the heck did I know?  {hint: not much at all!}

So, slowly the games and puzzles went back into the closet.  Because “They just are,” isn’t an acceptable answer to the question, “Why is it important for your kids to play board games during instructional time,” in the eyes of many people.  And it wasn’t an acceptable answer to me either.  But it was all I had.

Fast forward 12 years.  I’m home with my 5 year old on a mommy break from the classroom.  And he is obsessed with playing games.  Every time we play, I see math and literacy skills developing in my preschooler through my teacher lense.

And now, I finally can defend the value of board games and puzzles as an important part of the primary classroom.

Games Build Problem Solving Skills

Math Practice #1 says,

When I play board games, there is always a problem I need to solve.  Getting 4 in a row {Connect 4}, finding my opponent’s battleships, capturing checkers are all problems that have to be solved to win a game.  And they don’t happen very quickly.  I have to have patience and persevere to win.  Losing my stamina and giving up quickly means I lose the game.

The same is true in math and literacy.  In math, when word problems get tough, I need to be able to persevere and not give up to find the solution.

In reading, decoding can be tough.  But I need to be able to persevere and use multiple clues and strategies to accurately read.

Having difficulty with your kids giving up easily on math problems? Problems building stamina in independent reading time?

Play games.

Strategy Games Build Analyzing Skills

When I play strategy games, I have to analyze the game, my opponents move, and I have to stay at least one step ahead of my opponent in order to win.  I have to look for patterns, evaluate whether my strategy or next move is reasonable and look for the most efficient way to “win.”

When I make predictions and inferences in stories, it requires me to be one step ahead of the story to know what’s happening next or why something is happening.

When I look at my friend’s math strategies, or participate in math talks, I must be able to analyze their strategy and tell why they chose that strategy. 

When I solve math problems, I need to analyze my own thinking by using a reasonable strategy that is efficient so that I can solve quickly.

Becoming a mathematician means…

Not all games are strategy games, though.  Candyland is fun, but there is no strategy to it.  This is not a game I have in my primary classroom, unless it’s for inside recess.  Games that are a must in the primary classroom, must be strategy games.  {I’ll be blogging soon about my favorite strategy games for the primary classroom.}

Want your kids to have more strategies in their math toolbox and be flexible thinkers? Looking for higher level analysis skills in reading comprehension? Want kids who can analyze equations and math thinking during math talks?

Play games.

Games Build Accuracy

When I play games, I have to be accurate or I cannot win.  The first game that comes to mind with accuracy is Guess Who.   If I put down someone with facial hair after my friend tells me his person has facial hair, there’s a chance I just got rid of the person I needed to win the game.

When I solve math problems, measure, or tell time, I have to be accurate.  One mistake means an incorrect answer and no solution. Becoming a mathematician means…

When I read, I have to be accurate.  Too many mistakes mean my comprehension suffers or I have misunderstandings.

Want your kids to slow down and make fewer mistakes in math and literacy?  Wish they would go back and check their writing for mistakes?

Play games. Play games.  Play games.

So stand tall.  Your gut is right.  Games are worth some of your instructional time.  They are worth playing with the family after dinner {and a great way to support school work at home with out doing homework… #winning} Let your primary kids play strategy games and don’t feel guilty about it one bit.  Feel confident knowing that you are building little people with high level thinking and problem solving skills for the adult world!

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