Gameschool for the Boring Parts (Math and ELA – Part 4 of 4)

Number Ninjas dice

Games for Math, Reading, and Writing

I’ve already written about how board games supplemented our learning this year in science, geography, and history. But what about the “3 Rs” (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic)? These are a huge part of elementary school, even at older ages. Can games make these “boring” subjects more fun?

Games for Math

Nearly every game has math in it. Roll dice or draw a card: learn about probability. Calculating scores uses addition and subtraction.

But we need to go further.

We use Kingdomino for a little extra practice on multiplication. Every time someone adds a tile to their kingdom, we can calculate the new score for the areas that were just expanded. More than just drilling facts, kids can begin to sense how multiplication actually works, by watching how the numbers increase as spaces and crowns are added to a territory.

Practicing math with Kingdomino
Adding this tile, forest score 1×4=4 becomes 2×5=10!

Sequencing is a foundational math skill. Sequencing games such as Qwingo, Qwixx, Racko, or Lucky Numbers, became more interesting when we also talked about probability. If you are waiting for an exact number to fill a spot, how likely is it that you’ll get that exact number? What can you do that would make that spot easier to fill? This is an aspect of math that my son hadn’t though about before this year.

Lucky Numbers showing 9 and 11 with exactly one space between
Only a 10 will fit here. But replace the 9 with something smaller, and our options increase!

Split-and-choose games like New York Slice, Zooscape, or Sundae Split are a great way to incorporate some fractions. How many cards are you taking from the whole? What fraction does that represent? Through games, we learn that it’s sometimes worth it to take a smaller fraction for a bigger reward.

And don’t forget that polyomino games can introduce a little bit of geometry. (Our favorite is Barenpark.) We can measure the area of each shape in square units, and talk about why some fit better than others.

English Language Arts Games

ELA (English Language Arts) is a wide-ranging subject better known to us old folks as “reading and writing”. By late elementary school, kids should be able to understand what they read and do some original writing (with proper spelling and punctuation). But practicing basic skills, such as reading aloud and copywork, is still valuable.

Spelling and Wordplay

Quizzing through a verbal list of spelling words seemed like a waste of time. My son is a pretty good speller already, and the more written words he’s exposed to, the more he’ll learn. But that doesn’t mean spelling isn’t important! I help him find and correct mis-spellings in his writing. And we can still have fun with spelling through word games.

Bananagrams feels very like Scrabble, but less competitive. Put together your own word grid, trying to use all your letters. The tactile nature of the Bananagrams tiles encourages creativity: keep pushing tiles around until a word jumps out at you! Re-arrange tiles and see what you get.

In a learning environment, Bananagrams is best played in an almost-cooperative way. Parents, help your kids see the words that you see in their letters. Make suggestions, or gentle corrections (“Correction needs a C in the middle”) and see if it gets your kids more interested in making long words or creative, tight grids!


Because my son has an interest in sesquipedalians (long words), we also had success with Wordsy from Gil Hova.

In Wordsy, you are trying to create a word that uses letters set out in the middle of the table. The letters are dealt into columns that determine their value – obviously, the more of the letters you use, the better score you can achieve. You’ll also want to go quick – the fastest player gets a bonus, but only if they have a more valuable word than everyone else!

To keep things fair between kids and adults, we used a variant with no timer. When playing with younger kids, I’d also recommend the variant where “advanced” players must use fewer letters for scoring. I’m constantly surprised at how much fun we have with this simple game.

Literature Inspired Games

Sherlock cards
A great intro to Sherlock Holmes!

My last category is a bit of a cheat. We have played a lot of Unmatched this year, and I don’t see any sign of slowing down.

I felt like I was missing something in our plays of Unmatched: Cobble & Fog last summer, which inspired me to read The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. So why not continue that plan?

Since most Unmatched sets built on characters from classic literature, I’m planning to use them as a jumping off point to examine many of these stories next year. From Sherlock to Beowulf to the tales of Sinbad, there’s a lot here to choose!

I’m also planning to incorporate more poetry and some Shakespeare, so I’ll be on the lookout for games that will assist with that.

Gameschooling is for Anyone

I think our first year of gameschool has gone pretty well. Our most successful forays have been with games that fit into what we’re learning without being “educational” by themselves. These games have themes that fit in and around what we’re learning, reinforcing lessons and opening room for more dialogue.

The best part? You don’t have to be a homeschooler to do this! Just play games with your kids and listen. Are they curious? Help them find questions to ask, then help them find answers. Because that’s what true learning is: finding the answers to the questions that interest you.

That’s it for our gameschooling series! Do you have a favorite game that stimulates curiosity in your child(ren)?