3 Easy Learning Games to Keep Your Active Learner Engaged

My first grader was born running. At birth, she showed up 25 minutes after we got to the hospital. At ten months, she ran circles around me and her sister. At 18 months, she potty trained herself. At 27 months, she organized small bands of marauding neighborhood preschoolers. (I wish I were kidding.) 

This girl is my spitfire. She’s my firebrand, my Katie-bar-the-door. And the truth is, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except when it comes to homeschooling.

Shakespeare's description from A Midsummer Night’s Dream suits this child to a tee, “Oh, when she is angry, she is keen and shrewd!...And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

B is brilliant.  She’s also hilarious, charismatic, and an absolute challenge to teach. I’ve never seen a child with a stronger will or a more insatiable appetite for play. In the homeschool classroom, B requires constant stimulation, and it has to be fun.  

I admit it.  I struggled with this at first.

My background is in secondary education, and as such, my homeschooling style lends itself toward a more structured, traditional environment. This works really well for my oldest who is a naturally curious, self-directed learner. But when I tried the same approach with B, you would have thought I was sentencing her to death. 

There was wailing.  Gnashing of teeth. Throwing of toys and stuffed animals.  

And that was just my reaction.

It took me about three quarters of the way through Kindergarten to wise up. I dropped the heavily structured curriculum (worksheets, workbooks, assignments, etc.), and we played games — the more physical, the better. Why?

  • Gross motor movement appeals to kinesthetic learners.

  • Pairing intellectual concepts with physical movements leads to better retention.

  • Sensory engagement aids comprehension in children of all ages and ability levels.

Here’s a sampling of the activities we use. The only limit is your imagination.

1. Flashlight Tag

Flashlight tag is great for building vocabulary or learning sight words. I taped sight word cards around the room, turned off the lights, and handed B a flashlight. We set a timer, and I gave her thirty seconds to run around the room, spot a word, and see if she could read it. At first, I taped the word cards to items they represented (book to a book, for example).  As her recognition improved, we shifted to more abstract vocabulary.  

Modifications

  • Use a Nerf gun or bow and arrow instead of a flashlight, shooting the words as your child recognizes them.

  • Expand the search beyond one room for more physical activity.

  • Include concepts like science vocabulary, dates in history, or math facts to make it cross-curricular.

2. Zoom Around the Room

B and I learned this game years ago in a Mommy and Me class. To modify this for school, I turned it into a sorting activity.  For learning the difference between vertebrates and invertebrates, for example, we glued animal pictures to index cards and spread them around the room. I played a few bars of music while she wandered around to look at the cards. When the music stopped, she picked up a card and ran to the correct corner (if she was holding a crab card, for example, she would run to the invertebrate corner). Once all the cards were sorted, we sat down to discuss each animal’s features and correct any mistakes.

Modifications

  • Recite nursery rhymes instead of listening to music.

  • Gradually increase the number of categories.

  • Include concepts like geometric shapes, literary genres, and historical events to make it cross-curricular.

3. Ball Toss

At its core, the ball toss activity is designed to keep students on their toes: if you’re not watching the ball, it might hit you, right?

For B, we used a variation that had us moving farther away from each other with each missed answer, and closer to one another with each correct choice. My oldest played the role of quiz master, asking B and me specific questions and judging our answers. I especially like this activity for review purposes at the end of a unit or lesson.

Modifications

  • Write concepts or draw representative pictures on the ball. The student must respond to the concept that is face up when they catch it (e.g. define a word, explain a concept, offer an opposing viewpoint, etc.).

  • Use several balls and combine the toss with Zoom Around the Room (categorize the concepts as you find them).

Activities like these not only they engage the student, they also engage me, the teacher, as I devise household or front yard games for learning.  If you’d like to create some of your own, simply take a look at what you've got around the house:

  • Have Twister? Use it to learn multiplication facts (“Right leg, the product of 3x4!”).

  • Like scavenger hunts?  Do them outside (or inside) to find liquids, solids, and gases.

  • Have sidewalk chalk on hand? Fill the sidewalk with diagrams or character sketches.

Play is a child’s first, most universal language. It is how children learn about and process their world. It’s a valuable tool for learning, and we should thank our children for the reminder of one of the best ways to reach them with homeschool lessons.


Ginny Kochis

About the Author

Ginny Kochis is a former high school English teacher and adjunct professor of English turned homeschooling mom and business owner. She writes about faith, motherhood, homeschooling and family literacy at Not So Formulaic.

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