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Gameschooling 101: Integrating Gameplay to Schooling

Alysha Horstman

Public School Art Educator, Art Camp Curriculum Creator, Mother, and Toy Industry Executive

Teachers and parents across the nation are working hard to reimagine education throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As teachers manage students both online and in-person, and parents try to balance work and homeschooling, the demand for exciting and effective teaching tools is at an all-time high. Gameschooling and gamification are two teaching methods becoming popular at home and in the classroom. They are fun and encourage children’s natural curiosity, self-motivation, and involvement.

What’s in a name

Gameschooling and gamification are both defined as using games to teach, practice, and access learning. Gamification focuses on the assessment of learning through an award system where correct answers or time spent practicing earns positive rewards. Gamification is great for questions with one correct answer, like simple addition, but it doesn’t fully engage students in the learning process. Receiving the award is exciting, but kids still need to work to earn them.

Alternatively, gameschooling hides learning inside carefully selected games. By playing games that have math, reading, writing, science, or history built into them, students learn, practice, and show their skills as they try to beat the game. The strategy, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making needed for play disguises learning as fun.

A beginner’s toolkit

The profound learning benefits of play have led to a rise in innovative educational toys and games. As an experienced educator and mother of two, I find gameschooling a valuable tool while homeschooling. Here are a few of my top tools for gameschooling students of different ages and stages:

  • OSMO’s Genius Starter Kit is a great investment for preschool-aged children. The kit includes the Osmo stand and reflector, word and math game cards, Tangram puzzle pieces, and two apps: Drawing Masterpiece and Newton. Children use the Osmo pieces alongside the Osmo apps to solve visual puzzles introducing them to spatial awareness and problem-solving skills. Although Osmo is the most expensive pick on my list ($139), it introduces meaningful technology use and can grow with your child with the purchase of additional kits and apps.
  • Quiddler ($12.99) is a fantastic game for elementary-age children. In this card game, players compete to create words from their letter cards while trying to empty their hand. The cards include single letters and common letter combinations. The game is played in eight rounds or until a player goes out and the highest score wins. This quick-thinking brain game is a combination of Scrabble and Gin Rummy and engages children in math, English and strategy.
  • The new classic Upwords ($19.99) is a go-to for middle school students. Upwords is a unique three-dimensional variation of Scrabble. Players score points by creating words vertically or horizontally on a board but can continue to ‘build’ upon the base words by stacking new tiles on top of previously played tiles to change letters and expand words. Players score points for each tile in and under their word’s tiles. This game is excellent for developing vocabulary, reinforcing phonics, spelling, and quick-thinking skills.
  • For high schoolers, the board game Pandemic ($44.99) is as relevant as it is educational. Pandemic is a cooperative board game in which players work as a team to treat and contain infectious diseases around the world. Players become a specialist within an elite disease control team and must work together to gather resources to cure outbreaks of deadly diseases. The game emphasizes cooperation but can become competitive. This game sparks insightful conversations while strengthening communication and decision-making skills, through role-playing and strategizing.
  • Topping my list is the innovative DoodleMatic/Pixicade Game Maker, which takes gameschooling to a whole new level for people 6-10. DoodleMatic/Pixicade ($29.99) is a brand-new STEM/STEAM activity kit that brings drawings to life as playable games. Three interactive books guide users through the game design process of ideation, creation, testing, iteration, and play. The technology allows users to make playable games without coding. The simplified process allows kids to quickly create, play, and edit their work, focusing on fundamental STEM processes, creativity, physics concepts, and problem-solving skills. With DoodleMatic/Pixicade, kids are not only learning by playing but are actually creating the games they are playing. 
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