Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DIY Learning Games

In my last post, I shared how I created a Customizable Game Board, flexible enough to support a whole host of learning games. (Update: Here's another method for making a customizable board)
In this post I will share a number of games you can play using this board.  Of course, you don't have to make the reusable board in order to play them: you can always draw a custom board for any of the games!

Note that each of these games is targeted to kids between 3 and 5 years old. I would love your ideas for games for older children!

Before we begin, however, let's explore a few

Options for random number generation

Every game needs a random element, and there are three basic methods for generating one
First: The classic die. (Hint: If you are tired of chasing them under tables and restoring toppled playing pieces, you might want to try rolling a die in a bubble! We have also used a basic clear Tupperware container to good effect.)
Of course, dice come in more than simple 6-sided cubes: check your local school supply or gaming store for 8 sided, 10 sided, even 20 sided or more dice.  Or, go really high tech and look for a dice rolling app for your smart phone!

Second: The spinner. Also can be complicated for little hands, but it's good practice, so consider raiding your game closet for options.  The "Life" game, for instance, has a nice 10-number spinner.  Or, make your own from an old CD or DVD.

Third: The Draw Pile. In other words, slips of paper, cards, tiles, or whatever drawn from a face-down pile or opaque bag.  Certainly the most flexible of the options, but potentially the most labor intensive as well.  Once again, it's a good thing for little ones to practice, but be prepared for some serious coaching as they grab too many, spill the sack, or simply take forever to pull their hand out.

In each game description that follows, I've mentioned the random generator option that we chose, but should always feel free to select a different one.  Simply switching from rolling a die to pulling a number out of a bag can make a whole new game!

Game #1: Follow The Yellow Purple Brick Road


Concepts: Following a path, Counting, Shape Recognition (optional)

(optional) Use dry erase marker to draw basic shapes on each square on the game board, as shown in photo. Draw arrows in the direction of travel

Game Play: This most basic game is appropriate for the youngest players, and those just learning the concepts of following a path or counting.  The rules couldn't be simpler: each player rolls a die and moves that number of spaces ahead on the path.  If you have drawn shapes in each space, the player should name the shape he or she lands on.  First player to the finish line wins!


  • Roll two dice.  Player identifies the larger number and moves that number of spaces ahead. (We found one that has numbers rather than dots, adding an extra element) 
  • Assign penalties and/or rewards (one space ahead or back) for correctly identifying the shape on your space
  • Replace shapes with letters, sight words, etc. 

Game #2: I've Got Your Number! 

Concepts: Counting, Number recognition, (Optional) Greater Than / Less Than

Use dry erase markers to write numbers 1-6 on each space on the game board

Game Play: Each player rolls a die.  He or she announces the number on the die, and then advances to the nearest matching number on the game board. 

  • For older players: Players may chose to advance either the number of spaces shown on the die, or to the nearest matching number on the board. Have player count the number of spaces between his playing piece and the nearest number match, and compare it to the number on his die.  
  • Use a 10-number die (and add the additional numbers to the board, of course!) 

Game #3: The Color of Fun

Concepts: Color matching, Following a Path
  • Customizable Game Board (or draw your own on paper!) 
  • Playing pieces for each player
  • Die with 3 to 6 colors instead of numbers, or a Draw Pile containing colored chips or the like
  • Dry erase markers matching your die or draw pile colors
Use the dry erase markers to color a portion of each space on the game board
(Optional) Add one or more shortcuts or back-tracks - think "chutes" and "ladders" - using a black dry erase marker.  Mark with arrows in the direction of travel. 

Game Play: Each player rolls the color die, or selects from the draw bag / pile. After naming the color, he or she then advances to the nearest space marked with that color.  If the nearest space is already occupied by another player, he or she advances to the next closest matching spot.  (This works better when there are only a few colors in the game, or when the path is quite long.)  
If the player's piece comes to rest on a spot containing the entrance to a shortcut or a back-track, he or she immediately moves it to the other end of the feature. 

  • Add some action to the game: Have the player get up and touch something in the room that is the color he or she rolled. Increase the difficulty by requiring it to be a Different object each time.  
  • Talk about whether the color rolled is primary or secondary.  If secondary, talk about which colors may be combined to create it.  

Game #4: Alphabet Hop

Concepts: Letter recognition, matching, etc. 
  • Customizable Game Board (or draw your own on paper!) 
  • Playing pieces for each player
  • Letters borrowed from a puzzle or magnet set, or pieces of colored card stock with your letters written on them
  • Dry erase markers matching your draw pile colors
  • Choose 4 or 5 letters and, using different colors of dry erase markers, lay out your game board.
  • Create your draw pile. Place letters from your puzzle or magnet set in a small, opaque bag. 
  • For a simpler game, match the color of the letter in your draw pile to the color on the board.  For a more advanced game, make them different colors.
Game Play
  • Have player draw a letter out of the bag.  Player then advances his or her playing piece to the appropriate letter. 
  • If playing with the advanced rules, player may choose to advance Either to the Letter he has drawn or to the Color of his or her letter. 
  • Have older players name the letter that their playing piece is sitting on. Or if this is too easy, name a word that starts with that letter (Younger players can name the color of the letter or square)  
  • Use upper case letters in the draw pile and lower case letters on the board, or vice versa
  • Practice the sounds each letter makes
  • Use blends ("sh," "th," "pl," etc.) instead of single letters and practice the sounds
  • Fill the draw bag with small plastic toys each of which starts with one of the letters on your game board. Players advance to the letter matching the beginning of the toy's name.  

OK, so those were four different games we've played on this system.  My head is buzzing with ideas for more, but I'd love your input. 
What game ideas do you have?  What works well and what doesn't? 

No comments: