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What makes educational games really valuable?

Picture: www.maxamuxa.com
When little Johnny’s mother points to a picture and states that the elephant is ‘big’ and the mouse is ‘small’ it doesn’t mean much to the little guy.

Later, as the two of them are packing toys away, he tries to fit his big inflatable beach ball into the smaller sized toy basket with no success. His mom adds meaning to his experience by saying” Oh dear! The ball is BIG and the opening is SMALL. Let’s pack all the BIG toys here next to the wall and put the SMALLER things in the toy hamper.”

That evening, when she points to the picture in the book again, Johnny’s eyes light up when she talks about the “big” elephant and the “small” mouse. On their way to the bathroom Mom says: “Let’s make BIG steps like the elephant, and now make SMALL steps like the mouse” and the concept of big and small is slowly but surely starting to become more real to him!

Little children live and learn in a physical world.
Abstract ideas don’t mean much when it comes to little ones. They need real life experiences that clarify those abstract ideas for them. As in little Johnny’s case, the most meaningful real-life experiences can be divided into 3 categories: those that involve a child’s body (kinaesthetic experience), his hands (handling 3-dimensional objects) and his eyes (looking at 2-dimensional images printed on paper).

In other words, the best way to teach the concept of the ‘number three’ to a 3 year old will be to play three kinds of games with him:

1) Get his body moving: “Let’s jump in the air THREE times. Now let’s count while we walk up these THREE steps: “One, Two, THREE!”

2) Let his hands handle 3D objects: “Let’s build a tower with THREE blocks.”

3) Get those eyes looking at 2D images: “Look at the DICE – how many dots do you count? One, Two, THREE! How many ducks are in this picture?”

Playing all of these kinds of games make all the difference.
In fact, this is the basis of much of the success of the Practica Program. Practica Parents will notice, as they read through the hundreds of activities listed for the various age groups in the Parents’ Guide that each and every one of the activities falls into one of the key three categories described above.

The beauty of the Practica Program is that all the work has been done for the parent and it’s handy to have all the specialised toys and printed material readily at hand.

Games that you can create yourself:
If you don’t own a Practica Program, there is no need to feel left out. It will take some time, but you can improvise and put together your own list of helpful activities.

Start off by selecting an age-appropriate concept that you’d like to introduce to your child. Then think of a game that involves body movement, another one that involves his hands, and another one that involves an image on a flat surface.

For example, say you’d like to introduce your child to the concept of a triangle:

Games in Category 1 (using body movement):
• Draw a large triangle with chalk on the pavement in your driveway, or use masking tape to tape a triangle onto the floor in your child’s room. Place a little toy at every corner and say, “Let’s walk on the triangle to get to the toys. Now let’s put all three the bears inside the triangle.”

• Get down on the floor and say, “Let’s see if you and I and your dad can use our bodies to lie down on the floor in the shape of a triangle!”

Games in Category 2 (hands handling 3D objects):
• Let’s use our fingers to make a triangle!”

• “I have placed cardboard shapes in a bag – put your hand in there and see if you can find me a triangle!”

Games in Category 3 (eyes looking at 2D images):
• “Let’s draw triangles on brown paper and then use it to wrap Daddy’s present. He loves triangles!”

• “Help me to use these match sticks to build lots of triangles on the coffee table.”

• “I’m busy drawing a row of houses on the blackboard. Let me show you how you can draw triangles to make a roof for each of them.”

Why go to all the trouble?
Many of us know what it feels like to work on an essay for weeks to get a mark of 60%, while the product that another child has whipped together in 30 minutes during break time ends up being published in the local newspaper!

And even more of us remember sitting in a Maths class, with hair rising in the back of our necks as we struggle to figure out which of whole series of mathematical rules should be applied to make some sense out of a question in a geometry test. And there was always that one kid who could give the sketch one look and immediately respond with a solution to the problem, almost instinctively. Well, that’s the kind of insight that we’re trying to develop in our children by introducing them to all kinds of concepts in a more creative and “real” way at an early age.

We want them to develop such a deeply ingrained understanding of the world around them at an early age that their understanding and insights will be almost sub-conscious by the time their old enough to make their mark in life! Almost like a golf player that practices his golf swing correctly from the start so that the ends up with the right ‘muscle-memory’ later on in his career.

We hope that this knowledge opens up a whole new world of possibilities for you and your child. It’s so much more rewarding to invest time and energy into doing things that really make a difference!

The Practica Team
Parents who know better… do better.

Comments? Please email lizette@practicaprogram.co.za

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