First-graders play to learn
On the floor of Kelli Meredith’s first-grade classroom, pairs of students faced off over a snowflake printed board game, racing to see whose plastic game piece could reach the finish line first.
Kylei Labergne, 7, held up a pink slip of paper, printed with “9 plus 8” on the front, and waited for Khloe White, 6, to answer. When she solved the problem, Labergne flipped over the
card, directing White to move her pawn three spaces, carefully tapping each spot as she moved.
The “game station,” where students test each other in math and reading skills while playing games that mimic Candy Land or other board games, is one of the most popular in Meredith’s classroom at Dishman Elementary.
The students approach the game with much more enthusiasm than when she sets them at tables to write sentences about a story or assigns them to the library station across the room.
“They think it’s just a game,” said Meredith, who was able to add the educational board games through a grant she received this fall from the Beaumont Public Schools Foundation.
She titled the project “First Graders Don’t Know How to Play Board Games,” something she noticed when they struggled to keep up with math activities like number lines.
“Everything’s electronic or on screens for them,” Meredith said. Her young students need to learn the skills that come with hands-on games, too, she said.
The new games address more than just math and reading. The first-graders have to figure out following the instructions and taking turns, and the game pieces keep their hands busy instead of fidgeting.
About a week after they started playing the games, some of those challenges were still evident, Meredith said.
She monitored the students closely to make sure they were actually answering the questions without cheating, stepping in to remind them where the playing cards should go and keeping them honest as they moved their pieces across the board.
Meredith said she’s learned the games don’t need to be complicated or flashy to capture the students’ attention or get them excited about competing and learning.
Jordan Jones, 7, said he likes the game “because I can pass people and win,” and after playing across the board once, his group immediately clamored for “something harder.”
Meredith swaps out the decks of cards depending on which students are paired up, which she said helps makes sure they’re all being challenged at the right level.
She likes that they can play independently, too, giving her time to pull aside students in small groups while others occupy themselves.
While technology-based learning continues to become more popular and many of this fall’s other BPSF grants focused on coding and virtual projects, the old-fashioned board game has quickly become her students’ favorite classroom station.
“Sure, I’d love iPads and smart boards, but once they learn how to play the games, they want to use them all the time,” she said.