The Learning Game: Basic Rules

Before I get to the explanation of how this game works, I want to make it clear that the intent of this blog is to record the results of my experiment.  This is the first day of what I hope will be a long term homeschool learning game, but because I’m creating this as I go, things will change, or the entire process may fail and I might end the experiment early. As it stands I am going to take it week by week and see what the results are before I change anything or give up entirely.

The Learning Game: Core Mechanics

The central mechanic in this game is the gold coin. This is the same sort of currency my child is familiar with in video games and ABC Mouse, and is one of the practical materials I currently have on hand thanks to my other job as an author (we do strange things to promote our books sometimes). I got my gold coins at the local Party City, but I’m sure the more craft-oriented parent could feasibly make their own.

For the initial levels of the game, one gold coin is equivalent to one experience point. Every successful task earns one coin (one experience point), and in order to level the player must gain a certain number of coins. The initial levels are laid out as follows:

Level 1 = 10 coins

Level 2 = 20 coins

Level 3 = 30 coins

Level 4 = 40 coins

Level 5 = 50 coins

The chart I’ve created and printed out on our fridge doesn’t go any higher than level five. I don’t anticipate reaching this level for a few weeks, and I don’t want to overwhelm my son with goals so high he won’t be able to visualize reaching them.

I’ve also created a chart of tasks that he can perform that will earn a coin upon completion. His current tasks are:

Make Bed

Go Potty

Empty Dishwasher

School lesson

Pick Up Toys

Quiet at Meeting

Bible Reading

Each of these tasks are worth one experience point. Some of them will be repeated throughout the day (we are currently on an hour potty training timer to encourage repetition), and I am fine with that. The goal is not to hoard coins and only give them out sparingly. Instead the goal is to encourage repeated learning and good behavior through constant, small win conditions. For instance, I gave out a coin this morning for my son voluntarily putting up his iPad and plugging it in to charge. While this isn’t on the task list, it is a behavior I want to encourage.

I am building small school lessons for him to complete (he did a math tracing exercise this morning), and have printed out charts from Pinterest to post in the bathroom and help him with progress in his toilet training.  Because I don’t have any budget for buying materials, I am working with a printer, my computer, and what toys and items I have around the house. Luckily I had a packet of stickers purchased months ago that I am able to use as progress markers for going potty.

I expect him to reach Level 1 by the end of the day. We are halfway to our ten coins right now, and it’s just before eleven AM. I am trying to see if there is a quick reward I can give him that will motivate him to get to level 2, but that’s tricky. I don’t have any new toys to give out, and I have a conflicted relationship with food as rewards (plus I’m already using candy as potty treats). Maybe at each level he’ll get to play an hour of the video game of his choice. That would definitely be a motivator for my game-loving son.

Win Condition

There is no ultimate Win Condition as this is mostly based on MMORPG mechanics. The player will level up, and at each level gain a reward. Eventually when he is older leveling will also give him access to new skills and abilities. I’m thinking that he might gain a bonus to a lesson he doesn’t like so much if he completes all the others first. That is something I will look into later on, perhaps as he turns four. For now, winning will come at the leveling stage.

Loss Condition

There is only two ways to lose this game: Stop playing or cheat. Cheating would involve taking coins from the stash without performing the tasks that earn them, or lying about performing tasks in order to gain coins. Cheating in both forms is always possible with an in person game like this, but it is my hope that through vigilance and rewarding good behavior the player — in this case my son — will be motivated by the positive feeling garnered through honest win moments to not consider cheating as an option. I will be making sure he does not have access to the stash of coins however, so as not to lead to temptation.




The Learning Game: Initial philosophy

Today I’m starting an education experiment here at home. We have been sort of floating without structure until now, and without any learning goals my highly intelligent, intense three year old is getting bored.  I would put him in preschool, but there are no free secular schools in our area, and I can’t afford to send him to the fancy Montessori on the other side of town. The result is homeschooling, but based in game rules and mechanics.

A bit of background before I get into the game itself: I am an author, a gamer, and a mother living in Huntsville, Alabama. We moved here from Southern California in 2014, and immediately I was struck by educational culture shock. Before we made the leap across country, I had every intention of putting my kid in preschool. After all President Obama himself had just declared that every American child should have access to quality preschool.  Then we moved here, and discovered that 90% of the preschool education was happening in local churches, and the other 10% were in paid daycare programs.

Having been a licensed teacher in California, I had been toying with the notion of homeschooling our son for a while. Most of the time (previous to our move) I had come down on the side of traditional schooling, since our child is an extrovert and thrives on interaction with others outside the home. But as a Jehovah’s Witness I couldn’t in good conscience put him in schools where he will be taught beliefs that are not my own, and as a family with a tight budget I couldn’t justify putting him in daycare simply for interaction with other children. That would require me getting a job just to be able to pay for daycare, which would mean me spending less time with my wonderful child.

Now that he is a full-fledged toddler, playing games has become a big part of our son’s life. He loves educational games, such as ABC Mouse, but is often bored by the content. He adores Nintendo games, but the skills he learns from those are primarily in spacial recognition, hand-eye coordination, and problem solving. While these are all very good skills to learn, they don’t teach about manners, math, hygiene, and the myriad other lessons a three year old needs to learn.

I would say that my education experiment is designed to bridge from this preschool phase of his development to the pre-K schooling that will give him more structure (and more human interaction), but again we are in Alabama, and as far as I can tell, formal public education here starts at Kindergarten. So I have a year and a half of education to plan, a toddler to motivate, and limited resources with which to do so.

Which brings me to the game. I have been trying to find a way to start this for a while, and today my husband begins a new job after six months of being home unemployed. The entire weekend I was sick with a cold and nervous about being home alone with my three year old for the first time since, well, he turned three.  He’s already bored with most of the education (ABC Mouse) that he has access to, and that’s with upping the difficulty to level 6. I figure we have about six months before he’s burned through all their content.  Like I said, he’s bright — and that’s tough in a situation like this.

So homeschool preschool begins. I am going to see if eventually I can use a Montessori method, but right now my child doesn’t have much in the way of self-motivation skills. But I am a gamer and even in my past a game designer, and my son has been going around giving himself leveling opportunities in his playtime for a while now. So why not make school a game?

I’m calling it the Learning Game, and initially the mechanics are simple. I intend to add levels of complexity as he gets older, if indeed this is successful.  I’ll go into the specifics on how the game works in my next post. For now I have to step away to entertain a bored toddler.