Lots of homeschooling parents cringe when they hear the words “hands-on learning.” They envision elaborate crafts and detailed projects. I am so not a crafty mom, but we have always preferred hands-on learning activities. One of the easiest, most versatile ways to incorporate hands-on learning in your day is by adding simple games that make learning fun.
Some of our favorites when the kids were younger (that would be easily adaptable to teens if I could get them both home at the same time) are those that you can use with nearly any subject and any age student.
And, they’re simple. That’s important.
This post contains affiliate links. See full disclosure policy for more details. Email and RSS feed readers may need to visit the blog to access affiliate links.
Try these ideas to add some simple, hands-on fun to your day.
Bingo has always been one of our favorite games because it’s fun, easy to incorporate, and incredibly versatile.
If you have young kids, you can use bingo for reading practice. Try these ideas:
- Letter recognition. Randomly fill the bingo card with letters of the alphabet. You call the letter, and your child finds it on the card. If you’re just starting out with letter recognition, show your child the call cards as you say the letter.
- Upper and lower case letters. Write either the upper- or lowercase letters on the bingo card and the opposite on the call cards. Show your child the call card and let her find the corresponding letter on her bingo card.
- Letter sound recognition. Set up the cards the same way you would for letter recognition. Call the sound that the letter makes, rather than the letter name.
- Words. Use sight words, CVC words, all the way through more complicated words that your child is learning. The words go on the bingo cards. You call the words, and your child finds them.
Using bingo for math practice is simple, too. Try games such as:
- Math fact practice. Put the answers on the bingo cards and the facts on the call cards. This game works for all the basic operations.
- Number recognition. Write the numbers your child is learning to recognize on the bingo card and the number word on the call cards. Show him the card and let him find the number on his bingo card. You can also reverse that to help a child learn to read and recognize the number words.
- Roman numerals. Kids can learn to recognize Roman numerals by placing the numerals on the board. You call out the number word or show your child the call card with the Arabic numeral (or vice versa).
- Money recognition. Use pictures of coins and bills on the bingo card and call out the amounts (or vice versa).
The possibilities are endless.
Almost Anything Else
For any subject, you can write vocabulary terms on the bingo cards and use the definitions as the call cards. You can also practice:
- History facts
- Literary terms
- Parts of speech
- Pictures of people, places, or objects – Place photos of things like planets, presidents, or science lab equipment on the card and give the definitions, names, facts, or details as the call card.
It’s easy to adapt bingo (and many other games) so that multiple ages and ability levels can play together. Just give each child their own set of cards from which to draw. For example, when my niece was homeschooling with us, I would give her an alphabet bingo card, while my younger two worked from sight word cards. I’d just alternate between the call cards, calling a letter for my niece, then, a word for my kids.
You can print my homemade blank bingo card or purchase blank bingo cards. I bought bingo chips (which were great because we also used them for other games and as counters for math practice) and blank flashcards to use as call cards.
Find these and other hands-on learning ideas in my ebook, Hands-On Learning.
Memory (also known as matching or concentration) was another favorite game when my kids were younger. It’s incredibly versatile because you can play with anything that you can match.
Try these ideas:
- Math facts to their answers
- Math facts that have the same answer (example of possible matches 2+4 and 3+3 or 6 X 1 and 2 X 3)
- Planets to a picture of or facts about the planet
- People, places, and events in history to dates or details
- Vocabulary terms to definitions
- Lowercase letters to uppercase
- Homonyms, synonyms, or antonyms
Just in case you’ve forgotten how to play, you just mix up the cards (make sure you have matched pairs for each) and place them face down on the table. Each player gets to turn over two cards during each turn, trying to find pairs that match. If a player matches a pair, he gets to keep that pair and go again. If he doesn’t get a match, he returns the cards to their facedown position, and the next player gets a turn.
My girls were always really good at this and beat me many times because they were great at remembering where particular cards were.
We also found repurposing standard board games to be a fun, useful learning tool. We’ve repurposed games like Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Connect Four, and checkers.
A couple of ways to play are:
- Each player has to answer a question correctly to take a turn
- Each player rolls a die to determine how many cards they draw. Players move forward for each of their correct answers. Kids might have to read a sight word or answer a math fact correctly, for example.
You can easily adapt board games so that multiple age and ability levels can play together. Just have a set of cards for each player based on his or her skill level.
You can even make your own games by coloring squares or using self-adhesive dots on a piece of poster board, cardboard, or a file folder to form the game path. If you want to get elaborate, order a blank board game for your creation.
Brianna created a game called Math Path when she was 8 or so. I wish I could find it!
Finally, try Go Fish for another easily-adaptable game. Just make or print two sets of cards to represent the facts you’ll be practicing. We’ve mostly used Go Fish for reading practice games – phonemes, letter sounds or recognition, uppercase/lowercase – but it would be easy to adapt to other types of fact practice.
We use the blank flash cards as our playing cards. (Or you can order your own set of blank playing cards. Seriously, you can buy just about anything these days!)
Shuffle the cards and deal 8 to each player. The first player can ask any of the other players for a card matching one in his hand. If he gets a match, he gets to play again. Otherwise, it’s the next players turn.
For a really hands-on version of Go Fish, we made fishing rods using dowel rods and twine. I tied a magnet to the string and put paper clips on the cards for whatever the kids were learning. They would catch a fish with their magnet. If they could read the word or answer the problem, they got to keep the card and go again.
If you have young kids learning to read, Mrs. Perkin’s Dolch Words list is a great resource for printing off cards to use for bingo call cards or Go Fish or matching cards.
There are several options on the site. You want the flashcards. I used to print one or two sets, depending on the game we were going to play with them, on card stock.
I am not one to encourage everyone getting a participation ribbon. I’m all for healthy competition and learning to be gracious as both a winner and a loser. However, I learned the hard way that competition among siblings is not always the best idea.
If I had it to do over again, I would have made most of our games cooperative instead of competitive. I would have made the competition something like trying to get a certain number of cards between all players in a certain amount of time or something like that.
Take that for what it’s worth, but I wish I’d taught my kids to root for each other instead of compete against each other.
Hands-on learning doesn’t have to be complicated. These are just a few simple ideas for homemade games that make learning fun.
Do you have any favorite games you like to play to help your kids learn?