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Gillian Burdett @GillianBurdett

8 Fun Homework Games

Take the "work" out of homework with these enjoyable and educational games.

The start of a school year inevitably comes with the start of the homework routine. Though not always welcome, homework is a necessary part of your children's education; it reinforces lessons learned during the day and gives students practice applying skills and concepts. However, it doesn't have to be all work to be effective.

According to Terri O. Johnson, director of brain-training center Learning Rx in Chanhassen, Minn., "The key to homework success is finding ways to make it fun, while building cognitive skills with activities that are intensely focused."

"Learning doesn't have to be boring," says Neil McNerney, author of "Homework: A Parent's Guide to Helping Out without Freaking Out." "In fact, student learning increases if the activity is fun and engaging."

Different children have different leaning styles and ways of understanding concepts. "Games offer an opportunity to differentiate learning for various personalities," says Chelsea Duggan, director of Milestar Babies, which offers ideas for educational play.

Here are eight ideas from the experts on how to make learning fun.

And if your kids are struggling in school, hire a tutor or a homework helper to give them a hand.

  1. Jenga with Words
    Here's an educational twist to the classic block game Jenga. Label each block with age-appropriate questions such as "Who is your favorite president?" or, for older children, "If you could talk to one president, who would it be and what would you ask him?" As children pull blocks from the Jenga tower, they must answer the question.

    There are 66 blocks in a set, so labeling can be time consuming. Save time by entering questions into a computer word processing program and printing them on a sheet of self-adhesive labels. This game also works well with vocabulary words.

  2. Reading Birds
    This game is based on the popular game Angry Birds. Select vocabulary words from a reading passage and write them onto various cardboard boxes (like empty tissue boxes). Have children stack the boxes. The children should take turns reading sections of the passage aloud and once complete they each have a chance at tossing a small ball and knocking down their tower of words. Similar to Angry Birds, the children earn points by knocking down their tower, and then they have a chance to progress to the next reading passage. If there are boxes still standing, children can progress by using the words on the boxes to form complete sentences.

  3. Family Spies
    This game helps build skills in geography and storytelling. Pretend you're a family of spies. Each family member must create a new identity and personal history by answering these questions: What is your name? In which country do you live? What language do you speak? What skills do you possess? What is your mission?

  4. Home Run Times Tables
    Around the third grade, most students have to memorize the multiplication tables. Learning this can be a day in the ballpark with this game. As each child comes up to bat, give them a number (say 4), then, as they hit the ball and run the bases, no one can grab the ball until everyone recites through that numbers' time table. 4x1=4, 4x2=8, etc.

  5. Play Teacher
    This requires a little role reversal. Let your child play teacher and you (or other siblings) play student. Have them teach skill or concept that they're working on -- it will improve their understanding of the concept and build logic and reasoning skills.

  6. Hopscotch Math
    This spin on this classic sidewalk game help kids learn their math facts. Draw a board with 10 boxes and write 0-9 in each of the spaces. Have the "hopper" jump into two different boxes. The next person has to add the two numbers and jump into the box(es) that represent the right answer. For a more advanced spin on this, play calculator hopscotch.

  7. Octopus Spelling
    For budding readers, create an octopus spelling game. Draw an octopus shape on paper (or use a printable). Inside the octopus' head, write a word ending, such as -at, -ing, or -ight. Then have children label each of the octopus arms with the beginning letters that would create words. For example, s-ight, m-ight, l-ight, f-ight , etc.

  8. DIY Puzzles
    Enter spelling or vocabulary words into a free online puzzle maker. It will create puzzles like word searches, which will help your kids learn the words and build auditory and visual processing skills.

"If all this simply seems like extra work," says Johnson, "think of it as an investment. The time you put in now will help your child become a smarter, faster, more independent learner in the future. That's a payoff that can lead to a healthy, life-long relationship and interest in learning."

Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer. Her work can be found here.

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