Learning through Play: GameSchool Con

Can you attribute your vocabulary and spelling skills to Scrabble? Was your favorite part of school the days you spent in the library playing Math Blasters or Biology Bingo? Can you name major cities because of Ticket to Ride?

Gameschooling is the use of games for education. While the concept of using play for learning as been around for millennium, it is exploding in popular culture from classroom to homeschool. GameSchool Con (Irvine, CA Feb 1-3 is an annual convention dedicated entirely to learning through games, and I caught up with co—founder Sasha Kuczynski to talk about gameschooling culture, the history of learning through games, and how to get started.

What drew you to gameschooling? How long have you been using games to teach?

“Consent schooling” is probably a better description of our family’s homeschool style than unschooling or gameschooling. We started playing games together as a way to bond and enjoy our family time; noticing the “educational” benefits of gaming together has been more of a pleasant bonus than an intentional goal. Because our homeschooled kids are the directors of their own learning paths, they play games in some form almost every day, and have been doing so for as long as I can remember!

What benefits do you think games offer the educational community? To students?

Playing games is fun, and people learn best when their motivation is intrinsic rather than externally imposed. So games can tap into that sweet spot where learners give their consent to be taught (by their teacher, by themselves, by each other, or by the game itself). For educators, that means less friction, and for students, the opportunity to learn and become more skillful because they want to, not because someone else says so.

How long has the gameschool community been around and how would you say it’s grown in the board game ‘renaissance’?

What an interesting question! I’m not sure that I can speak to how long the “gameschool community” has been around, but I view learning through play as something humans do and have always done, rather than something that has been recently invented. This in itself is an important conversation. Just like “unschooling” and “self-directed education” are newer terms that describe ancestral or ancient learning paths, “gameschooling” is a newish word to describe learning through play, which is a human birthright more than a single community. When these old ideas become popular again, credit is often not given where it is due…I suggest that readers who are interested read “Unschoolers No More” on Ancestral Schooling.

I do think that our current board game renaissance, along with the growing body of research supporting learning through video games, is growing this idea of “gameschooling,” though!

What is GameSchool Con?

GameSchoolCon is a three day event in Southern California by and for gameschoolers! We will play board games, RPGs, video games, and active games. There will be an artists’ alley, a dance party, Nerf battles, a Quidditch game with a real live Quidditch team, and more….and of course there will be an exhibit hall full of games for families to bring home, too! GameSchoolCon is a family conference that’s intended for the whole family to attend together. There are plenty of opportunities to try new games with your family members, and also to learn from experienced homeschoolers and gameschoolers how you might incorporate more games into your homeschool day. Families with schoolkids are welcome, too!

Gameschooling doesn’t have to be your homeschool lifestyle or method of choice to enjoy learning with games after school or on weekends. Any family who loves learning with games or wants to learn more about gameschooling is welcome to join us for a weekend of fun!

Sasha Kuczynski and husband Edward Stafford of Gamerunner.com (photo credit
Trevor Toma of www.trevortoma.com

What was the catalyst for starting GameSchool Con?

Our entry into the game biz started with Gamerunner, our family’s tabletop game tutoring business for homeschoolers. Gamerunner was born out of our family’s love for games and our desire to share their potential as a learning tool with other homeschoolers. And over the past three years I had the opportunity to work for the HomeSchool Association of California as their conference coordinator; when the Board of Directors decided to create a second yearly conference in SoCal, I suggested that we make it a homeschool/game con mashup because of my own enthusiasm for gaming.  

When I left HSC and DiscoveryCon went on hiatus (I believe HSC may revive it in 2020 as a SoCal homeschool-focused conference), folks continued to ask for a gameschool-specific conference, and we couldn’t say no! (Okay, to be honest, I tried pretty hard to say no – producing conferences is a lot of work!) But I’m glad we said yes, and I’m so excited to welcome our guests to a weekend of learning through play!

What’s your favorite game?

Wow, that’s a tough question, and I’ll have to break the rules to answer it.  I’ll never turn down an offer to play Splendor, Mysterium, or Tak, and Sagrada and Ravine are two new-to-me favorites I can’t get enough of!

What resources would you recommend for folks starting on the journey?

One of the best resources for new gameschoolers is your Local Game Shop!  Many of them have lending libraries and open tables for play, so you can learn what kinds of tabletop games you like before purchasing your own copy.  (Some of them have cats, too!)  Another great resource is Meg Grooms’ Homeschool Gameschool (a secular homeschool blog with tons of info, lists, and guides).  Our family likes to learn new games from video tutorials, play-throughs and reviews if we can avoid reading the instructions; try Watch it Played with Rodney Smith, Nettersplays, No Pun Included, and Shut Up & Sit Down

Do you think gameschooling encourages lifelong learning? Have you spoken with adults who are learning through games?

I believe lifelong learning is as much of a human default setting as learning through play!  Games are a great way to encourage us “educators” to get out of the way of our kids’ (and our own!) natural state of being able to learn and grow throughout our lives. I think most of the adults and kids we play with tend to agree, and I’m interested to hear what the kids on our Kids’ Panel will say….they’re the experts on play, after all.

As an adult who is still learning through games, I do believe gameschooling, and staying open to the idea that we learn through play, encourages lifelong learning! Playing games helps me sharpen my reasoning, negotiation, and multitasking skills, but perhaps more important for *this* adult, playing games makes me remember how to put down my work laptop and have fun for fun’s sake.