Is your family into games? Or, are they not that into games but you wish they were? Either way, I’m going to tell you about one of the simplest yet most successful games we’ve ever played (and still play several times per week). When I ask “who wants to play the WH game?” as it is so fondly called in our house, the reply is a shrieking stampede for the living room. As some of you might know from my article on childmind.org, I’m a fan of making up the rules as I go along, and the WH game was born in similar fashion.
I originally created the WH game for two reasons: 1) to help my 4 and 5 year old recognize WH words more fluently when reading, and 2) as a compact activity that traveled easily into waiting rooms, long lines and the minivan. What started as six index cards with “who, what, where, when, why and how” written on each has transformed into hundreds of index cards with anything from “how many minutes are in an hour?” to “The endermen were coming to get him” (for the Minecraft-obsessed in our house). But before I make this sound more complicated than it is, let me lay out the basics for you.
Age: Pre-K and older
Index cards (I use neon colors to make it look fun)
Pencils and paper (optional depending on where you are and the type of questions you get into)
Treats – pennies, Skittles, fruit snacks, M&Ms, etc. In lieu of treats, you could also use points toward some incentive (i.e. 50 points earns screen time or a new book)
It’s almost too easy to be called preparation. Make index cards with the following words on one side: “what,” “where,” “why,” “who,” “which,” “when,” and “how.”
To Play: Place index cards face down and have your child choose one. If they are able to read the word on the card and answer a related question, which you can make up on the spot and tailor to their age and ability, they can pick one treat out of the bag. For example, if your child picked up a “What” card, you might ask them “What is 2 + 2?” but you might also ask “What is your favorite kind of ice cream?” If your child selected “Which” you might say “Which of these is a circle?” while drawing three shapes or you might say “Which of these shapes comes next in the pattern?” while drawing a pattern of shapes out onto the scrap paper. In our house, if they pick a ‘Why’ card they can ask me any question starting with why and if I don’t know the answer we look it up on my phone or the computer. Come on, do you know why St. Patrick’s Day is on March 17th?
To “Win:” Depending on how long I feel like playing, I pick an arbitrary number of points needed to win (10-30), and usually group the kids against me so that there is more teamwork and less fighting. 1 point = 1 index card. My kids enjoy beating me almost as much as they enjoy the treats.
Complicating things: Your child is ready for “Level 2-999” when they are able to read without hesitation all of the WH words, not necessarily knowing the answers to the questions that follow. Level 2 and up is basically starting to add to your pile of sight words and other questions based on what you’re currently learning about. Tip: By acting like they “got to the next level” nobody remembers to complain that it just got a little harder.
Every time I see someone struggle with a word in their daily reading I add it to our card pile. During the game, single sight words have to be read and then used in a sentence to get the treat. If Margaret can’t remember the months of the year in order, it’s going to be a question on our next round. She has to be able to read the question and answer it correctly. Adam loves math but struggles with fine motor, so his WH questions are often word problems to keep him engaged while writing. Ian at 2 years old gets much easier questions (i.e. what animal lives on a farm?), but as you can see you are able to cover a wide range of topics and skills with just one simple card.
I hope you become as (embarrassingly) excited about playing this simple but amazingly addictive little game as we are!