No, you're not mistaken; your kids spend a lot of time playing video games. According to researchers at MIT, the average 8th grade girl spends 12 hours a week playing, while teen boys devote a staggering 23 hours a week to gaming. While some parents see these as wasted hours, others see them as a powerful opportunity to supplement a child's education and reinforce critical skills using an interactive tool that kids not only understand, but also enjoy.
Of course, even the best educational games won't work if your kids won't play them. The key is to look for games that incorporate educational themes within an engaging framework that will keep them motivated and excited to play. Skip the "skills and drills" programs, and check out these five titles that will encourage your kids to learn and have fun on the computer at the same time.
Read the next page to learn how a nefarious villain from your childhood has revamped her skills for a new generation.
5: The "Carmen Sandiego" Series
Yes, the globe-hopping recluse from your childhood has still not been found, and now it's up to your kids to track her down. The "Carmen Sandiego" games were one of the most popular and enjoyable educational series in the '80s, and they still are today. After all, who doesn't love playing detective? Designed for elementary and middle schoolers, these games allow kids to solve a mystery or track Sandiego or another villain across the globe. The series has long served as a teaching tool for geography, history, reading comprehension and problem solving, and the newest additions focus on building math skills. For instance, kids may be required to place numbered columns in order from smallest to largest or solve a series of equations within a short time limit to advance to the next level. Children who enjoy these games might also like the companion books, TV shows and board games based on this series.
4: "The Oregon Trail"
The highly addictive "Oregon Trail" games challenge players to survive as they travel the Oregon trail by covered wagon during the mid-1800s. Players face difficulties ranging from starvation to drowning to death by dysentery as they guide their families to a new life in the West. Designed to bring history to life for elementary school students, this classic game has been reinvented for modern gamers, with versions available for the PC, various gaming platforms and even on Facebook. "The Oregon Trail" series not only helps kids improve their history and geography skills, but also teaches them real-life problem-solving techniques, including the consequences of various actions or choices.
3: "Crayon Physics"
In this deceptively simple-looking game, players must rely on the principles of physics to navigate a ball around obstacles that seem as though they were drawn by a child. A mouse, trackball or stylus (for those with touch screen computers) can be used to draw tools to help guide the ball in the right direction. As objects are drawn, they act on the ball according to the principles of physics, teaching kids about motion, energy and gravity as they play. If your kid draws a series of stairs, for example, the ball will hop down them realistically, it's momentum dependent on their height and angle. Children learn by doing, and because there's no right way to complete each level, kids are encouraged to experiment and be as creative as they want. While younger children are sure to enjoy the basic version of the game, older kids might want to take advantage of the deluxe version, which allows players to design and share custom levels using an online interactive playground.
At first glance, "Itzabitza" might appear to be nothing but a fun, albeit simple, drawing program. Watch your child play for a bit, though, and you'll see that it's much more. This game -- designed for 4- to 8-year-olds -- motivates kids to learn to read by asking them to draw pictures and objects. As the child draws, the game brings their creations to life using a unique "Living Ink" technology. Even the most rudimentary rocket ship will blast off, and a young child's representation of a cloud can spill enough rain to cause the characters in the game to break out their umbrellas. While they play, children not only improve reading comprehension, but also learn problem solving, creativity and logic skills. After your child has conquered the original "Itzabitza," pick up a copy of its companion game, "Itzazoo," to keep your kid engaged.
Why should small children have all the fun? Ditch the boring flash cards and practice tests in favor of "FutureU," an engaging and educational SAT prep game by Kaplan. This game brings the company's renowned SAT-prep curriculum to both PC and Mac users by using mini games to help students hone their reading, writing and math skills. This is arguably the best and most enjoyable way to prepare for the much-dreaded SAT, and there's even a special section aimed at improving teens' test-taking skills. Perhaps the best thing about this game is that it can be played in short bursts, allowing students to fit in a few minutes of educational play whenever they have the time.
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- Alaburda, Bob. "The Oregon Trail Out Now." The Portable Gamer. March 11, 2009. (Feb. 19, 2012) http://theportablegamer.com/2009/03/the-oregon-trail-out-now/
- Baker, Chris. "Crayon Physics Deluxe." Slate. March 19, 2008. (Feb. 19, 2012) http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/gaming/2008/03/crayon_physics_deluxe.html
- Gudmundsen, Jinny. "Carmen Sandiego Brings Math Capers to Wii." USA Today. Dec. 30, 2011. (Feb. 19, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/jinnygudmundsen/story/2011-12-31/Wii-Carmen-Sandiego-math/52286196/1
- Klopfer, Eric; Osterwell, Scot; Groff, Jennifer; Haas, Jason. "The Instructional Power of Digital Games Social Networking Simulations and How Teachers Can Leverage Them." Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2009. (Feb. 19, 2012) http://education.mit.edu/papers/GamesSimsSocNets_EdArcade.pdf
- Kraft, Amy. "Itzabitza." Parents' Choice Awards. Spring 2009. (Feb. 18, 2012) http://www.parents-choice.org/product.cfm?product_id=25878&StepNum=1
- Learning Company, the. "The Legend of Oregon Trail." 2011. (Feb. 23, 2012) http://www.oregontrail.com/hmh/site/oregontrail/articles?article=2240&categoryname=fanfare
- Lieberman, Max. "An Introduction to Educational Video Games." The University of Arizona. April 6, 2010. (Feb. 18, 2012) http://tegd.arizona.edu/content/introduction-educational-video-games
- Olsen, Stefanie. "Educational Video Games Mix Cool With Purpose." The New York Times. Nov. 1, 2009. (Feb. 12, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/02/technology/02games.html
- Van Grove, Jennifer. "Prep for the SATs with iPad and iPhone Video Game." Mashable. Oct. 13, 2010. (Feb. 19, 2012) http://mashable.com/2010/10/13/futureu/
- William and Mary College. "The Road to Oregon: The History Behind the Trail." (Feb. 19, 2012) http://web.wm.edu/amst/370/2005F/sp1/The_Road_to_Oregon.htm