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In defense of video games

Chances are your child is already engaged with games like Mario Cart or Tomb Raider -- if not in your living room then at a friend's house. Learn how to make video games work for you.

By GreatSchools Staff

In his February 2009 address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama advised parents to help their kids in school and "put away the video games." But despite what the president says, gaming doesn't have to interfere with learning. In fact, some video games teach valuable skills, helping kids form hypotheses and make decisions wisely and quickly. The key to avoiding overstimulation and computer addiction is finding age-appropriate, educational video games and setting limits on the amount of time spent playing them.

Video games can teach important skills

Just as you might replace white bread with a whole-wheat variety, you can help your child by choosing a "healthier" video game with instructional value. Interactive games are natural teachers. They immerse kids in collaborative environments, allowing for rapid decision-making and instant feedback. "If a game lacks the sensation of play, then it isn't achieving its true potential," writes Gail Matthews-DeNatale, associate director of academic technology at Simmons College in Boston, in her 2008 study, "Learning From Video Games: Designing Digital Curriculums." "Play is observable throughout the animal kingdom; it is the fundamental way we learn." Studies of the brain have proven that repeated exposure to video games reinforces the ability to create mental maps, formulate hypotheses and focus on several things at once.

Playing an educational game should be an exercise in "constructing the proper hierarchy of tasks and moving through the tasks in the correct sequence," writes Steven Johnson in his 2005 book, Everything Bad Is Good for You. "It's about finding order and meaning in the world, and making decisions that help create that order."

With the help of Common Sense Media, we've compiled a short list of age-appropriate video games that will help your child develop these important skills.

Recommended games for learning

For preschoolers

Has your preschooler discovered your computer? Perhaps pressing sticky fingers on your keyboard to see what happens? With the Fisher-Price Fun-2-Learn Computer Cool School, you can encourage young kids to play on your computer with no risk to your personal or business files. This game comes with a brightly colored, kid-friendly QWERTY keyboard; an attached writing and drawing tablet; and a stylus pen. Housed on the keyboard are five buttons to launch the five learning centers featured in the Leo's Classroom software. For ages 3 and up. Read the complete review at Common Sense Media.

For young readers

In Mia's Reading Adventure: The Bugaboo Bugs, kids go on a learning adventure with an adorable little mouse. Mia's house has been invaded by the Bugaboo Bugs, careless insects that leave messes. Fearing that the humans sharing the house with her family will notice the pests and call an exterminator, Mia decides to do something to convince the bugs to move on. As kids play with Mia, they'll encounter 12 educational games that reinforce reading and writing skills taught in kindergarten through third grade. For ages 5 and up. Read the complete review at Common Sense Media.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

06/8/2009:
"I am shocked at your promotion of video games for younger age groups. I have a step son who is a video/gaming addict. He is 21 and has stopped developing past the age of 14. He cannot keep a job, groom or take care of himself in any way unless micro managed and told to do so by his parents. He grew up in the midwest and moved to Southern California at age 19. He has never gone to the beach or seen the outdoors unless there is gaming involved of some kind. He constantly lies, spent all of his college money, became homeless, lost every job with no references all because of gaming being most important above any other basic responsibility. I have a new baby son who will never play a video game in our home. He's 13 months, loves being outside, music and playing with other kids. He is very advanced and doing things that 2 year olds do. I do not agree with this American mode of culture at all. Go to Disneyland and see the obese children & young parents in walkers because they are so large! It's shocking! Sticking dvd players in front of children at a restaurant should be illegal. I vote for your web content to promote the imaginations and minds of young people. Encourage them to go outside. Empower them to come up with the endings to their own little stories. "
06/2/2009:
"I am dissapointed that you would promote the use of video games for even preschoolers - sure there may be some learning involved in these, but there is MORE learning involved in collaborative environments with HUMANS, in making quick decisions such as the playground when a child is about to grab your truck and in many other ways. Let us not fall for the 'education' value of electronics when it substitutes for natural, human interactions."
06/2/2009:
"Commonsense Media is OK, but I highly recommend kids-in-mind.com. My feeling is that it is more objective. They state what is seen in each movie without judging whether it is good or bad. They leave that for you to decide. Kids-in-mind.com is the most helpful website I've ever seen. As for video games, it's not so easy to prevent addiction. Once kids have had white bread, they may simply refuse to eat the whole wheat. Once kids have gotten into the video habit, it may be an insurmountable battle to get them to do other things. It is possible to give kids some (and not too much) but many parents give in to the whining of their kids, and the kids end up getting way too much screen time. My kids get screen time once or twice a week - way less than the average child. My reasoning: if they are playing video games or watching TV, they are not doing chores, doing homework, getting exercise, socializing, or even daydreaming (which is very good for you). Some video time i! s OK, but think of everything they are NOT getting, when they are 'on-screen'."
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