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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

3 Reasons Your Kids Should Be Playing Video Games

3 Reasons Your Kids Should Be Playing Video Games

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I made a choice last August that still has my friends and family shaking their heads and wondering if I’ve gone off the deep end. Frankly, there have been moments over the past six months when I’ve wondered about that too, asking myself what I was thinking when I decided last summer, with great energy and enthusiasm, that I would home school four boys this year.

In my defense, I had already been homeschooling my two sons for several years and adding two similarly-aged boys seemed manageable. I knew there would be difficult days, days when they would struggle to solve hard math problems or to write a decent essay. However, while these things have all happened, it turns out that the truly challenging part of homeschooling four boys hasn’t been helping them manage their learning curves; it’s been learning how to manage mine.

You see, I had strong opinions and big ideas at the beginning of the school year about how kids learn best: lots of reading, self-directed exploration, and hands-on activities and projects. So-called “educational” video games were nowhere on the list. However, as I realized that the two new boys had different learning preferences than my sons, I dug a little deeper into the educational research for ideas on how best to engage and inspire them, and found some compelling information that ultimately changed my curriculum for all four boys. Here’s what I learned:

1. For learning to be interesting it has to be hard, but not too hard. That’s why video games are so engaging to young minds – kids get to control the level of difficulty. Even though I usually have a pretty good idea of how hard something is for each boy, I’m not always right – only the learner truly knows where their edge is. The difference between me giving a timed math test or letting them choose a timed math game is enormous – both result in learning, but one is stressful and can result in tears, the other is exciting and fun.

2. Games teach spatial skills. Recent research indicates that one of the reasons students in the United States often lag behind in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning is because our students have weaker spatial skills – key for success in STEM-related fields. Hands-on building projects can also help develop three-dimensional thinking, but these projects require significantly more time and space, and can be pretty messy (a consideration for those of us with classrooms in our dining room).

3. Resilience is a key predictor of success in life. Those who can bounce back from failure more quickly are more likely to achieve their goals. There’s a big difference, however, between failing publicly (like answering a question incorrectly in class) and failing privately (like in a video game). Games allow kids to build up their “resilience muscles”, to test ideas and take risks that they wouldn’t if I were watching, and to internalize the idea that failure isn’t fatal.

To be clear, I’m not advocating an “all games” approach to learning – real-world projects, books, working in groups, and exploring nature are all very important, and comprise the majority of my kids’ learning time. I’ve found that educational and high-quality games are a valuable part of the mix, though.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

This sounds great! As a longtime gamer, I'm glad to see that people are beginning to notice the merits of the ways that games quite frequently do learning right.

Lori Dunlap's picture
Lori Dunlap
Homeschooling mom and blogger at teachyourown.org

Kevin: My two boys are in 4th and 7th grade, and the other two who have joined us this year are in 4th and 5th grade. Minecraft is definitely one of the boys' favorites, and two others are Portal and Kirbel. All require problem solving, as you may know, and the boys often end up collaborating as they try to figure out things like how to get the Kirbels to land on the moon.

As an added benefit, these games have inspired all four boys to learn how to code so they can create their own games. The 4th graders and the 5th graders are using Scratch, and my 7th grade son is teaching himself BASIC and html through CodeAcademy and other sources.

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen's picture
Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen
Researcher and developer of Game-based-learning

I think that it is interesting that a lot of the movement towards game-based-learning is coming from home-schoolers. They are faster to pick up on these trends and are not tied down by too much legacy like the 'official' system. We have been talking for years that games with go mainstream but it is talking a lot longer than most thought and hoped :-)

Lori Dunlap's picture
Lori Dunlap
Homeschooling mom and blogger at teachyourown.org

You are so right! One of the best aspects of homeschooling is that I get to try out new ideas and methods any time I want. If something works for my kids, we keep it; if it doesn't, we don't. Most of the other homeschooling families I know work the same way. It's agile education at its best!

joseph newman's picture
joseph newman
parent of middle school level student

Educational games provide an opportunity for helping kids appreciate the power of education. For example: When they can assume the leadership role among peers because they have mastered reading, speaking, projecting confidence, etc. They understand that it takes hard work and discipline to move from basics to mastery.

Daphne Gomez's picture
Daphne Gomez
Fifth grade English,Science and Social Studies teacher from Pakistan.

Educational games no doubt help to motivate and engage learners in a task. It helps them to work collaboratively on a task where the roles are continuously exchanged amongst themselves. They develop their critical thinking skills along with the four strands of English i.e. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening.

Josh Mitton's picture
Josh Mitton
Founder of PlatoPath

Great thoughts, Lori!

The failing publicly versus privately really hit home for me. I was always worried that I would be letting my parents or teacher down if I gave a wrong answer, and that made me become a very shy and quiet person for the majority of my early years. With games, however, I was able to try new things without that fear; you can't really let a game down!

Thanks for sharing, and I hope you keep learning as much as your children are!

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