Think about what good learning looks like for your child. The image probably conjures up pictures where they are engaged, focused, and sometimes frustrated; other times overjoyed, and always immersed in what they are doing. Now think about what it looks like when your child is playing a good game. Those same characteristics are present. That’s because in many ways the play patterns that games evoke parallel the way that we learn. This similarity is what makes games such a powerful medium for learning.
Games aren’t just a way of rewarding a child, but rather they are a meaningful way to structure learning that challenges, motivates, remediates, and engages. There are things that children can learn even from commercial entertainment games like strategy, planning, collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity. These principles can also be integrated into games made for learning that couple these skills with mathematics, reading, writing, and other fun subjects. This power of harnessing games for teaching and learning is now being realized by schools, museums, and even businesses.
Designing and developing games for learning is what I do in my research. One clear outcome from this research is that learning can and should be fun. Games can take children well beyond rote memorization to a place where they are solving problems, and persisting at it because they want to. What I mean by “fun” in this way isn’t about laughing and giggling the whole time (though that certainly can be a part of it). Looking back to the visions of learning and playing games this “fun” sometimes involves struggling through difficult parts, but being rewarded on the other side when the problem is finally solved. It is what famous educational technology pioneer Seymour Papert called “hard fun.”
It is also clear from research that I and others have done that not all games are either fun or great learning experiences. It takes some skill, expertise and time to find the games that combine these characteristics. Curated experiences, where someone with education and games experiences creates or selects those games, can make that job a lot easier for many parents. The new VTech University program is an example of such a curated program. Through this experience, your child can work and play their way through a sequence of games that have been designed to cover a range of skills and topics.
One thing that is great about most devices that kids are using to play games today, including the most recent versions of the MobiGo and InnoTab consoles, is that they have ways of not only playing games, but creating new media like art and photos. Kids can use these features in many ways, but one particularly fun one is to help them think about the kids of games they might like to create by drawing a character, sketching out a board, or taking a photo of a real-life game they created in their own living room. The possibilities are endless.