Top 10 Learning Games for Kids
(If you are confused about what all the Core Drive #s are about in this post, make sure you check out the Gamification Framework: Octalysis first!)
This is a follow-up to last week’s post on What are Learning Games. One of the most promising applications of gamification is to enhance the learning experiences of children. The teaching tools of today are no longer limited to chalkboards, whiteboards, flashcards, textbooks and worksheets. Games offer kids more interactive options.
“There is no commandment which says, thou shall not have fun,” says one YouTuber who discussed the use of games for educational purposes. They can enrich a child’s understanding of information rather effortlessly. And with games, learning feels effortless, as opposed to being an aggravating chore.
But be forewarned. It is important to choose your educational game wisely. Just because it is packaged as a learning tool, does not automatically justify its worth. David Kleeman President of the American Center for Children and Media sums this up well as he says:
“I love and support the idea of tapping the engagement and strategic thinking of game play, but I’ve also seen very poor examples that are little more than gussied-up rote learning,”
With that said, here is my list of Top Ten Learning Games for Kids. They range from the teaching of simple and intermediate academics to more complex real life skills.
Learning Game #1: Dragon Box
Why wait until middle school to start learning Algebra? While some students excel in this subject, it is certainly not everyone’s favorite. Many kids learn to solve equations very mechanically without really understanding the underlying concepts at work.
In Dragon Box visual elements are used to represent the idea of balancing two sides within a closed system. The goal is to eliminate all unnecessary elements to get the box all by itself. The game progresses to higher levels which more closely approximates the types of equations that kids will eventually face in school.
I remember for my childhood (yes, even as an Asian kid), I hated math. It was the most annoying and boring subject. It was the epitome of “school work,” and it was what many parents cared about the most. I also know A LOT of other kids thought like me too.
The amazing thing about Dragon Box is that little kids LOVE to play it without knowing that they are solving complex math. There has been many case studies where 4+ year olds are mastering and solving thousands of middle school Algebra problems!
This is the epitome of a learning game – making something boring fun and exciting!
Learning Game #2: Mind Snacks
Mind Snacks is an interactive app that teaches words and phrases in different languages such as Spanish, Chinese, French, German and Japanese. There is also the option to choose SAT vocabulary. Instead of learning through rote memorization and repetition, fun touch screen games are used.
Most kids don’t like being confined to a desk with a textbook. But with Mind Snacks, they can learn foreign words and phrases in informal settings, such as waiting in line, or even during a long car trip.
Childhood is the best time to learn new languages. The earlier this is done, the better. With games like Mind Snacks, kids can optimize this valuable window of opportunity instead of waiting until middle school or even high school.
By the way, I must add that I have been playing this game for a while to learn Spanish myself, and it is by far the most fun learning experience I have had towards Spanish (comparable to playing Diablo III in Spanish).
The difference to this and Duolingo, is that Duolingo gamifies the Meta-game towards language learning, where Mind Snacks make the learning part itself fun!
Learning Game #3: DIY.org
Projects like baking a cake, knitting a scarf, planting a garden or even making toys can give kids an immense sense of Development & Accomplishment (Core Drive#2) and Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback. They also learn that not everything of value needs to be store bought, especially when they can use their own abilities to create these things.
Do it yourself projects teach problem solving skills, artistic sensibilities, resourcefulness and independence. They also help bring out the creativity that is inherent in all of us.
The site, DIY.org has an app called DIY – Get Skills, Be Awesome. Kids can showcase their creations and even share them in a larger community. This social aspect allows them to receive validation from peers their own age, not just from mom and dad (Core Drives #3 and #5)
Learning Game #4: Code Spells
More parents are realizing how important it is for kids to learn how to code, especially since this is a highly marketable skill. However, programming is not offered as a core subject in school for small children yet. But with a game like Code Spells, writing code becomes a fun pastime, not an extra learning course.
Players must help gnome characters perform certain tasks by using magic. But the spells they use need to be written in Java code.
A study on 40 girls (ages 10-12), showed that learning code was actually quite effortless due to this game. And some of the subjects even expressed disappointment that the game was over too soon. A highly addictive experience combined with immense learning equates to a fabulous learning game indeed!
I remember when I took my first computer class in Visual Basic, it was so boring and dull that I gave up on it quickly for the exciting topic of Economics (that eventually disappointed me), which led to a great regret for me because now being a professional in the tech world, I truly wished I learned more programming when I was younger. Hopefully this can prevent other kids from having the same regret later (and who knows, maybe it’s not too late for me!)
Learning Game #5: Scribble Naughts
Scribble Naughts is a media creation game for kids around ages 8-11 which teaches creative problem solving skills through imaginative scenarios that involve logic, spelling and creativity.
Players are given a particular challenge to solve. And they can do this by summoning just about anything they can think of, by typing it into a field.
Imaginations can run wild with all the different possibilities that can be brought to life. Players can even create new puzzles that can be shared with others (Core Drive #3 Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback).
If the super hero Green Lantern had played this game growing up, he would have eliminated his biggest weakness – lack of spontaneous creativity.
Learning Game #6 Dora’s Cooking Club
Dora’s Cooking Club is for ages 4-6. Most younger kids love Dora. So using this character to inspire learning in children is already a huge plus.
Kids learn about numbers, fractions, shapes and Spanish as they help Dora and her grandmother prepare a delicious Mexican meal.
Children are likely to play this game voluntarily as opposed to doing exercises in a workbook.
Unfortunately, this is a bit out of my league…I haven’t found the strength in me to master this game and be addictively edutained for months.
Learning Game #7. Game Star Mechanic
An important life skill (which is difficult to teach) is to come up with a good, creative idea and develop it through a process of logical steps.
With Game Star Mechanic, kids are given the opportunity to hone this ability by making their own games and sharing them with others. According to their site, their community has over 250,000 designers whose games have been played over 5 million times. Game Star Mechanic is even being used by teachers in classroom settings to fulfill STEM requirements.
If I had played this game on game design growing up, I would have become an even stronger Gamification Expert (assuming that this is physically possible).
Learning Game #8: SimCity
SimCity is one of the original awesome Learning/Productive/Serious Games in the industry that really got the hearts and minds of players. Eventually, you learn that it also gets the brains of players.
The makers of SimCity have come out with educational version (Sim City EDU) to fulfill classroom STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) requirements. Kids are asked to build virtual cities as they learn about socio-economic development, urban planning and environmental management.
This holistic framework helps kids develop big picture thinking styles where they learn how specific actions affect a larger system such as an entire city.
I wasn’t a big fan of this game when I was younger (it’s because I messed up the water piping and sewage system in my city the first time playing and gave up), but one of my best friends who loved this game ended up being an Architect – graduating from Architecture Association, one of the top architectural universities in the world.
Learning Game #9: Mindblown Life
Teaching money management skills often takes the form of stern lecturing between parents and their young adult children.
Mindblown Life is a game that is designed to teach money management skills to teens. Multiple players participate and interact with one another as they try to balance their professional and personal lives to avoid overspending (Core Drive #8: Loss and Avoidance).
Cofounder, Tracy Moore spoke to Mashable and said, “We’re at an unsustainable point in financial literacy…If we don’t do something now, the tomorrow that exists will be dramatically different from the one we imagined and the one we want.”
Albeit, money management is particularly critical in today’s economy. However, it is something that is best learned through the feel of managing your own money (Core Drive #4: Ownership & Possession). Mindblown Life is therefore a wonderful tool to help impart these life lessons.
The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom is a challenging puzzle game for Windows PC and XBox Live Arcade.
Perhaps the most striking characteristic is the look and feel of the game, which is done in stunning black and white graphics. According to Destructoid.com, “All of the art is downright beautiful to look at…there’s a simple elegance to every detail in the levels and story frames that draws you in.”
The player moves through the game as a pie stealing character named PB Winterbottom. The player’s strategies can involve cloning him or even manipulating time.
Critical thinking and problem solving skills can indeed be cultivated effortlessly through imaginative and immersive digital activities such as Misadventures. This is like the kid version of “Portal,” where an understanding of physics (and the fun places where you can break the laws of physics!) become engaging and critical to solving the problems.
Conclusion on Learning Games
Most people think of games as being strictly recreational. But this does not necessarily have to be the case. Games can help kids of all ages master learning feats without the struggle and frustration that is often felt in formal learning contexts. When designed properly, they can boost feelings of confidence, accomplishment (Core Drive #2) and self efficacy. They offer excellent opportunities for players to tap into enormous reserves of creativity and problem solving abilities. And best of all, they can be incredibly enjoyable.
(Thanks to Christine Yee for tremendously helping me on this post)