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 gameplay, 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 in 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 have 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 touchscreen 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 between this and Duolingo is that Duolingo gamifies the Meta-game toward language learning, whereas Mind Snacks makes 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: Development of Accomplishment and Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creative Feedback). They also learn that not everything of value needs to be store-bought, especially when they can use their 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 age, not just from mom and dad (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creative Feedback
and Core Drive 5: Social Influence and Relatedness)
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 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 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: Khan Academy Kids
Khan Academy Kids is an offshoot of the renowned Khan Academy platform, specially curated for early learners. Tailored for children aged 2 to 7, this app offers a delightful blend of learning and play. It covers a broad spectrum of topics from early literacy, math, and problem-solving to emotional development and motor skills. What sets Khan Academy Kids apart is its unique amalgamation of open-ended activities, interactive stories, and captivating videos, all designed to foster creativity and curiosity in young minds.
Gamification principles lie at the heart of Khan Academy Kids’ success. The platform ingeniously integrates game mechanics into educational content, transforming the learning process into an engaging adventure. As children navigate through the app, they encounter challenges, quizzes, and puzzles. Successful completion of these activities leads to rewards in the form of delightful animations, badges, or new content. This constant loop of challenge, accomplishment, and reward ensures sustained engagement, making children active participants in their learning journey rather than passive recipients of information.
Analyzing the app through the Octalysis Framework reveals a strategic emphasis on several Core Drives. “Development & Accomplishment” is evident as children continuously progress and achieve mastery over concepts. The whimsical characters and narratives introduce Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling, making learners feel part of a grander story or mission. Additionally, “Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback” shines through as kids have the liberty to explore, create, and immediately see the outcomes of their actions. This careful integration of core drives ensures that Khan Academy Kids is not just an educational tool but an experience that young learners eagerly return to, day after day.
Learning Game #6 ABC Mouse Academy
ABCmouse Early Learning Academy is a revered digital platform for learners aged 2 to 8. Designed to build foundational skills, it provides a structured learning path with over 10,000 activities across subjects like reading, math, science, art, and music. As children complete lessons, they earn tickets, which can be used to “buy” virtual items, seamlessly integrating rewards into the learning journey.
Incorporating gamification, ABCmouse’s vibrant graphics and catchy songs amplify engagement. From the Octalysis Framework’s lens, the platform leverages “Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment” with progress tracking, while the virtual rewards appeal to “Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession”. ABCmouse masterfully marries education with gamification, ensuring both learning and enjoyment coexist.
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 allowed to hone this ability by making their 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 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 an 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 socioeconomic 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: BrainPOP Jr
BrainPOP Jr. is an innovative educational platform tailored for younger learners, typically those in kindergarten through third grade. This digital resource is lauded for its compelling combination of videos, interactive quizzes, and engaging games, all of which revolve around core educational subjects. It’s not just about rote learning; it’s about sparking curiosity. With mascot Annie and her robot friend Moby leading the way, the platform’s content is designed to be relatable and accessible, making complex topics digestible for young minds. From science and math to arts and social studies, BrainPOP Jr. ensures that learning is always just a fun video or game away.
Incorporating gamification mechanics, BrainPOP Jr. masterfully taps into the intrinsic motivations of its young users. At the heart of its success is the seamless integration of learning objectives with game-based challenges. When children complete activities or answer quiz questions correctly, they’re rewarded, fostering a sense of achievement and progression. This not only reinforces the educational content but also encourages continuous engagement and exploration. The more they play and learn, the more rewards they gain, creating a positive feedback loop that motivates further interaction and deepens the learning experience.
Utilizing the Octalysis Framework, one can observe that BrainPOP Jr. focuses heavily on the “Development & Accomplishment” core drive. Children are constantly propelled forward by their successes, eager to reach the next milestone or conquer the next challenge. Additionally, the platform’s use of characters like Annie and Moby adds a touch of Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling, as children feel they’re part of exciting adventures and stories. It’s not just about answering questions; it’s about joining beloved characters on a journey of discovery. This combination of gamification elements ensures that BrainPOP Jr. remains a go-to educational tool that’s as entertaining as it is informative.
Learning Game #10: PBS Kids online
PBS Kids Online is the digital extension of the esteemed Public Broadcasting Service’s children-focused programming. Aimed at promoting educational content for children, PBS Kids online offers a variety of interactive games, videos, and activities centered around popular PBS Kids shows like “Arthur,” “Sesame Street,” and “Curious George.” The platform is designed to be both entertaining and educational, seamlessly integrating learning objectives into fun digital experiences. Parents and educators have lauded PBS Kids Online for its commitment to quality, age-appropriate content that engages children while supporting their cognitive and social development.
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, and accomplishment (Core Drive 2: Development of Accomplishment
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 with this post)
Updated in 2023 by Howie Ju
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