How Gaming Can Enhance All Stages of Child Development
When it comes down to it, successful educational strategies are all about engagement. If kids aren’t having fun, they’ll be less invested in the material, and a lack of engagement often translates to low knowledge retention. With this in mind, parents who are skeptical about the positive educational effects of online games for kids should try to look beyond the game factor and consider the important skills kids pick up while having a blast.
Let’s take a look at how free online educational games can enhance all stages of child development, from preschool through 12th grade.
According to a June study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the beloved television show “Sesame Street” is much more than just a fun way for its preschool audience to pass the time. In fact, NBER researchers found that kids who watched the show had more advanced literacy skills, superior social abilities and greater dietary health awareness than non-viewers. “Sesame Street” has been around since the ’60s, when many people were doubtful about the educational benefits of watching TV. Today, much of that doubt has been transferred to online educational games for kids, despite evidence to the contrary.
In just one example, a study conducted by the Education Development Center and SRI International found that young children’s literacy skills increased when their preschool classrooms used a curriculum that included computer games and videos. The positive effect was particularly pronounced on low-income children, who are often not as prepared for kindergarten as their more affluent peers.
Entering “big-kid school” is a big step for children. Elementary school students need to multitask, pay attention and stay organized in a way preschool simply didn’t require—and that’s where online educational games and even video games can prove helpful. As ABC News reported, studies have found that gaming can improve skills such as decision-making, paying sustained attention and juggling several tasks or concerns at once.
“If you think about it, the attentional and working memory demands of video games can be much greater than other tasks,” said psychology professor Michael Stroud of Merrimack College in Massachusetts.
During the time they attend middle school, kids exercise skills like logic and analysis more than they did in elementary school. This comes naturally for some but presents more of a challenge for others. Many online games for kids enhance children’s critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, which may help them perform better in the classroom.
The middle-school years are also a time when children tend to develop strong preferences for some subjects, and equally strong aversions to others. A kid who avoids math homework like the plague can end up having a ton of fun playing a math-based game online, which may help him or her keep up in class.
A survey of more than 30,000 Wizard101 players conducted by researchers from Trinity University in partnership with KingsIsle found that gamers learn valuable social skills such as teamwork and cooperation—abilities that are sure to serve middle-schoolers well.
In high school, teens must pick up a stream of unfamiliar concepts back to back, retaining knowledge they just learned as they move on to new information—a process known as consolidation of learning. Parents often try to steer their high-schoolers away from online gaming during the critical years before college, but this might not be the best idea. In fact, a study conducted by researchers from Brown University found that gamers exhibit quicker consolidation of learning and have better visual processing skills than non-gamers.
“It may be possible that the vast amount of visual training frequent gamers receive over the years could help contribute to honing consolidation mechanisms in the brain, especially for visually developed skills,” the researchers wrote.
The Bottom Line
Parents who have a knee-jerk negative reaction to online games for kids may not be aware of the advantages of gaming. Whether a kid is just starting school or wrapping up the grade school chapter of his or her life, a little game play can go a long way.