Video games have the ability to change a person’s brain, but the myth is that it’s for the worse. It has long been suggested that gaming negatively impacts our children. The press consistently focuses on the negative aspects of video games: the correlation with “rotting” the brain, encouraging aggressive behavior, promoting anti-social behavior and the list goes on. Must we always look at the downside of something we are not altogether familiar with?
For countless reasons, parents and teachers are hesitant to use gaming technology in the classroom. As both a parent and veteran teacher of 14 years, I’ve had numerous discussions with colleagues who consider video games as simply “mindless” fun. But, those critics are unaware that the touchscreen taps, mouse clicks and joystick jiggles can help sharpen cognitive skills.
Edu-gaming—a now-popular concept that integrates games with education—disputes the theory that video games will rot children’s brains. A recent and compelling article by writer Nic Fleming discusses how educational games are proven to help people see better, learn more quickly, develop greater mental focus, become more spatially aware, estimate more accurately and multi-task more effectively.
As the current lead for reading engagement innovation at Evanced Games (a company that designs influential educational mobile game apps for kids), I spend time each week playing edu-games with children in their school environments. This gives me firsthand experience with the benefits of video games. When played with a purpose, video games are important tools for helping kids take the skills they learn in school and build upon them further after the school day ends.
Gaming Lie No. 1: Video games will rot your brain.
Playing video games is commonly thought to taint children’s brains. Yet, gaming is far from mindless entertainment. Several studies suggest that video games unlock different cognitive skills and improve brain function in measurable ways. In fact, a fascinating new study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus, found that frequent game playing results in a direct increase in the regions of the brain responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic planning and motor skills.
Gaming Lie No. 2: Video games encourage aggressive behavior.
On the contrary, I have seen video games help redirect aggression and hostility in kids into something much more positive. For example, one of my former third grade students used to act out during reading and math lessons for any reaction from his peers. About mid-year, I began to bring in iPads for continued skills practice in small groups, and, after a couple of days of using these tools, this particular student showed a completely different side of himself. With the introduction of mobile gaming that tied directly to his interests, he discovered something that engaged him more appropriately.
Gaming Lie No. 3: Gaming disconnects kids.
There is also a misconception that video games desocialize children. However, valuable educational games typically include a social element to help encourage kids to want to play and learn more. Kids tend to feel more engaged when building relationships, both outside of a game and within the game itself. For instance, the Froggy Phonics mobile app is based on the main character, Froggy, finding different frog friends on each of the game levels. This feature has proven to keep kids engaged in the game longer, in order to find each of the friends. While sharing the gaming experience and playing with others, too, kids use teamwork and develop social skills, as well.
Tic-Tac Bananas! by Evanced Games
Learning should be fun. Despite the stigma around video gaming in general, parents and teachers should not be apprehensive about using edu-gaming for skills enrichment. As more teachers become aware of the benefits of using edu-games in the classroom, the next challenge becomes how to best implement an edu-gaming plan.
Some teachers are tied to curriculum maps that are identical for every school in a district. With this over-standardization, teachers are unable to creatively adapt to every child’s needs and differentiate teaching and learning methods accordingly. Kids are intrigued by the gaming technology as it connects to their individual interests. Using edu-gaming in the classroom empowers them to sustain engagement.
With misgivings about “screen time,” many parents fear that their children will develop bad habits if they participate in edu-gaming. This is where the old saying, “everything in moderation,” comes into play. Too much of anything is not good for anyone, and this rule applies to educational games as well.
Instead of continuing to ignore the advantages of video games used for education, naysayers should be open to the evolving trend of gaming in the classroom. When played in moderation and with intentional purpose, mobile games are an effective platform for learning. Rather than painting all video games with the same broad brush, it is time to embrace the opportunities edu-gaming can provide our children.
Lindsey Hill is a two-time Elementary Teacher of the Year honoree for her school and veteran teacher of 14 years. She is the lead for reading engagement innovation at Evanced Solutions, LLC and explores current trends in reading advancements to aid in the development of solutions that increase reading proficiencies among our youth. By spending time with parents, teachers, librarians and students in and out of elementary classrooms, Lindsey is able to demonstrate how kids can embrace their interests to learn and read proficiently.