The following case study is an example of the ways that video games can exercise Reading skills. The story itself is a variation of one or more patients I have worked with during my years in private practice. Names, places, and other identifying details have been altered or removed.
Will is an 8 year-old second grade student who simply does not like to read. His difficulty with reading dates back to preschool, when he struggled to recognize letters, write his name, and sound out letters. The requirement from his school that he reads for 20 minutes a night results in regular conflicts with his parents.
However, Will seems to read without hesitation while reading text in the latest Zelda game. If he wants to complete the quests in Zelda, he needs to read in order to succeed. There is no voice acting in the game, and all story elements and character interactions are relayed through text. This is important to understand for many reasons. Characters often tell Will where to go next, and the game teaches him how to use new equipment and control the character via text-based tutorials. There are also many useful items he can buy in shops, and each is accompanied by text describing their function.
His parents have also noticed that he enjoys going to websites about great white sharks, which are his favorite animal. He’ll spend hours reading about sharks on sites like National Geographic, and seems to read without any complaint, as he is interested in the subject.
Here, we see the issue is not necessarily that the child is resistant to reading, rather it is the context around the reading which makes Will hesitant to practice. It’s clear that Will enjoys playing video games and that reading in this digital environment does not detract from his enjoyment of it. As a parent, try to recognize your child’s interests (video games) and use them as a tool for learning. As an example, Will loves playing the newest Zelda game, which incorporates a good amount of text dialogue. After he finishes the game, encourage him to play another role-playing game, such as Final Fantasy XIII or Dragon Quest. Role-playing games often have an immense world filled with interesting characters and quests and more importantly to Will and his parents; an equally extensive amount of reading.
While playing video games and going to his favorite websites will not teach Will the basic phonological, fluency, or comprehension skills he needs, it will provide him with an opportunity to expand upon the 20 minutes a day practice that he is reluctant to do for school. The fact is, once children have mastered basic reading skills, the amount and variety of practice they engage in play an enormous role in becoming proficient readers.
Fortunately, now there are many innovative ways to practice reading that were not available to struggling readers in the past. Approaches such as reading books on a Kindle, Nook, or iPad, listening to audio books on an iPod to practice fluency, or even watching a favorite television program with the sound off and closed captioning on, all provide opportunities for a fun way to practice reading skills. There are hundreds of great reading apps such as Super Why! by PBS Kids, Miss Spell’s Class, and abc Pocket Phonics that make practicing reading skills fun. There are also great interactive storybook apps like Jack and Jill and The Three Little Pigs, or simple games such as Letris, Scribblenauts Remix, and Wordsworth where spelling and vocabulary are crucial for success.