Just Educational Games: How Much Screen Time is Good for Kids?

How Much Screen Time is Good for Kids? One approach many parents have taken to setting screen time for video games and other digital media is to allow their children to only play games and apps that are described as educational. This includes older games such as Big Brain Academy, the Reader Rabbit series, and games made for the LeapFrog Explorer. There are remarkably few console games that are “educational.” For many years there was a segment of games referred to as “edutainment.” These games attempted to bridge the gap from education to entertainment but often fell short on both ends. As a result, kids generally did not like them, and there are very few games that are marketed as such at the present time. However, now there are many engaging educational apps available for iOS and Android devices, as well as an array of games for Nintendo DSi and 3DS systems.

Parents who choose this approach to screen time have told me they don’t want their children wasting their time playing “mindless” video games, but recognize that their kids are drawn to the interactivity and multimodality of games. Many of these parents also recognize that their kids are apt to learn effectively from games and apps.  As increasing numbers of textbooks and homework assignments take place on interactive, online sites that mimic video games, children are even more likely to be learning from educational video games. The best of these games feel like fun, rather than homework, to your children, allowing this type of screen time to feel just as fun as any other.

If you choose to use this approach to setting screen time for video games and digital media with your children, we have a few recommendations:

  • Try to take a broad view of what is meant by “educational”. There are hundreds of “non-educational” video games in such as genres such as puzzle games and simulation games that require application  of cognitive resources, including problem solving, planning, mathematics, and intense focus.
  • Learn a bit about what is meant by “21st century skills” and look for games and technologies that can enhance these for your child. These skills, touted by President Obama and educators, view the use of video games and other digital media as opportunities for practicing crucial life and career skills such as innovation, digital literacy, creativity and collaboration.
  • Think about “serious” games. Serious games refer to a set of video games that use popular and fun game mechanics that teach children about serious issues such as poverty, world hunger, energy conservation, and racism.
  • Find games and tools that promote creativity. Online tools such as Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic are fun and game-like but are all about creating content and using one’s problem solving and imagination skills.
  • Play exergames. Exergames such as Just Dance 3, Kinect Sports, or Wii Sports, which require sustained movement, are not educational by design but may lead to better grades. Substantial research indicates that vigorous exercise using any of these games can lead to better levels of focus, concentration, and learning, particularly for children who might struggle in school.
  • Play games together. There is a lot that your children can learn just by playing any game with you. Think about the last time you played Monopoly, poker, or Scrabble with your kids. They probably enjoyed themselves and learned some problem solving and social skills. If you play video games with them, they are likely to teach you something, giving more meaning to the axiom that the best way to learn is to teach.
  • Don’t forget to have fun. Unless you really believe that video games are hazardous to your kids, it’s okay for them to occasionally play a game that’s simply fun. After all, ice cream and candy may not be good for you, but it’s fine to eat them once in a while.

Who is it good for?

The educational games only approach, when applied broadly may be appropriate for a variety of children. As “non-educational” games are increasingly used in the classroom and accessible by mobile devices, it may be somewhat difficult to enforce. However, the underlying message of making a child’s gameplay more productive is a worthwhile goal. Children for whom this approach may be helpful include:

  • Children who tend to become overly absorbed in their video game play. Limiting these children to games that have educational goals will reduce their reliance upon playing video games for their entertainment.
  • Children who see themselves as poor learners or feel inadequate about their performance in school. In this case, we suggest that you use educational games to establish improved esteem in the child’s self-perception as a learner.  Then, using additional “fun” video games to further their sense of competence may also be helpful.
  • Children of parents who have very negative feelings about the impact of technology on our culture. Educational video games provide their children with an entree into the world of technology and a way to connect to their peers that will  undoubtedly be an important component of their educational and vocational futures.

Other Posts in this Series:


Part 1: An Hour a Day

Part 2: Never on Weekdays 

Part 3: Anytime, Anything, Anyplace

Part 4: After Their Homework is Done

Part 5: Educational Games Only

Part 6: Just Like Any Other Activity

Part 7: Never

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