Educational Apps and Games: What Every Parent Should Know

Educational Apps + Games

One of the most common misconceptions in the world of apps, games, and technology is that some of the digital media that your child loves are “educational,” while others are not. Play equals learning in childhood, so a “mindless” video game about saving the princess may actually be an opportunity for learning, whether or not you value what it is teaching. And while practicing fighting a dragon or jumping across a cliff may not improve your child’s reading skills (although there is compelling data that action video games do improve reading fluency), the level of motivation, attention, and persistence that your child displays can transform a variety of media into educational apps and games.

There are hundreds of great educational apps and games, such as Letter School, Sushi Monster and Cargo Bridge, which market themselves as tools for teaching reading, math, science, and other academic content. We want to expand the definition of educational apps and games to include those not marketed as “educational,” but which directly or indirectly require reading, math, and writing. We also want to help parents and educators see how app and game play that practices skills essential for academic success such as working memory, focusing, organization, and time management can also be educational. We want to encourage parents to use the engagement of mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets, and ebook readers to increase the frequency and intensity of academic practice while using educational apps and games.

Why kids should play selected “non” educational apps and games.

Students who struggle with reading, math, writing, and other academic skills are often exhausted by the demands of school but still require much more time and practice to hone their skills. Popular apps and games such as Scribblenauts Remix, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and The Sims: FreePlay  practice some of these academic skills as a part of game play. Because children must use academic skills in order to succeed in these popular apps and games, they actually act as facilitators for informal learning. In a way, encouraging children to play games such as these is a bit like serving them orange juice fortified with vitamin D and calcium, in that the child receives extra “digital nutrition” without any awareness of it.

Why kids should play selected educational apps and games:

Do not underestimate or ignore the use of apps and games that are more clearly designed with academics in mind. While struggling learners often need targeted and individualized instruction, repeated practice reinforces the neuronal connections that lead to learning. Brain and learning scientists are fond of saying that “neurons that fire together, wire together” to explain how repetition leads to learning. In contrast to doing more homework, drills, or worksheets, playing many of these educational apps and games can readily engage your child in the process of learning for hours at a time. Even those that your child may not consider to be particularly fun could at least offer a change of pace from the skill-and-drill routines used in school and, as a result, could be used to complement your child’s in-class education. Educational apps, games, and tools are being increasingly “gamefied,” so that built-in challenges, points, and game-like features make learning more like a game.

Why kids should play apps and games on mobile devices

Have you ever noticed that your child can’t wait to get her hands on your new cell phone? Most youngsters like “playing” with mobile devices, and if yours happens to have a bunch of educational apps, guess what will happen. Many studies have demonstrated that children with learning and attention difficulties perform better on computer-based testing than on paper-and-pencil measures, in contrast to typical kids who do not show any difference. Using digital devices such as an e-reader, a smartphone, or a tablet to increase the time and attention your child gives to educational apps and games is a must  for parents of alternative learners. Better yet, mobile devices create opportunities for extra practice (remember, “neurons that fire together, wire together”) during down periods such as driving in the car, sitting in a waiting room, visiting with the relatives, and waiting for a school bus.

While educational apps and games are fantastic tools to encourage children’s learning, there is no substitute for a good teacher. We strongly encourage parents and educators to use these tools not as stand-alone devices but as a part of the educational process. Select the best educational apps and games for your child by consulting with her teacher to find the specific skills that will best help her in the classroom. Then, use our Thinking and Academic Skills (TEAS) assessment and visit the games and apps pages here at Learningworks for Kids for find the media right for your child.

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