Kids learn a lot of things at school but they might be missing out on some of the most important things. School is a great place for teaching academic skills, but many teachers just don’t have the time to teach social emotional learning (SEL) and executive functions skills, things kids need to be self-sufficient, well-rounded students. Problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and understanding and communicating feelings are things young children learn from creative, unstructured free play and from adults who have the time to model and guide children in practicing these soft skills — two things public schools have in short supply these days.
Many psychologists and educators have begun to recognize the effectiveness of video games for teaching social emotional learning skills. Video games that are engaging and capture the attention and motivation of the player are natural tools for teaching. Many video games either practice the use of SEL and executive functions through gameplay or have the potential to be powerful teaching tools for developing those skills outside of the game. While there are some video games that make an effort to directly teach social emotional learning skills (see If…), most popular games and apps can practice and teach these skills with the right guidance from peers, parents, and teachers.
Here are some of our favorite video games for teaching social emotional learning skills:
Thomas Was Alone – Thomas Was Alone is an indie puzzle platformer for PC, Xbox, Playstation, iOS, and Android that puts the emphasis on perspective-taking and team work. Players must guide a group of newly-sentient rectangular AIs out of the supercomputer in which they were born, using their different skills and personalities to do so.
Ingress – An augmented reality MMORPG that uses Google maps to place a fictional world over existing real world locations. Players are motivated to explore their surroundings and interact with other players (best in urban areas) and will gain a sense of purpose, connectedness, resilience, gratitude, and control as they fight for land control as part of one of two warring factions.
Whispering Willows – Whispering Willows is a side-scrolling mystery adventure, available on multiple platforms, that follows the journey of Elena Elkhorn as she ventures out in the dead of night to location her missing father. Along the way she hears the stories of restless spirits and attempts to help them, learning about her own ancestry on the way. Players have the opportunity to work on multiple aspects of the self-awareness thinking skill, as well as focus, working memory, and critical thinking and problem solving skills.