Here we are always doing our best to reduce “screen time” and then out comes a study from Brown University that says video games may speed up a player’s ability to learn. Truth be told, I often feel that I developed certain thinking and strategic skills from playing games myself as a child! Since I do prefer the kids being outdoors and exploring, I’ve kept that on the down low… until I saw this study! Breezy Mama had to get to the bottom of this and turned to Amanda Morin from Understood.org, an organization that helps the parents of children with learning and attention issues, to find out if video games can help kids learn.
How can playing video games help kids learn better?
Video games may improve focus.
Some people think that playing video games decreases kids’ attention span. But researchers say the opposite may be true. Brain scans show that kids who regularly play are better able to filter out distractions than nongamers are. These games could benefit hyperactive kids.
Video games may improve problem-solving skills.
Puzzle games, such as 2048, and role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft, can build problem-solving skills. Researchers say kids who play these types of games show improvement in three key areas: planning, organization and flexible thinking. It’s not clear how much of that carries over into real life, however.
Video games may boost creativity.
There’s a link between playing video games, like Minecraft, and being creative—at least among middle school kids. Researchers gave 12-year-old gamers tests that asked them to draw, tell stories, ask questions and make predictions. All of the kids had high levels of creativity and curiosity.
Video games may reduce stress.
Simple video games that don’t require a lot of thought, such as Angry Birds, can help kids relax. Low-key games with simple graphics and that don’t take a lot of time to play may improve mood and reduce anxiety. Part of the reason may be that the games make it easy for kids to be successful.
How many hours of playing does it take?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to avoid screen media entirely for kids under age 2. For older kids, the AAP recommends limiting the entertainment time spent on mobile devices or computers to an hour or two a day. This means that as you’re looking for games and apps, it’s important to help your child maintain a healthy balance between screen time for entertainment and for educational use.
How many hours of playing can have an adverse effect on learning and why?
By the AAP recommendations, kids shouldn’t be spending more than 7 to 14 hours per week playing video games. Spending more time playing video games means kids have less time for other things, including homework and study time. That has a very direct effect on learning and academic achievement. It also means kids have less time for participating in afterschool activities and socializing. Learning to work in groups with other kids and practicing social skills are important parts of learning, too. In addition, afterschool activities can help kids discover passions and hidden talents. For many kids, finding those passions provide new ways for to learn academic skills. For example, drama classes can help kids with reading comprehension or robotics club can build problem-solving skills.
Are we talking traditional games, such as Minecraft or car racing, or are they only specific games?
Depending on the specific needs of your child, even games that aren’t specifically marketed as educational can be used educationally. That said, knowing who makes a game or app can be helpful. Trusted brands are more likely to feature good role models for kids and are less likely to have inappropriate language or in-game ads. Consider how the games and apps you’re looking for support other aspects of what your child is learning. What skills does your child already have? Will the game allow your child to practice or build on those skills? For example, if your child is learning addition in school, a game that allows for more addition practice is probably better than one that focuses on a new math skill, like multiplication. Knowing the skills your child needs to work on (such as math facts or rhyming) can help you look for a game that reinforces those skills. Video games can also be tailored to help kids with specific learning and attention issues. The Understood.org Tech Finder tool can also help you search for appropriate games and apps based on your child’s age, learning issues and type of electronic device.
Are there any specific games in general you recommend kids play to help with learning?
Again, it depends on the skill you are looking to develop. For reasoning skills consider Sim City, Scribblenauts or Portal. Talk to your child’s teacher about games and apps that can help reinforce what he’s learning in class. The Understood.org Tech Finder can match your child’s needs to video games and apps that engage while inspiring learning.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Created by 15 nonprofit organizations with a passion for helping kids with learning and attention issues, Understood.org is a free, comprehensive online resource where parents of these kids have access to a robust, digital community of experts and parent advocates who can speak to a range of parenting issues. Understood.org was created to give parents personalized support to make them feel more confident and capable, less isolated and frustrated and to become better advocates for their children. Serving as a one-stop shop for these parents and fully available in English and Spanish, Understood.org is a place they can turn to throughout their journey so that they don’t have to wade across the Internet for helpful information and support so that they can help their children thrive in school and life.
Amanda Morin is a writer specializing in parenting and education. She draws on her experience as a teacher, early intervention specialist and mom to children with learning issues. Her work appears on many parenting websites and she is the author of two books, The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education and The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book.