Educational Games: We’re Not Just “Passing Go,” Anymore.

Gone are the days when Monopoly, Go Fish and Candy Land exhausted the list of engaging children’s games. Today, educational games abound, and it’s a good thing they do!

Educational games– especially those specifically targeted at a certain skill– can greatly boost a child’s understanding of academic topics, promote critical thinking, and foster problem-solving skills. From learning science concepts and mastering multiplication to gleaning tidbits about cultures and historical events, children pick up a treasure trove of information from games…all while having a blast.

But with so many games available today (particularly through the Internet), it’s important that parents and teachers understand their role in learning. Here are some tips to keep in mind about educational games:

Important buying considerations for parents and teachers:

  • Does the game fit YOUR child? To help you decide, most games list an age/grade level on the package. That’s the first clue, but you also need to consider your child’s maturity and mental capacity. Ask yourself: Does this game provide enough challenges without being too frustrating?

Tips for toddlers from 0 to 12 months:

  • While children this age are too young for traditional “games,” there are plenty of educational toys that engage the minds of wee ones. Opt for toys that play music, make a noise in response to an action, and introduce letters, shapes, numbers and colors. Toys with mirrors, where babies can “play” with their reflections are developmentally ideal, as well. The more interactive, the better!

Guidelines for children from 1 to 3 years:

  • This is a good time to introduce colors, numbers and letters. Look for educational games and toys that play the alphabet or chime letters, numbers and colors in response to hitting a key or pushing a button. Buy crayons, and reinforce your child’s new skills by writing and drawing together, while you point out the different colors. Practicing letters and numbers in the bathtub with special tub crayons can be a lot of fun, too!  Simple games like Memory can be great fun beginning around age 3, as well.

Tips for children from 3 to 5 years (preschool and kindergarten students):

  • At this age, appropriate electronic games and educational video games can be appropriate, if used with parental supervision. Websites that offer free interactive games and activities can also be enriching. At this age, however, it is crucial for parents and teachers to directly supervise all Internet activities.

Children from 6 to 12 years (grade school students):

For children at this age, reading, writing and math skills are paramount. Buying complex games–such as spelling and quizzing games targeted at these skills– can encourage your child to master these disciplines.

Make it fun!

Finally, make sure the game is enjoyable for your children! If they don’t enjoy playing it, it isn’t going to be an effective learning tool. Involve them in selecting games and play them together at first to familiarize them with the features and goals. Let them know that learning can– and should– be fun!

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