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making learning funWhy allowing kids to play online games may boost learning

I was watching my daughter play an educational game on the iPad with one her friends who is also 3 years old. They were laughing, talking and taking turns. It occurred to me that kids learn by playing games. Before starting school, kids are constantly learning almost entirely through play. Then, so often, once they go to school, the games stop and - for some kids - so does the learning.

Many students may learn more effectively when given a choice in how they learn. Research shows that boys often test as reading a couple of grade levels behind in school. However, research done by Dr. Steinkuehler, former senior policy analyst at the White House office of Science and Technology Policy, found that these same boys could read texts above their grade level if they are necessary to playing an online game. When presented with a real life situation, which requires them to read in order to solve a puzzle, they are able to do it. Playing games also teaches kids to stick with it if they are not successful on the first try. Learning to try again when you fail is one of the best predictors of success in school and in life. This quality is easily taught through games and is not as easy to teach or to measure in the traditional classroom.

Playing games also teaches kids to stick with it if they are not successful on the first try.

While traditional learning sometimes stifles attributes like teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, persistence, and risk-taking, gaming encourages these qualities. Many games are quite difficult and involve critical thinking skills, as well as working with others as part of a network or team. Games allow kids to use collective intelligence and learn skills, like patience and discipline, which experts say are a better predictor of future success than IQ score. Using games to teach your kids, or as an extension of their learning, does not mean that what they learn has to be dumbed down. In fact, educational games could provide an innovative and interesting way to challenge and engage them in learning something new.

Nina lives in Spotsylvania with her husband and daughter. She owns Parrish Learning Zone, a K-12 tutoring service.

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