Five Ways Games Help Children Learn

It’s not about taking the fun away — it’s about adding an educational twist

Katherine Lissitsa
24 July 2019

You can play when you finish your homework — a popular parental line usually followed by a big sigh (maybe even a few grunts) and a mopey walk back to a desk filled with books and papers. But there is hope: once the homework is done, a game awaits.

This doesn’t necessarily need to be the approach to gaming, however. Although playtime is often seen as pure fun, games and learning can easily be combined. Yes kids, that means learning can be fun.

So whether it’s Monopoly or Minecraft, playing games is not all about entertainment — it’s just as much about education. And despite the popular theory in our digital day and age that video games in particular can be detrimental to a child’s well-being, computerized games can also have the opposite effect.

Here are five ways in which both traditional and contemporary games can help children learn:

Games propel motivation

Games can actually be the key to getting your child motivated to learn in the first place. Because the premise of any given game is a fun experience, a child will likely be keen to participate without you as a parent having to encourage them.

In a classroom setting, the gamification of any school subject can also be beneficial for students. By bringing in a gaming component, you as a teacher can utilize the reward system embedded in games (points, stars) to motivate students to continue playing — and therefore learning. While learning about math the traditional way can seem like a daunting and endless task for a student, getting to know the subject through a video game can boost their interest and motivation, because they are then able to quickly attain tangible goals.

Games improve problem-solving and critical thinking skills

Problem-solving and critical thinking are words we never get tired of at KCJ. But coding is not the only situation in which these skills come into play. Whether it’s an old-school board game, a spanking new video game, or even a completely unplugged activity, games can make a child encounter challenges and use their critical thinking skills to solve them.

Take the simple, hands-on puzzle. By meshing multiple, differently cut pieces, a child is able to create an overall illustration. The problem they can come across is trying to find the correct piece to fit into another. This poses a challenge and therefore requires critical thinking: "I need to look at the puzzle piece I have and find the corresponding piece with the correct shape, to complement the original piece."

Or on the digital side, there’s the beloved Angry Birds game liked by both children and adults. The challenge here is that little green pigs keep on stealing the bird’s eggs and the player needs to destroy the thieves in order to retrieve what was rightfully theirs. And correctly strategizing to ensure that the destruction happens successfully in turn flexes a player’s problem-solving skills!

Games help kids make peace with failure

The doom and gloom of failure can often become a barrier to a child’s learning. The fear of disappointing a parent or embarrassing oneself in front of peers can lead a child to mask their failures instead of openly learning from their mistakes. But games have the ability to shift that.

When playing a given game, failing isn’t necessarily a reason to stop. Rather, it’s a reason to keep going. In turn, this helps children understand their mistakes and quickly improve through trial and error. Because there is no scolding or bad grade associated with being unable to say, level-up, the child is free to continue trying without consequences. The freedom of failure then prevents them from seeing it as something dreadful.

Games make kids better team players

Although many games can be played alone, a study by the Pew Research Centre reveals that 70% of games are played collaboratively and only 20% of gamers choose to go at it solo. And without disparaging single-player games, those that require a little team spirit are often linked to a range of benefits.

Games that can be played in groups encourage players to work together, which leads children to work on their communication skills in an attempt to beat their opponents. Because of the fun and engaging atmosphere games provide, the experience can also lead children to make friends, which can consequently improve their self-esteem. Finally, playing with a partner during a game teaches a child how to work in teams — a skill that will undeniably come to good use in both academic and professional environments as they grow older.

Games let children discover and explore

If kids are eager to learn about the endless wonder of outer space or the mysterious depths of the ocean, the immersive quality of a video game can bring them closer to these environments and improve their understanding of them.

This would be the point at which the digitization embedded within our contemporary world has a bit of an upper hand on the past. The nostalgic sandbox or traditional toys are not the greatest vehicles for immersion, whereas video games are. Pretending you’re an astronaut and solving a problem on a spaceship in a digital game can help a child experience something they will likely not encounter in their day-to-day life. Through the possibilities housed within game design, children can learn about a variety of environments in a compelling way, which can be both educational and inspiring.

When it comes to gaming and children, the activity does indeed have a good side. And although we at KCJ turn our attention towards children, we can’t help but mention that the skills acquired through gaming can easily apply to adults as well. So if you’re thinking of encouraging your child or student to play games for the sake of learning, then we encourage you to do the same!