My son is four and he’s just getting into video games. It’s one of the few moments he actually stays still and pays attention to something, so I’ve been encouraging his interest. Recently, his preschool teacher cautioned me about his video game usage and said “It’s not good” for them to get into gaming. I bit my tongue and nodded in agreement, but later thought about what she said. While I agree that too much of anything is not good, I’m here to give you five ways you can actually make gaming good for kids.
Turning Gaming into a Positive Thing Requires Effort
This article isn’t about sitting them in front of a game and walking away and hoping they’ll learn something. It doesn’t work that way. It’s about how you can get involved and turn gaming into a positive learning experience by playing together. In the months that I’ve been doing this, my son went from scoring Below Expectations on his preschool assessment tests to scoring Meeting or Exceeding Expectations across the board. So sit down, pick up a controller and press PLAY!
1 – Gaming Can Be Quality Time Together
My son and I are playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild together and it is an epic quest. We work together to find treasures, take down monsters, discover new regions and eventually save the world. By playing with him, not only do we spend quality time together, but I can sneak a little bit of learning into something he really enjoys doing. By putting in the effort to spend time with him and play with him, we are able to connect while doing something we both enjoy.
2 – Using Numbers and Math Concepts
Most of the games use numbers for something- collecting a certain number of items, checking your armor stats, etc., so you can use this situation to help kids learn their numbers. I’ll tell my son “Choose the sword with a level seven,” or “You need five apples, but you only have two. How many more apples should we find?” This helps him want to learn because he understands he can use it for useful things. He’s even learning the concept of higher and lower by switching out lower level weapons and armor for higher level pieces.
3 – Learning to Read Through Letters and Sight Words
The first letters my son knew really well were A, B, X, Y, since that was what was on the game controller. We branched out from there with learning to read basic sight words like: Eat, Hold, New, Game, etc. – all words he encounters while gaming. He actually wanted to learn the words so he didn’t have to ask me every time what they say. This is the most I’ve ever seen him interested in reading! It’s small, but it’s a start. I even made flash cards with all the gaming words and have him go through them before he plays.
4 – Learning to Take Turns
Trying to convince a four-year-old to give you a turn is tough. My son would much rather just play while I watch, or play at the same time. But sometimes you are going to be playing a single-player game and that’s when learning a bit of patience and sharing skills comes in. When he begins to monopolize the game, or try and take the controller from me, I let him know that’s not how we play. We need to take turns and share the fun. And if he doesn’t want to share, then mommy doesn’t want to play with him, and neither will his friends. Sometimes it may take me getting up a few times and letting him play by himself, but eventually it sinks in and he learns that it is more fun when you share.
5- Practicing Self-control and Dealing with Gaming Frustration
Games can be frustrating. Who hasn’t wanted to throw the controller after getting “this close” and then dying for the millionth time? I’ve had to curb my own frustrated outbursts while playing with my son. He threw the controller once, and the Nintendo was taken away for the rest of the day. He hasn’t thrown it again!
I did give him alternative options to getting his anger out – hit the couch pillows, shout (but not too loudly), turn off the game and do something else. I’ve had to implement these techniques myself, and even had to come up with string of colorful alternatives to the curse words I want to yell at the screen at times. I tell him it is OK to get frustrated, even mommy gets frustrated, but when it gets too much that’s when it’s time to take a break and try again later.
The main thing about gaming is this: your kids are probably going to get into it to some degree, at some point. You can either let them go at it and have no idea what they are doing, or use it as a tool to connect with them and help them apply it to real-world knowledge. It’s your choice whether gaming becomes a hindrance or an asset to learning.