The Game of Learning

How, exactly, do children learn? The most effective teacher is experience. As parents, we understand that we cannot have our children experience everything we want them to learn. First, many of those things are dangerous. Second, it simply isn’t practical. How many parents have the money to take their children all over the world to help them experience everything this planet has to offer. Not only do we not have the money, there isn’t enough time in our lifetimes to cover the information that way. So what other methods do we have?

Traditional schools have gone the route of textbooks and lectures. A few colorful pictures here and there along with the droning voice of an instructor telling the children about things that could be cool, if the children were given a reason to be interested in it. From there the children are expected to remember what the teacher said, write papers, take tests and be evaluated on how well they retain the droning voice of some anonymous teacher.

Some schools try to spice things up by adding some activities, either field trips, computer content or outdoor activities to go with the droning voice, but in the end, the curriculum is still the same, and the children are still subjected to the same kinds of pressures.

Is there a better way? Of course, there always is. Did you know that video games have been proven to Improve a vast array of skills? My biggest complaint concerning the use of video games in education is the fact that these video games are advertised as “educational.” Children have been conditioned from a young age, because of how our public school system is structured, to view education negatively. They see the learning process as grueling and boring, therefore if something is labeled as “educational,” they will automatically steer away from it, or predetermine that it is of poor quality.

Imagine an RPG (role playing game) where the child chooses to be an historical figure, traveling across geographically correct terrain to achieve an historically significant goal. His/her choices throughout the game would affect the details of the story, the things history cannot know. In the process they have to solve puzzles, calculate distances, read maps, find clues, and depending on the historical figure, possible engage in epic battles. This game would teach them math, cartography, history, geography and much more, all in the course of one game.

Of course, fictional characters can use real geography and still teach children. Illusion of Gaia was a game on the Super Nintendo that had several “real world” settings. As the children were playing the game, the names that sounded familiar to them sounded that way for a reason…because they were real!

Many other games utilize in depth puzzle and strategy  aspects that promote high end critical thinking and  analysis skills. That is almost a staple in games now days. To get from one area to another you have to solve the puzzle that blocks your path. In racing, fighting and shooting games, children’s reflexes are heightened. The more they play, the quicker and more observant of their surroundings they become. In those kinds of games, if you don’t know what is going on all around you, at all times, you will be eliminated. I find it interesting to note that some kids I’ve known could keep track of their score in their heads, to avoid having to look at the scoreboard. That’s some pretty neat math on the fly while under fire.

Video games, as they are, can be wonderful tools in helping our children learn, but if the video game industry were to realize the potential of this medium, and use it to that full potential, the sky is the limit. What we could teach out children would be endless. Of course, I’m sure that’s only wishful thinking. These guys only think with their pocketbooks. They have no idea if an idea like creating a full course educational video game would make money, because they aren’t willing to take that chance. What a shame…

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