As an educator, I’m always passionate about finding ways to nurture my students’ development. As a gamer, I’m captivated by the boundless creativity that video games continue to offer with each passing year. Some of the technological capabilities available now would have made our jaws drop more than a decade ago, and developers continue to push the boundaries of what video games have to offer. Personally, I can’t help but be excited to see how video games are being used not just for entertainment purposes but for other avenues as well, such as education.
With the difficult year that COVID has brought to many families and schools throughout the world, a lot of opportunities for learning have been lost. If you’re concerned about finding ways to help keep your child on track as we enter summer break, consider implementing video games to not only keep them engaged but to build upon the skills they’ve acquired. You may even find ways of using gaming to help build deeper relationships with them and create valuable family memories, which they’ll no doubt appreciate long after the summer is done.
“I’d love to,” you may ask. “But where do I even start? What kinds of games do my kids enjoy? And how do I even know if this game will be helpful in developing their skills rather than just being a waste of time?”
I find that any topic can be used for an educational purpose if you’re willing to take the time to discuss it with others. On paper, video games may seem like they’re only toys, but with the right perspective they can be used to effectively introduce a myriad of subjects. I know this from my own personal experience, and I believe that if video games have helped to facilitate a passion for learning in my own life, they can be used to help others as well. In this article, I’m going to break down why you should make time to be engaged with your child during the summer via gaming, starting with tangential learning, and moving into how gaming can more directly benefit your child’s learning.
In the article My Education Superpower, Chris Aviles defines tangential learning as ‘the process by which people self-educate around a topic if it is exposed to them through something they already love.’ As an adult, I can vouch how tangential learning has shaped my own educational journey when I was younger. I remember as a toddler watching my father play real-time strategy computer games, such as Lord of the Realms II, Age of Empires II, and Stronghold. I watched in awe as he moved armies across the screen and conquered new countries, and I remember how fascinated I was when he would let me select and move them myself from time to time.
Once I was old enough to try Age of Empires II myself, I remember selecting the El Cid campaign from the Conquerors expansion and playing it to completion. History was unfolding before me as his background and story were shared with me, and I was given the chance to offer a hand in bringing it to life. My enjoyment of the campaign piqued my curiosity of the historical figure I was playing as, as well as the characters from the other campaigns in the games. I found books about the figures and learned more about their impact on history, while also recollecting playing the game I was introduced to them in with fondness. I still have a great passion for history, and I believe it’s singlehandedly thanks to playing games like Age of Empires II.
Building Relationships by Showing Interest
Tangential learning may not always be obvious to players as they’re playing, as individual discoveries may take them out of the gaming experience. If you’re not sure if your child is experiencing tangential learning on their own, or are hoping to reinforce their curiosity, try taking the time to sit near them and observe them playing. Let them know that you’re watching them out of interest and curiosity. Ask them what they’re playing, how they’re enjoying the game, what the objectives are, and other questions that will allow you to learn more about what they’re playing, while also taking care not to interrupt them if you see them concentrating really hard from time to time.
As you learn more about what they’re playing, you can gradually bring up ideas or suggestions that may help them think critically even when they’re not playing. You can even give them challenges to try, which will help foster their concentration and creativity skills. I enjoyed this video by Extra Credits which shares some more examples of how gaming can foster relationships and often serve as a gateway to deeper topics and further learning. Depending on the types of games your child may play, thinking outside of the box may be key, but tangential learning can be incredibly rewarding in the long-term. Once students return to the classroom in the fall, it may help foster a better understanding of topics they may be introduced to, such as history or literature. Tangential learning can help with this by creating independent thinkers as well as fostering motivation in learning.
Family Engagement Through Gaming
Ideally, video games should not always be an independent venture. While I primarily play single-player games, there are times where I would love to share my experiences with my friends and loved ones. Chances are your kids may feel the same way, even if they’re shut up in their rooms with their headphones on, seemingly worlds away. When you can, find time to get them or the entire family together and ask your kids to share their favorite games with you. You don’t even have to play the game yourself if you’re not inclined to. But giving them a chance to share their games with you shows a willingness and desire to share experiences with them, which in turn will build trust.
If you are a gamer, you can even share some favorites of your own with the family, which can help expose your children to a library of games they may not discover on their own. Playing multiplayer games with one another such as any of the Mario Kart games, Among Us, or League of Legends will also create conversation, bonding, and foster essential character traits such as sportsmanship and learning how to manage emotions throughout gameplay. Video games don’t always have to be a social call, but families can use gaming from time to time to create a safe environment that can nurture relationships and create memories that everyone can look back on fondly.
I hope this article has helped give you some ideas of ways you can use video games to help your children this summer. With a sense of normalcy slowly returning after over a year of difficulties and uncertainties, I think this summer will be a wonderful transitional period for so many families, and gaming can be used to help rebuild some of those blocks that may have been lost in this past year. Video games don’t have to be a waste of time or a babysitter just for sake of entertaining, but can actually have a real purpose. Be creative, have patience, and you may find that they may bring benefits that you never thought of before for you and your family.