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By: Jenna Duetzmann, staff writer

According to mainstream media, screen time and video games are the root of all evil. Computer and video games turn average children into monsters. Computer and video games are as addicting as drugs and alcohol. Computer and video games will rot your child’s brain. And of course, these media outlets can pull out reams of anecdotal evidence to support their claims.

We here at Engaged Family Gaming disagree with these claims wholeheartedly. Not only do we know plenty of upstanding citizens who have been gamers all their lives, but we have also spent hours and hours searching for and analyzing research that disproves all of these claims.

Last summer, The New America Foundation hosted a panel discussion about technology and games in early education with the following featured speakers:

Joel Levin– “The Minecraft Teacher,” Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, Co-owner of TeacherGaming, makers of MinecraftEdu

Annie Murphy Paul– Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow, New America Foundation, Author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart

Scott Traylor– Founder of 360KID

Alice Wilder– Co-Creator and Head of Research and Education for “Super Why!” on PBS

Lisa Guernsey– Director, Early Education Initiative, New America Foundation, Author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media—From Baby Videos to Educational Software—Affects Your Young Child 

You can watch the entire 90 minute panel here:

http://futuretense.newamerica.net/events/2012/getting_schooled_by_a_third_grader

But, if you’re as busy as we are, you might not have that kind of time. Here are some of our brief take-aways from the event that really highlight our perspective. This topic is one of the critical reasons that this site exists. We hope to dispel the myth of computer and video games as evil with real and timely facts! The people in this panel are experts in the educational field. There is no political agenda behind the panel. That’s why we are choosing to share it with you. (Additionally, if you’re looking for educational websites, apps, and games for your kids, the first montage in the video has DOZENS)

Take-away #1- Minecraft is a phenomenal educational tool!

Many parents already knew that, but here is a brief overview. Minecraft is a game that allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. The game includes activities like exploration, gathering resources, crafting, and combat. You can play in survival mode, which requires you to gather resources to maintain health and prevent hunger. You can also play in creative mode, where players have an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no health or hunger at all. Many schools have integrated Minecraft into the curriculum to help teach collaboration, planning, building, and digital citizenship (tune in next week for a more detailed discussion on digital citizenship).

Take-away #2- Be vigilant with your digital media choices. As a parent, you still need to be involved in your child’s decisions. Some games are better than others. Some can be learning tools that both you and your children can utilize together. Some are just ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ and not very valuable at all. Nothing is as boring as a cheesy skin over the same old educational drilling. As a parent, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the myriad choices. Be informed, test the games yourself, and stay engaged.

Take-away #3- The gamification of learning and new educational technology tools work very well to provide challenges to your child as well as inspire an intrinsic motivation to learn. Playing games with appropriate level challenges that react to your child’s specific skills can raise the learning bar far better than traditional rewards and punishment. Anne Murphy Paul expanded her thoughts from the event on her blog. You can read it here:

 http://anniemurphypaul.com/2012/08/do-video-games-have-educational-value/#

Take Away #4- Bringing games into the field of learning can help re-spark a child’s intrinsic love of learning that has been lost in today’s test score centric educational environment. Games are often a large part of a child’s home life. Many aspects of their imaginative play is based on something seen in a game. If we acknowledge and support those experiences and turn them into learning opportunities, we are actively engaging the child. We are using something fun and familiar to the child to educate them.

Take Away #5- There is a reason virtual world games and MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online games) are increasingly popular. They provide a relatively safe place for parents and children to play together, as well as a place where your child needs to read and write in chat to socialize with other players. Games like Wizard101, Poptropica, and Herotopia are booming right now, and kids bring their discussions about them to school. Are they the most educational games out there? Academically, no. But, they teach your child quite a bit about socialization and are an ideal place for children and adults to play together.

This panel was only a small drop in the ocean of information that supports computer and video games as a learning tool. We think it’s a great first resource for parents looking for facts about the virtues of gaming. There is quite a bit more information out there, and as we see interesting stuff, we will share it with you. Keep your eye on Engaged Family Gaming on Mommy Mondays for more articles like this!

 Looking for more games and math and education? Check out more articles here!

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By: Kelly Allard

Way back when I was young and sans kids, my friends and I would stay up until the wee hours of the night doing nothing but table-top gaming.  Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire the Masquerade… basically whatever we could get our hands on that went well with a 10-pack of tacos from Taco Bell and 64oz of Mountain Dew.

Now that we’re parents, our nigh-continuous gaming has mellowed to a semi-monthly laid-back game of Pathfinder that ends shortly after our children’s bed time.  Early on, we thought we could let the kids have a movie and we’d play while they were off relaxing in their own world.  We were quite mistaken!

While normally Simba’s harrowing tale of triumph in the face of danger would hold kids enthralled for its entire action-packed 90 minute run, it is apparently FAR less interesting than what the grown-ups are doing.  To save on frustration, we let our little ones join our table.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited for the day that my daughter gets the idea of playing a character in more than the “put on a costume and preface my name with princess” kind of way that pre-schoolers have.  However, we aren’t there yet.  We needed a way to make the game fun for her while letting us still play the game.

So, as any table-topping gamer parent knows, there are two incredibly interesting things about gaming for kids (and cats): dice and minis!  We would let her roll for us.  At first we’d call out the numbers, but as time went on, she’d tell US what she rolled.   It was a great way to help her recognize numbers to 20.  Also, as time went on, we could tell her which dice to roll instead of giving her a specific die.

Giving them their real names (in addition to what we call them) is helping her understanding and relation of 3 dimensional objects.  Having one person call it a tetrahedron, while someone else calls it a 4-sider helps her relate the shapes to their make-up.  You can also point out the shapes that make up the flat side, like the pentagons on a dodecahedron (d12).
Now, where things get dicey is modifiers.  My daughter LOVES to be right and isn’t really a fan of being corrected.
Here is an excerpt from a recent gaming session:
Her – “19!”
Me – “Ok, That’s a 24 for me!”

Her – “It’s a 19.”
Me – “Yes, that is a 19, but then I get to add this 5 to it, and it makes it 24.”
Her – “This ‘dice’ says 1 next to 9, that’s 19 not 24, mommy.”

To aid in her understanding of the additive nature of our rolls, we now have a small white board to write the result AND the modifier on.  So, 19 + 5 = 24, for this specific roll.  This gives her an opportunity to see how numbers operate together in simple addition.  Also, it gives her a familiarity with addition notation and an early recognition of symbols associated with it.
Another fun thing to let your little “knowledge sponge” do is count movement squares.  Explain that every square is 5 feet and tell them how many to go – as they count by 1s, you count by 5s.  This will start to give them a basis for “skip counting” and an early foundation for multiplication.  They can move the mini to the final destination but they have to count the path (save double diagonals for a different day, once they’ve got general movement down) and see if it takes more than the number the character CAN move to get to the end.
This teaches them varying quantities and allows them the ability to find their own ways to the answer.  Also, it teaches the basics of the concepts of more than (greater than) and less than.  If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you could even write their movement total on a white board, comparing the movement total to the character’s allowed movement (e.g. 20 < 30), laying the groundwork for eventually solidifying their understanding of the concept.

The thing to keep in mind is that whenever you add a child to your game, no matter the age, it is going to take longer.  The amount of time it takes to do something simple seems to be inversely proportional to their age (provided that they are over 6 months or so.)  Or to put it in simple terms: For n>0.5, t=1/n.  Just be patient with them, answer their questions and teach them what’s happening.  Table-top roleplaying games have some amazingly simple math and fantastic gaming concepts.

The math learning is great, but you will also be helping your child learn the skills of playing an open-ended game, with variable results. They will also become familiar with turn-based strategy, roleplaying and working as a team in a (mostly) cooperative environment.

 

Looking for more games and math? Check out more articles here!

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Editor’s note: Mondays from here on out are going to be “Gamer Mom Mondays.” Check back every week for some fresh perspective and advice from moms who love to play games with their kids. First up: Kelly Allard. 

By: Kelly Allard, Staff Writer

Being a gamer mom of a preschooler, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the value in the games we play together and to figure out just what I am teaching my child.

According to popular media, anything outside of Monopoly or a friendly game of Scrabble is detrimental to your child’s ability to grow into a well-adjusted adult.  While the common thought is that adults don’t play games, the latest generation of adults has begun to prove this wrong.  So, we move forward: gaming in front of our infants, rocking them to sleep while one-handedly playing WOW and attempting to entertain them with our fabulous Rock Band antics.  But what happens when they are old enough to WANT to play with us?  What can they learn from these games wrought with so little value, according to our parents?

The first games we started playing in our house were board games: Candy Land, Cootie and the like.  While these games really have very little parental value, they give a great basis for the future of your little gamer.

What value does the monotonous quest to liberate King Kandy from the sticky denizens of Lord Licorice have for you and your child?  Candy Land is a game we probably all played as kids, and its staying power is a testament to its skill-less play and endless fun for little ones.  Candy Land is a level playing field; there is no strategy, no thought-provoking turns, and no need to read, add or do anything else that a small child can’t yet do.  Perhaps mommy might make her way to the Candy Castle first only to be thwarted by the fate of drawing Plumpy (who now has been replaced by The Duke of Swirl or some-such character, depending on your edition), or maybe not.

It teaches them the basic dynamics of taking turns and identifying where to go next.  There is a simple objective and drawing cards and moving allows that to happen.  It gives future gamers a concept of losing turns and being set back, and gives the idea that progress isn’t always linear.  Color identification, counting and even pattern recognition are all strengthened by this simple game.

Cootie, another game cherished by my daughter, is another simple turn-based game. Roll the single die and try to build your silly bug faster than everyone else.  The catch with Cootie, as my husband is well aware, is that you can’t start to build until you’ve rolled a 1. Rounds can get extra, extra long when one person has a multicolored crazy roller-skating cowboy Cootie and the others are still striving for that elusive single pip.

This game teaches kids to recognize number groupings on a die, which lends some more concrete skill to the abstract numbers they are asked to recite when counting.  They learn the important gamer skills of rolling dice, turns that lack results and variable endings.  Cootie gives kids some time to be creative, allowing for over 4 million permutations of bizarre bugs – they can be different every time!

Each game is varied in what it teaches, but there is one thing they all have in common: they teach your kids how to win proudly and how to lose graciously.  It’s a difficult lesson to teach a competitive child, but by playing games with them you show them how not to be a sore loser and how to just pick up and try again when you fail.  If you want your kids to be the kind of gamer you’d want to play with, you have to start early and start simply.  Of course, this is just the beginning of the games kids can learn from, and ways they can be taught.  If you’re creative you can do all sorts of things – play “dress up Candy Land” and give your characters back-stories and names and purpose.  Set your Cooties on adventures when they’re complete, ask your kids what they enjoyed about the game.  There are so many places to start and so many ways they can be engaged.

Looking for more games and math? Check out more articles here!

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