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Unlike my parents, I grew up with access to a computer. I’m comfortable with technology. Most parents in my generation are more than comfortable with computers, mobile devices, e-readers, smart home devices, etc. However, there is still one area in the field of technology that has many parents stumped. That area of technology is video gaming, and all the technology that surrounds games. Games are getting more complex. Gamers, in general, are starting at a younger age. And, to make matters worse, many of these young gamers have parents who did not play games at all when they were younger. Talk about a perfect storm!

Gaming has grown so rapidly in the last decade or so that there is a huge population of kids that just don’t have the support that they need from their parents. These parents simply lack the experience needed to be of any real help.

These comments are not intended to be a condemnation of non-gamer parents. A lot of parents in my generation (including me) have been playing games for most of our lives. This gives us a strong base of experience and helps make finding solutions to some game puzzles a relatively easy task. But, my experiences are not necessarily the same as the experiences of all other parents. My wife, for example, was not a gamer as a child. She often gets stumped by the same puzzles my children get stuck on. As I tell her, all is not lost. You CAN find the help you need if your child is stuck. The internet is a vast ocean of information and the answer to virtually any question you can imagine is floating somewhere in it. You just need to know where to look.

I’ve heard too many stories where kids get stuck and their parents can’t help them. As a result their game gets “bricked” (rendered completely useless- the game may as well be built into the wall for all the fun it can bring).

My goal is to give parents who are not gamers a set of tools to help find the answers to their children’s questions quickly and effectively. I know that there are a lot of parents with no REAL interest in games. These parents buy games and let their kids play by themselves, without any engagement. Video games are a perfect babysitter, right? Nope. You really do have to be able to help your children while they play in order to prevent frustration from taking over and leeching any possible enjoyment and enrichment from the experience. This guide will help you ENGAGE with your child and show you several places to find the answers you will need.

 

1. Your Google-Fu Must be strong

This sounds obvious. Google is supposed to be able to help you find anything right? Yes. But, you can’t just type whatever you want into Google and get reliable information.

First, most games are broken down into levels or stages. You can often find the information you need by searching for the title of the game and the name/number of the stage you need help on. RPGs might be a bit more challenging, because things aren’t numbered, but each town, cave, dungeon, or boss fight will have a name associated with it. It can also help if you type the keyword “guide” or “walkthrough” into your search to help make sure you get assistance as opposed to reviews. For example, searching for “pokemon x gym leader guide” will bring up a list of websites that contain info regarding the different gym leaders and their pokemon in Pokemon X and Y.

Second, check your spelling. You might not know a lot about the game your child is playing, but you need to make sure that you know the correct spelling of things in order to have any luck finding them. Google might correct some of your misspellings, but it is possible to get lost and fail to find the information that you need. Ask your kids, or look at the game yourself to find out what you need to search for.

Lastly, there are a number of websites out their that are designed to lure people using information about popular video games and infect their computers with malware. When you are searching for a piece of information make sure to look at the search results and make sure you are going to a legitimate site before you click. (Pro-Tip: If the site appears dedicated to cheats and/or offers you ways to get ahead in games by downloading an unrelated program… its probably not legitimate. This is especially true with mobile apps.)

 

2. GameFaqs.com

It is possible that GameFaqs is directly responsible for the longevity of my time as a gamer. Every time I recall finding myself frustrated with a puzzle or battle in a game I turned to one of the walkthroughs on the site and was able to overcome the challenge. I cannot recommend this resource enough.

GameFaqs has been around forever and has several walkthroughs for just about every game you can ever imagine. Each walkthrough is written by a community of dedicated gamers and are rated by peers as they are released.

The only real weakness for GameFaqs walkthroughs is that they are written in pure text format. They do not include images, videos, or sound. They are essentially step-by-step instructions that are painstakingly written out. Fortunately, these documents are searchable (just like most text on the web) by hitting Control-F on a PC and Command-F on a Mac. This will bring up a small search box in your browser. Simply type in whatever you are searching for and it will bring you right there. (Be VERY careful with your spelling here though. Google won’t be able to save you here.)

 

3. IGN Wikis and Walkthroughs

IGN is a website that covers the video game and popular entertainment industry. They have a significant portion of their website dedicated to providing a home for user submitted walkthroughs, guides, and Wiki pages. These pages function very similarly to GameFaqs, with the exception that they will often include images and video. They even include mobile apps like in this walkthrough for Cut the Rope 2. (This walkthrough was actually written by a talented writer from my home state of CT who also happens to share my name, Stephen Haberman. He is currently working on a site dedicated to “Heroes of the Storm, a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game run by Activision Blizzard. Check it out!)

 

4. YouTube

YouTube has its share of challenges regarding content for children, but there is a massive community of gamers who post videos of the games that they play. You can find walkthroughs of virtually any game you can imagine here. This is an especially useful resource for parents who need help on action games and platforming games. (Also, some people are simply visual learners and having a video to watch will be of more use.)

 

These are my some of my suggestions. Where do you get your information? Are there any hidden gems on the web that have helped you find solutions to your questions? Sound off in the comments section!

 

 

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By: Samantha Oestreicher, guest writer

Editor’s note: Samantha is a college math teacher who also writes a blog entitled, “Social Mathematics.” She offered to share some of her expertise with us here at Engaged Family Gaming and we couldn’t pass it up! Read on for some excellent examples of board games that teach math concepts without being all “teachy” about it!

There is a lot of pressure from the media and from peers to believe that math is painful. Sometimes adults try to dress up mathematics to make it look like“a game”. As a gamer, I have been really disappointed in these dressed up math practice games because they miss the point of what a game really is. Instead, they are loosely veiled attempts to manipulate kids to use math in a “fun” way.

All is not lost though, great games do exist that use mathematical thinking and math skills. The following is a list of fun games that can inspire mathematical thinking. I have compiled a list of seven wonderful board games for gaming families which can be enjoyed by parent and child alike which also include mathematical thinking.

  1. Set 5+ (grouping/sorting)

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Set is an amazing card game! This is a game that your 6-year-old will be better at than you are. I’m not kidding; kids totally rock this game. This is a matching game that can be played solo or with any sized group. The rules are relatively simple. The cards each have a certain number of shapes on them of a particular color and pattern. A set is three cards which all have the same type of an attribute or miss-match an attribute. Perhaps a set is three cards all have ovals with a striped pattern on them but each card has a different number of shapes (1, 2, and 3) and different colored (purple, green and red). Pro tip: Sometimes there isn’t a set available in the cards on the table. When I play set with undergraduate math majors I ask them to prove to me why there isn’t a set. Challenging older kids to explain why is excellent mathematical practice! This game fits in your purse or stroller and is perfect for a quick distraction and only requires a small table (or floor) of space.

  1. Rummikub 7+ (Numerals/grouping/relationships)

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Rummikub is a 2-4 player classic game with lots of tiles to play with and sort. While Rummikub is also about color/number matching, it is more advanced than Set because you can re-organize the board. The matching rules are similar to Set, but now all the collections of tiles stay out on the table and you can steal from already created collections to make a new one. Worst comes to worst, the tiles are fun to play with and you can build things with them! This is a great game to play at home or at the end of the day on a vacation.

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  1. Connect 4 7+ (planning/pattern recognition/Loud pieces!)

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Every family needs a noisy, clattering, pieces-get-everywhere kind of a game. Connect 4 is a childhood classic that supports geometric thinking, planning and pattern recognition. It is a two player game and great for two children to play together. Basically, Connect 4 is an advanced version of tic-tac-toe. I do not recommend taking this game out of your home as you will surely lose pieces. This is a great game to entertain the kids while you are finishing dinner or something.

  1. 20 Express 8+ (consecutive numbering/planning)

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This game is great for parents to play with your kids! It’s a number game which focuses on consecutive ordering. The scoring may take parental involvement as it is a little weird at first sight. However, the cool part about this game is that everyone tries to organize the same numbers at the test cyp same time. So you, as a parent, can compare answers with the other players. “Oh, that was a good choice, I didn’t think to do it that way!” The only negative to 20 Express is that it obviously uses math and that may turn off some kids. This game is good for traveling as it doesn’t require a central table and any number of people can play at once. Each player just needs a pen and something to write on.

  1. Ticket To Ride 8+ (counting/planning)

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This game is really fun! It is a time commitment (maybe an hour once everyone knows the rules) and requires a big table. There are lots of little train pieces that you get to place on the board when you build railroad tracks between cities on the map. I don’t recommend this game if you have a cat or child who likes to jump on the table and mess up the board.

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This 2-5 player game requires business optimization similar to operations research. There is no money, but you have to collect cards which include restrictions on where you are allowed to build. This game requires a longer attention, but is full of bright colors and will definitely be just as fun for the parents as the children!

  1. Rush Hour 8+

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Rush Hour is one player, portable, colorful, and mentally wonderful. The board is small and packed with vehicles which have set directions that they can move. The goal is to move the vehicles in a particular order to get the little red car out of the traffic jam. A negative is that every piece is important. Don’t lose them! This game is great for waiting rooms or car trips as it comes with its own board and it small enough to hold in a child’s hand or lap.

  1. Sumoku 9+ (addition/multiplication)

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Sumoku is a math-centric game for 1-8 players. Think of it as Scrabble/Bananagrams for numbers. You add to the existing tile layout based on a specific mathematical goal. For example, every row must add to a multiple of 3. This is a great game to support a young mathematical thinker because along with practicing basic computational skills, the player is also planning and matching. Unlike Bananagrams, there is no element of speed, so young players may take as long as necessary to check their math before they place their tiles. Like 20 Express, this game obviously uses mathematics. But, I believe Sumoku is interesting and dynamic enough to provide entertainment to the whole family. This game is easy to transport and requires a central table.

My recommendation is that, if you only buy one of these games, get Set. Then I would pick up Ticket to Ride. After that, your choices should depend on you and your children’s interests. And remember that your involvement always improves the quality of the game. Mathematical thinking requires self-reflection and the ability to collaborate. Challenge your kids to explain why they made a particular choice or ask them to help you with your move.

Happy Gaming!

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

What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

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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.

 

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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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