>> Feb 3, 2017
It’s not a huge secret: children like to play. Puppies and kittens, too; while these cuddly carnivores’ games revolve around hunting and appropriate social behavior, children tend to imitate their parents, older kids or whatever they’ve seen on TV. In every one of these cases, games are an integral part of learning.
Kids of four or five years old will probably not enjoy a three-hour algebra lecture (actually, few adults would, either). This does not mean that they don’t like learning about their world, as anyone who’s played the “Why?...Why?...Why?” game knows. The trick is just to make the process fun instead of work.
Good educational programs provide engaging graphics and quirky storylines, as well as instant feedback to give a sense of progress and accomplishment. All of the following have obviously benefited from the involvement of early education professionals, and are either completely free or have a freeware edition.
Cookie is one of the biggest online resources for younger kids, with a great suite of games to build vocabulary and number skills. The games are all attractively presented and engaging (if you’re four, anyway), but the online platform suffers from one built-in drawback: it’s just too difficult for a young child to navigate between different activities on their own.
Sebran is designed on the philosophy that perfecting basic skills is the key to development of more advanced abilities, but is actually suitable for children up to the age of eight or nine. Starting with basic counting and letter recognition skills, it progresses smoothly to basic arithmetic and games like hangman. Any toddler old enough to sit on a chair and wrap their tiny fingers around a mouse can select their favorite games, and additionally it’s available in a ridiculous number of languages.
GS Preschool Games is somewhat different from the previous two entries, focusing much more on visual reasoning with games such as jigsaw puzzles and comparing objects. As such, it’s great for the younger ones, but kids of 5+ will probably be bored quickly.
Starfall is a great project for teaching children how to read, organized in levels starting at the alphabet and ramping up to “real” reading in a beautifully smooth way. On the negative side, constant delays for loading are a little irritating. Depending on your child’s need for stimulation, the game may seem boring: it focuses on the learning without too much in the way of animations and sounds. To put this in perspective, I as an adult felt a little overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds some games inflict on the player – more stimulation is not always a good idea.
Obviously, even the most interactive machine cannot replace the human contact provided by parents and teachers. Software can at best be only a tool, but a very useful one nonetheless; and about a hundred times better than plopping them in front of the TV to watch silly stories about talking animals for hours at a time.
It’s probably a good idea to spend some time introducing them to these games, but not force them to spend time playing them. It’s not like you’re paying tuition, after all. If you have the cash, you might want to invest in a separate PC for them, so that you can actually get some work done while they’re exploring the mysteries of subtraction!