I am not a great fan of playing computer games, because I believe it takes children away from social interaction and from creativity. I must admit that when I was a student, I worked at the Special Education Library designing similar card games and board games and dreaming of creating something like a computer game to make things easy for me.
Computer games are not a dirty word if they support the development of the player. When a child plays a puzzle on the table, their cognitive skills are stretched as much as when they play a puzzle on the computer.
I remember preparing hundreds of pages that ask the kids to circle the “odd one out”. Now, they can play many computer games that are way more colorful and varied that reuse the same “cards” for the children to choose from. I was limited by the number of stamps and my drawing ability and used lots of paper to allow each child to have enough pages to experience and learn. Now, any simple computer game can give the kids endless opportunities to find the odd one out, with great graphics, sounds and animation.
Some computer games are very effective at teaching kids cognitive skills. If you choose games that are not violent, no one needs to die and the player develops some skills or learns some strategy (not pure luck) then there is a good chance they will be effective as a teaching tool.
A research done on elders in East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab reported a sizable improvement in cognitive abilities among older adults who played casual games, like Bejeweled.
“The initial results of the study are very intriguing, in that they suggest that the ‘active participation’ required while playing a casual video game like Bejeweled provides an opportunity for mental exercise that more passive activities, like watching television, do not”, said researcher Carmen Russoniello, “Future applications could include prescriptive applications using casual video games to potentially stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-type disorders”.
The difference between what we used to do in the past and what happens now is that I knew the kids’ level at any stage, because I needed to facilitate their learning, and now they move quickly and parents and teachers do not have to sit with kids while they are playing to monitor progress or time spent in front of the computer.
If you monitor the time your kids spend on the computer and make sure there is a good balance between machine interaction and human interaction and if you use the computer as a helper, not a substitute for your presence, you could realize the benefits of using computer games to sharpen your kids’ minds and … have fun yourself!