The Games Children Play

If you think that playtime is waste time…think again! Kids (and adults too) need to relax their brains to process, reflect and make the most of a learning experience. Interactive computer games provide those brief vacation moments, enabling children to sort out and absorb what they've learned. Cybergames can also help teach difficult concepts, reinforce topics already introduced, and present youngsters with engaging opportunities to apply new skills. Check out these Web-based learning games for the pause that refreshes.

Cyberchase Online Game: "Can You Fill It?"
"Do the math!" takes on new meaning at this game oriented site sure to eliminate the angst from elementary school math activities. Youngsters estimate the volume of different sized containers by trying to fill them with water using the fewest number of pots. If water spills over the top of the container, you're toast! While you're at this site, be sure to explore the PBS CyberChase Games Central area for other entertaining activities targeting critical thinking (e.g., Eye of ROM) and math. Other critical thinking games are available at Jigsaw Puzzle Paradise, an online opportun ity to click your way to puzzle solutions at various levels of difficulty, from simple 6-piece cuts to more challenging 247-piece cuts.

RuneScape is a multi-player online phenom, with "monsters to kill, quests to complete, and treasure to win." But it's no mindless, thrill-seeking adventure. A Special Education teacher at Shutesbury Elementary (Shutesbury Massachusetts) weaves the game into her instructional time with students, using it to teach important life skills. The role-playing Runescape involves strategizing, critical thinking, planning, and character building as she notes in Runescape: Let the Games Begin, a standards-based Runescape lesson plan that she developed. Even her son plays Runescape, but he uses the program's built-in Chat facility to converse with Spanish-speaking opponents because he's intent on polishing his Spanish language skills. Fabuloso!

Math Hunt
At this Scholastic-sponsored Web site, elementary school children team up with Number Cruncher (an animated octopus) to search for science or social studies information they can use to solve math problems. Topics such as Earth Day, Extreme Weather, Black History, and U.S. Presidents serve as the backdrop to fact-gathering quests. Each hunt typically has five questions and requires that players read to glean important information. They must use the facts they've gathered to complete activities involving addition, subtraction, charts, graphs, decimals, ratios, proportions and more. Math detectives score 20 points for every correctly answered question on first try, or 15 points for correct answers on a second attempt. Other math learning games can be found at Math Playground where children can go for practice with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. How many computer generated math questions can you answer in just one minute?

Let the Games Begin
When teachers integrate technology in classroom curriculum to enhance learning, differentiate instruction, or support strugglers, they provide opportunities to improve student achievement. Social studies teacher Kurt Squire discovered this when he introduced Sid Meier's Civilization III in his after-school Western Civilization program. Learn more about the role technology can play in "stealth education" in this great Edutopia article on the value of video games for classroom instruction.

Starfall: Learn to Read
A little point and click can go a long way to put the fun back in learning to read and write. Interactive multimedia games at Starfall build comprehension and teach phonics for beginning readers. There are four main activities from which to choose (ABC's: Let's Get Ready to Read; Learn to Read; It's Fun to Read; and I'm Reading). Other activities at the site invite kids to make monthly calendars, go on word hunts to complete sentences, and help Zac the rat write a letter to his grandparents. Teachers should be sure to visit the Download Center to view and print reading and writing instructional materials.

At Multiflyer, visitors play an online game providing practice with multiplication. Players must deftly pilot a one-person space ship through hyperspace to save earth's solar system. Success depends upon mastering multiplication math facts with numbers up to 12 and using those facts to jump from one planet to the next. Play a full version of the multimedia math shoot-em-up online at no charge (Flash plug-in required) or pay $10.00 to download the game and four support tools for classroom use. Tools include a Coloring Page Maker for space scene design, a Worksheet Maker to generate a multiplication worksheet, a printable board game, and a printable multiplication table. Try out the new free division games, while you're there.

A+ Math
Practice makes perfect when it comes to learning new skills. A+ Math helps elementary school age students improve their math skills with help from interactive flashcards and games like Matho, Hidden Picture and Concentration to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Youngsters can get assistance with math homework too. If they enter a problem and the answer, A+ Math determines if the solution is correct. Other tools at the site allow visitors to design and print custom flashcards.

It's 9:15 AM on a weekday. Do you know where your students are? If they're in the computer lab, surfing the Net on a classroom assignment, they may be tech-savvy, but are they safe? Before you leave students on their own to do their work, have them visit NetSmartz to learn more about Internet safety awareness and the skills they must develop to steer clear from Internet predators, scam artists and thieves. Created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Boys & Girl Clubs of America, NetSmartz features interactive, age-appropriate games and other learning materials for children and teens ages 5-17. Colorful, 3D animated characters like Clicky, Webster, and Nettie invite youngsters to confront real-life scenarios depicting both the benefits and perils of cyberspace.

Online Geography Games
Think you know where to find Mauritania? How about Turkey or Nunavut? Gary Radley's online geography games introduce children to different regions of the world, encouraging them to locate these places on a map and learn more about world regions, countries, capitals, bodies of water, and holidays by playing quiz-like games. Choose a region, select a game and have fun mastering geography skills while you play.

Arthur: Games
This PBS Web site targets children ages four to eight with literacy and problem-solving activities. It also models appropriate social skills. Complementing the popular PBS daily ARTHUR television series, Arthur features a number of electronic educational games and activities and printable games. Take an online tour. Be sure to explore Connect the World, an interactive card game teaching about cultural similarities and differences and Crank It Up, a place that children can go to make music with sounds from everyday objects.

Fantasy Football and Mathematics
Football becomes a teachable moment thanks to the efforts of Dan Flockart, a former California middle school teacher and the electronic game he invented. Drawing on sports statistics to strengthen math skills, his Fantasy Football has players create their own teams and join the fray competing against others in a football pool. Participants keep track of the points their players earn through touchdowns, passing, rushing and receiving in real games. Fantasy Football activities reinforce 46 NCTM math standards. To learn more about the student-centered game, you must purchase Flockart's Fantasy Football and Mathematics Resource Guide, but there are sample worksheets available for downloading free at the site.
At Diane Dell's entertaining Gamequarium game portal, you'll find engaging online activities providing reading practice for skills such as phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. In addition, there are games that target learning areas such as mathematics, social studies, keyboarding, Spanish, and science. Check out the Gamequarium Brain Teasers for strategy, memory, trivia, and word search games, plus crossword, jigsaw and slide puzzles. Other early learning games and activities for children in PreK-6 can be played online and at no charge at Funschool Kaboose a site that lists its games alphabetically and by grade level.

Carol S. Holzberg, PhD