Video games get a lot of negative press for the violent content and addictive nature of many titles. However, for every newsworthy violent game out there, there are quite a few healthy, educational titles available as family-friendly alternatives.
When choosing video games for your family you need to consider the system, subjects, and ages you want to involve in your family gaming plan. You can find games on any number of subjects, from language to math, science, and even cooking.
Systems, Subjects and Ages
The best system for educational gaming is by far the Nintendo DS. It's portable, innovative, and because it's a single player system, it allows for individual time for each player. The DS has long since branded itself as a great educational tool and the software library boasts some of the most popular educational video game titles on the market.
Not all educational video games focus on a single school subject. While there are plenty of game series that have titles for math, reading, spelling, grammar, and history, there are many others that focus on broader topics. You can find titles that teach other languages, cooking instructions, fitness programs, and some that just do general knowledge to increase your "brain health."
When looking for educational video games you need to keep in mind the ages of the players. For the younger crowd, there are many character-based educational games such as Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: New Year's Celebration. Older children can find fun in the Imagine or My Coach series. Almost all ages can benefit from the Brain Age and Big Brain Academy titles which offer general memory and mental health exercises.
Video Game Systems Specifically For Education
There are several video game systems on the market that carry only educational video game titles. While these aren't as popular or diverse as the big name systems, they're the perfect solution for parents who want to have a video game system specifically for educational gaming.
The V-tech brand and V-smile systems are education-specific gaming systems that cater to children ages 0 to 8 years. The beauty of these products is that their controller systems are designed to be functional for smaller hands and more durable than the big name systems. The software titles are all based on popular kids' shows from Disney and Nickelodeon/Nick Jr. This provides character recognition along with educational content that helps keep attention spans focused.
V-tech offers their own system, V-smile, in a console and handheld form, and they play a large library of titles. You can buy a variety of subjects all with the same character/show theme, or concentrate on one subject with many different characters doing the teaching. There are some drawbacks, however, including slow game speed, accessory prices, and replay value. However, if you want to guarantee your little ones are only playing educational titles, V-smile is the way to go.
Video Games for Toddlers to Kindergarten
Development of motor skills and the basics of learning are important at this age. Many educational TV shows have capitalized on this and have no doubt created a fan out of your toddler. One of the best early childhood development titles out right now is Wonder Pets! Save the Animals for the Nintendo DS.
This game is geared toward children ages 2-5 and utilizes the familiar faces of the Wonder Pets to teach problem solving skills through a variety of physical interactions with the DS hardware. Players have to use the stylus to point to objects, help tell the Wonder Pets what to do by saying phrases into the microphone and other interactive game activities.
It's a short game, but good for younger players with shorter attention spans. The puzzles are simple, but there's good replay value in the fun extras like Wonder Pets dress-up.
Games for the Grade School Age
One of the current buzzwords in the world of educational development is "edutainment" or entertaining educational experiences. The goal with edutainment is to provide an experience that engages the student beyond traditional teaching methods, so they're barely aware they're learning something while having fun.
Professor Layton and The Curious Village and its sequel Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, both for the Nintendo DS, are great examples of edutainment video games done right. The games are rich in plot, revolving around mysteries which Professor Layton and his sidekick Luke must solve through a series of puzzles.
The Professor Layton games provide an educational experience in two ways: the game's plot itself is a mystery which the player must solve throughout the game, and the clues to this mystery are provided through over 100 unique brain teaser puzzles. The player is challenged by all types of puzzles: riddles, pictographs, number puzzles, and word games.
The games are visually beautiful and even include well executed voice acting during the story scenes. The touch screen is used heavily to interact with the puzzles and control the game progress, making good use of the DS hardware. There are also some extra fun collector elements in the form of room decorations for both Professor Layton and Luke, adding a fun extra challenge to the game.
There are also some great subject-specific series such as the Learn series which handle math, geography, and science, and the My Virtual Tutor series for reading at various grade levels.
Educational Video Games for Older Ages
General knowledge titles are good for most ages and several titles have the extra bonus of adjusting to your own level of play over time. One of the most popular titles for mental training is Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day which offers quick doses of mentally challenging mini-games designed to get you thinking.
After your first play on the game, the system gives you a "brain age" score that you can work to improve - the younger your brain, the better you're doing! Improvement comes within various areas, including memory, reaction time, calculations, and reading, all using either the stylus input or microphone.
This title is a great exercise that you can use in your daily routine. The game even encourages a routine use by prompting small memory challenges each time you turn it on. Say you start a session on Monday - you may be asked a question like what you had to eat for breakfast that day. A few days later, when you start a session the game may ask you what you had for breakfast on Monday to test your memory.
Educational games aren't just for kids; adults can always learn something new and have fun doing it!