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Using educational video games to level up learning: a guide for parents

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Interactive learning is a hands-on approach, with a focus on engagement, designed to foster a learner’s attention to creating a more effective and efficient experience. The rise of technology and gamification of education takes the instructional qualities of a learning experience and requires active participation from the learner. 74% of teachers use digital game-based learning to enhance or accompany lessons. 

Digital game-based learning occurs across a diversity of devices for kids, from consoles to computers, tablets and smartphones. Next generation 5G networks can offer faster speeds and overall better performance than 4G LTE, with potential benefits for those who would like to game or learn collaboratively or on the go. Research on how video games impact the brain shows several benefits for human health, further stating that “video games can act as teachers.” Different games with different purposes have been shown to improve physical fitness, improve social behavior and even change and benefit cognition and the mind.

There are countless games available for parents looking to optimize their child’s learning through education-technology trends. From financial and tech literacy to basic reading and writing skills, from art and sciences to foster cognitive development, this article will provide insight and explore educational gaming for young to middle school-aged children.

Math and money video games

Early development of math skills is just as essential as reading and may be a predictor of academic success. Early math learning extends beyond memorization of numbers and counting into contextual learning of measuring, arranging, numeracy, the language of space and patterns. Digital math games are an effective way for parents to bring math into daily routine and entertainment. 

Alongside learning essential mathematical concepts, financial literacy is also essential to early childhood education. Many financial literacy concepts can be learned and applied as fundamental knowledge that can later be built upon during classroom exercises and education, as well as at-home financial learning. Consider the following resources for math-and-money digital-education games.

  • PBS Kids offers a library of free math games available online and across multiple devices. Many of the available games are designed for preschool to elementary-aged children. Each game focuses on learning a specific concept including counting, understanding shapes, measuring, sorting, identification and more. 
  • MathGameTime is a website that offers free online games available across devices for children ranging in age from Pre-K to 7th grade. Games differ in concepts ranging from basic addition and subtraction to learning to solve complex equations while building logic and critical thinking skills. 
  • Moose Math by Duck Duck Moose is a downloadable app available on Google Play as well as the Apple App Store. The game is designed for learners aged 2-7 with several diverse activities that focus on understanding numbers, counting, addition and subtraction, geometry and measurement.
  • The FunBrain Math Zone is a website that hosts free math games for Pre-K through 8th-grade learners. Games are accessible across devices as long as devices have internet capabilities. 
  • offers money math games for free for parents who sign up for the website. The available games are targeted to specific elementary age groups. Games include identifying and learning how to order coins by value, as well as how to count and exchange money through pretend shopping. 
  • MathGames is a website that offers curated money and financial literacy games in a lesson plan format for kids ranging from 2nd to 7th grade. The basic games are available for free with an internet connection, but parents need to subscribe for premium and ad-free games.
  • offers a game called Peter Pig’s Money Counter. This game is free and available for download for Android and Apple devices. The game targets children aged 5-8 years old, and functions as an interactive game that teaches children how to identify, count, save and spend virtual money while learning about U.S. currency.

Science and technology video games

The demand for STEM-related jobs is rapidly growing with only 78% of high school graduates meeting the benchmark of readiness for basic college courses. STEM occupations out-earn non STEM fields by a range of 12-30% across all education levels. STEM education is vitally important to the future workforce and STEM concepts and applications can be taught to and studied by young learners. Consider the following games that children can use to learn foundational concepts for science and technology.

  • PBS offers a free library of science games for Pre-K to elementary-aged children. The games are available from the website and can be used with a device that has internet access. 
  • Thinkrolls is a game available for Android, iPad, iPhone and Kindle Fire. There is a small cost to purchase the game for download. Playing the game focuses on critical thinking and teaches science and physics for children aged Pre-K to 2nd grade.
  • Crazy Gears is a STEM-themed game that teaches science through critical thinking. Crazy Gears is available for purchase for iPad, iPhone and the iPod Touch for a low cost and is focused on children in kindergarten through 3rd grade.
  • Simple Machines by Tinybop is an app available for a small cost for Android, iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. This game-based learning app teaches elementary NGSS engineering practices for children in Kindergarten through 5th grade using creativity and critical thinking.
  • The NASA Kids Club website offers a variety of free science-based games and activities for young children. There are different online games, apps and learning activities available to teach children about space, science and technology.
  • The ScienceGameCenter hosts a variety of both free and paid science-specific games for elementary and middle school students. 
  • Bobo Explores Light is a paid game available for iPad that is focused on teaching students to grade 2-6 about different scientific concepts. The game promotes creativity and critical thinking with reading, videos and interactive games, all guided by a friendly robot avatar.

Reading, writing and typing video games

Developing reading, writing and typing skills are essential for young children. This can be done by fostering early literacy skills and promoting emergent writing, expanding vocabulary and becoming familiar with the shapes and sounds of letters. While some very young children may not yet have the motor skills to learn typing skills, young elementary students may benefit from essential typing practice and learning.

  • offers reading and writing literacy games that focus on early literacy such as writing letters, picture comprehension, communicating through symbols, learning the alphabet and more complex topics targeted to elementary students. These games are available for free online through the website on any device that can access the page through the internet.
  • also offers typing-specific games that are available for free through their website. These typing games are categorized by age from grades 1-5. 
  • The Typing Club Jungle Junior is a typing game for children Pre-K and up. The interactive game uses both videos as well as interactive games and activities to teach alphabet recognition and dexterity and familiarity with a keyboard.
  • PBS Kids offers reading-specific games for young and elementary-aged children. These games are free and available for use on devices that connect with the internet. The skill focus of each game is unique and may include creative storytelling, spelling, choose your adventure, rhymes and word search games. 
  • Starfall offers free online games for devices that connect to the internet. Parents may choose to pay for a low-cost membership which includes additional games and content. Games are organized by age appropriateness and emphasis phonemic awareness, systematic sequential phonics and common sight words with audiovisual cues and interactive gameplay. 
  • offers free games for early development, including games that focus on reading adventures, letter recognition, rhymes and more. Many games are available in English and Spanish with more than 30 vocabulary words. Games can be accessed with any device with internet connectivity. 
  • offers a variety of typing games for free. You can create a free account with the website that allows you to track progress and improvement over time. Games differ in difficulty, some that target early elementary and others that develop speed and literacy.

History, geography and social studies video games

History, geography and social studies games teach children the basics about people, cultures and environments. Learning about history and social studies is important in early learners to encourage participation and inclusivity. Geography for young children is not only important for learning to understand and identify your surroundings but also plays a crucial role in developing a child’s awareness of the connectivity of humans and the environment. Consider the following digital games that foster learning for history, geography and social studies.

  • PBS Kids offers Social Studies Games that are available for free and compatible with any device that has internet connectivity capabilities. The games are targeted at kids aged Pre-K through 6th grade and help them explore the world by traveling to different cities, learning about different holidays and foods and looking for hidden objects.  
  • Primary Games Social Studies Games offers a selection of social studies and geography games targeted at children in grades K-6. Most games are free to try, though you will need to download them. Once downloaded, you will need to register for the game to have access to all of the levels. 
  • Big Fish offers Big City Adventure games that allow children to explore cities around the world while looking for hidden objects. Games are available on PC and come with a free trial, though they must be purchased to play the entire game. The games are targeted at children in elementary and middle school.
  • School History offers educational history games targeted at children between late elementary and middle school. You have the option to select the time period or age group to find a game that suits your child’s needs. The games are available for free online on devices with internet connectivity capabilities.
  • Lizard Point offers games that teach geography by selecting a continent and exploring different maps. Additionally, children can play games and take quizzes about world leaders and the flags of different nations. These games are targeted at kids of all ages. The games are available for free, but you can register to track progress, engage in the community and earn badges as you progress through quizzes. 
  • Ducksters offers games for kids of all ages. You can select games that focus on history, biographies, geography and science. Gameplay includes interactive maps, crossword puzzles and word searches. These games are available for free on any device that connects to the internet.
  • Where on Google Earth is Carmen Sandiego is a free game hosted by Google Earth that can be accessed on any device that has internet connectivity. The game allows children to explore the globe by using clues to track Carmen Sandiego while interacting with a global map. 
  • Common Sense Media offers games that teach history that are categorized by age groups for children of all ages. Each game has its own device and platform capabilities and teaches a unique or specific historical focus. 

With VR and AR-capable devices, children can learn about ancient history as well as Black History by exploring a virtual world that allows them to tour ancient cities and listen to civil rights speakers.

Art and music video games

The arts play an integral role in young brain development. Learning about music and art impacts cognitive, social and emotional development. Learning about and creating art and music can help children in learning other skills such as mathematics, reading and physical activity. Consider the following art and music games for young learners.

  • PBS offers games focused on art for Pre-K and elementary children. Each game focuses on a unique aspect of art including storytelling, painting, scribbling and using shapes. These games are available for free on any internet-capable device. 
  • PBS offers games focused on music for Pre-K and elementary children. The games are available for free on any device that can connect to the internet. Gameplay focuses on different aspects of music such as creating, singing and dancing.
  • Sesame Street offers art games for young children that are available for free on internet-capable devices. The games focus on painting, coloring and drawing and are designed to allow children to experiment with color and images.
  • TuneTrain is a free iOS app. The game allows young children to create and edit music and melodies with line-drawing mechanic play. The game explores music structure, pitch, notes, note length and chords.
  • The Smithsonian website offers a number of diverse, free online games for children to explore art, music, history and culture through gameplay, putting puzzles and internet-capable devices together, coloring, making collages and more. 
  • Artsology hosts a collection of free online games for kids of all ages that focus on creation, solving puzzles or exploring different paintings from famous artists.
  • GirlsGoGames hosts free online virtual games that focus on art, music and more. These games are designed for children of all ages. Games may include drawing, painting and coloring, decorating, puzzles and more.

Social and emotional learning video games

Playing video games can be a way for young children to build social-emotional learning, empathy and other soft skills. Games that focus on social and emotional learning help young students manage and overcome emotions and challenges in a risk-free setting, especially if the game offers interactive and multiplayer modes. The following list represents games that can be used for social and emotional learning. 

  • PBS offers feelings games that are available online for free. These games are for young children that teach about exploring feelings, making friends and playing games.
  • PBS offers games that support emotional growth. These games are available for free online and teach young children about friends, family, helping, holidays, as well as life milestones such as birthdays or pretend jobs or other experiences such as bath time, bedtime and going to the doctor. 
  • PBS offers games that develop teamwork skills. These games often focus on completing a task or going on an adventure alongside a team of virtual characters. Some games require children to take turns, while others accompany the child on a virtual adventure with an animated friend and avatar.
  • Sharing with Duckie Deck is a game available on iOS for children ages three and up. The game does come at a small cost. The gameplay is focused on teaching about sharing while using skills such as memory, matching and hand-eye coordination.
  • Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings is a game for children aged three and older and is available on iOS and Android. The game allows children to explore different emotions where children can create pictures to represent their feelings or identify the expressions of others.
  • Peek-a-Zoo is a free game for iOS where children aged two to five learn to identify animals, emotions, actions, sounds and more. This may include learning animal names, identifying emotions such as smiling, surprise or crying or understanding different actions such as winking, waving or yawning.
  • Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame is available for iOS and Android for free. The game is for children Pre-K to 1st grade and teaches children strategies for dealing with everyday emotions and problems.

Brain and cognitive function video games

Research on the effects of computer gaming on cognition, brain structure and function as well as VR for effective learning show that visuospatial cognition and attention are the highest benefits, followed by other functions such as memory and general cognition. Consider the following games that benefit brain and cognitive function.

  • MentalUP offers entertaining brain games for kids of all ages. The games are available for free from the website and work on any handheld or desktop device that can connect to the internet. Each game focuses on developing a specific skill, including reasoning, planning, visualization, comparison, attention, memory,  concentration and more.
  • Learning Games for Kids offers memory games for young elementary to middle school-aged students. Gameplay ranges from sequencing numbers to puzzles, flip games and matching games.
  • Learning Games for Kids also offers a variety of logic games focused on building logical and analytical reasoning skills. These games are for elementary and middle school-aged children and gameplay includes solving puzzles, discovering differences and using spatial awareness.  
  • PBS offers problem-solving games that are available for free online. These games focus on creative, analytical and logical skills that teach children problem-solving. 
  • Montessori Geometry is a game available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad for a small fee. The game is designed for children ages five and older and teaches kids to recognize and name different shapes using match-and-seek and vocabulary exercises. The game also helps young learners understand and apply this information to the real world around them. 
  • Tozzle is a game available on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad for a small fee. This game is designed for toddlers aged two and older. Children play the jigsaw puzzle game by identifying shapes and placing them in the correct space. The game increases in difficulty as the child progresses.
  • Busy Water is a game available for Android and iOS for a small fee. The game is designed for children aged six and older. The game provokes critical thinking and an understanding of water physics simply by helping a fish get back to his tank.

Virtual field trips

Parents can take children on virtual field trips with immersive experiences that allow children to explore virtual worlds and tour real-life places. Some virtual field trips are accessible only through VR and AR headsets, while others can be navigated on a screen. Consider the following options for virtual field trips.

  • The National Museum of Natural History offers a free on-screen experience and a virtual version of every exhibit in the museum.
  • The Vatican Museum offers a 360-degree look at nine specific rooms of the Vatican including the Sistine Chapel. This tour is available on-screen for free.
  • The Farm Food 360 is available on-screen and through a VR viewer. You can tour different aspects of farming and animals to understand where your food comes from.
  • The National Aquarium offers a virtual tour on-screen for free where children can navigate and explore the entire national aquarium.
  • The Discovery Channel offers virtual field trips for on-screen viewing. There is a log of on-demand trips that you can access and new field trips are guided and added regularly to watch live.

NASA offers a few virtual tours of outer space that include exploring Mars, the Moon and the International Space Station.

How to choose educational video games for your child

Video games, apps and educational interactive web pages and field trips are not only fun but can be highly educational and support learning for children of all ages. However, parents may have a few considerations to keep in mind while selecting games for their children to play and learn with. This may include:

  • Considering age-appropriate content. This does not always mean ensuring that children are not exposed to inappropriate content but also includes considering if your child can fully engage and enjoy the game and if it meets their age, maturity and any individual needs.
  • Look for games and technology that assist your child’s unique needs. There are games and technology available specifically for children with autism spectrum disorder, games specifically for accessibility and children with disabilities, as well as attention-specific or therapeutic games to help children learn how to cope.
  • Some games may only be available on some devices, so you may need to decide when it is appropriate to provide your child with a tablet, phone or other tech.
  • Mindfulness and managing screen time is important for children and teenagers of all ages to avoid any technology or phone addiction or severe reliance. 
  • Parents may also need to be cautious and manage any online relationships that children can develop through multiplayer games. This may include keeping an eye out for online bullying or harassment. 
  • Children should also be encouraged to seek out games that they prefer alongside developing essential skills. Allowing a child to explore diverse games and skills can be beneficial to a better understanding of themselves and their preferences. This may include using apps to learn basic programming or playing games to identify plants and animals.
  • Alongside these concepts, parents may also consider choosing games by:
    • Reading reviews
    • Checking game ratings
    • Choosing free or paid games
    • Choosing multiplayer games that parents can play with children
    • Choosing games that focus on a specific skill, interest or development

Additional gaming and learning resources

There are many ways that games and other online learning resources can help to foster education and the development of skills and there are many resources available for children, students, parents and teachers. If you are providing education at home, participating in remote learning or additional supplemental learning, consider the following resources.