How Can Games Enhance a Child’s Learning Experience?

Guest contributor and American SPCC supporter, Karoline Gore explores how the power of play can empower children. For more useful advice for parents and caregivers, please visit our LEARNING CENTER. 

How Can Games Enhance a Child’s Learning Experience?

Games have played an important role in kids’ intellectual history since the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as noted by Y Kafai of the University of California in her review, entitled Playing and Making Games for Learning. Kafai mentions a series of studies in which children aged 10 were told to make their own educational videos, creating their own characters, storylines, themes and the like, with one purpose: to teach mathematical fractions to younger kids. The results of the study indicated that both boys and girls benefited greatly from making games for education. Game making is cheap and accessible for anyone with an Internet connection. Of course, it is only one example of the power of play to empower kids and help create a genuine interest in their subject matter of study.

Spaced Learning and Active Games

Games can focus on a specific topic being studied. For instance, children learning about animals can use guessing games like charades to identify animal species, while online True or False or maths racing games can motivate kids to study or learn their timetables. However, games can be used in another way – to enhance learning and memory indirectly. This is the case with spaced learning – a method created by staff at Monkseaton High School in the UK, based on the principles of neuroscience. In spaced learning, children are exposed to three different ‘inputs’ in one class. The first ‘input’ presents them with information on Powerpoint. Children then take a 10-minute break focused on play and activities like basketball or juggling (children can also make arts/crafts). During the second input, the same information as in the first is presented, but with blanks children fill out. Children then take a second active break for 10 minutes. When they return, they discuss what they have learned to promote deeper understanding of the topic. In spaced learning, games and pastimes function as useful ‘breaks’ between the presentation of facts, helping kids retain information more optimally.

Memory Games

Kids who love playing on their computer, and who would like to benefit from memory enhancing games, should consider Dual-N-Back – a game which has been proven to improve the working memory. Dual-N-Back, which can be played free online, involves learning both visual and auditory patterns, which become increasingly complex as you progress through the game. The game is similar to the battery-operated classic Simon (in which the aim is to remember different light sequences) but a little bit harder, since you also have to remember the notes played.

VR in the Classroom

We know that in everyday life, the vast majority of workers acquire their skill and knowledge from experiential learning. Why not give school kids the chance to encounter new worlds (think mountain ranges, exciting animal habitats, or a scientific lab) via virtual reality headsets? Headsets for kids as young as pre-school age already exist. Their aim is to complement real-world exploration and make learning less theoretical and more impactful.

How Can Parents Use Games to Help Kids Learn?

Why not play Dual-N-Back alongside your kids on the computer, challenging each other to ever more difficult memory sequences, or use spaced learning methods while your child is studying for an exam? You might have quick breaks between study units and join your child for a quick game of basketball, juggling, or tower building. Games can also be introduced in subtle, everyday ways. On weekends, why not teach time tables and the alphabet by playing interactive games on sites like ABYya! or WorldWorld? The summer time is ideal to ensure kids don’t forget what they have learned at school. If you have a garden, why not play a game like Maths Slip-N-Slide? Kids and parents have to get a multiplication number right (say ‘What is 7×8’) by the time they slip to the end or someone else gets to shoot them with a (gentle) water pistol. The more laughs and excitement you can build around learning, the better. Education board games like Trivial Pursuit for Kids are an excellent way to build a child’s general knowledge and boost their self-confidence in a number of different topics.

Expert in gamification, Karl Kapp, notes that game-based learning facilitates learning by appealing to a child’s intrinsic and extrinsic (reward-focused) motivation. Games can focus on specific topics to enhance memory. For instance, kids can complete online games or play games in class, earning points for every right answer and such. Games can also form part of teaching methodology and memory consolidation, as Dual-N-Back and spaced learning evidence. Whichever method you choose to help kids out with an upcoming exam or essay, remember that kids are naturally wired to play… and that games can be as informative as they are fun.


Karoline is a freelance writer who left a job in child psychology to spend more time with her own children. When not writing, she loves long hikes through the countryside.

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