Computer games may be perceived more as promoters of mayhem than serious subject matter, but they have the potential to teach children rich content, critical academic skills for literacy and math learning, and the kinds of creative thinking and processes needed for later success, according to a new report.
As children spend more time engaged in media activities—from social networking to digital gaming—technology should be tapped more effectively to promote meaningful learning experiences and healthy behaviors, says the report, released today by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.
“On the average day, children as young as 8 spend as many hours engaged in media activity as they spend in school; three-quarters of American children play computer and video games,” says the report, “Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health.”
“Digital games offer a promising and untapped opportunity to leverage children’s enthusiasm and to help transform learning in America,” it concludes.
Even as many child-development and health experts recommend strict limits on children’s media exposure, the report calls for a greater investment in finding ways to promote students’ enthusiasm for technology to improve learning. The report, financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, includes a select review of the research on digital games and learning, as well as interviews with key experts in using technology for education, health, and civic participation. It recommends:
• More research on digital media and its potential for learning;
• Partnerships between the federal government, private philanthropies, and game makers to develop innovative tools and study their effectiveness;
• Support for teachers and parents to help them use technology effectively to teach children; and
• Resources to modernize educational television and create digital programming accessible to all children.
Finding the Formula
“Children who are most disengaged in school are, not coincidentally, those at highest risk for poor health outcomes. The reality, like it or not, is that today’s kids spend just as much time with digital media as they do in school,” said Michael Levine, the executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, based in New York City.
“The challenge for our nation is to find a modern formula for learning: to appeal to children’s natural engagement with games while teaching the skills and behaviors they will need to be healthy and to compete in a global age,” Mr. Levine said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized that some media programming has benefits. But the Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based organization urges parents to avoid television viewing and computer games altogether for children younger than 2, a prime audience for many programs, because it may be detrimental to their brain development.
The academy also points to the potential for media in general to send the wrong messages about violence, drug use, and other negative behaviors, as well as its documented role in promoting sedentary behavior that can lead to childhood obesity.
But the report says that research on digital learning has found that well-designed interactive games motivate children to learn; can improve coordination, thinking, and problem-solving; and infuse knowledge and skills. They also allow children to play and perform, develop judgment, and search for and synthesize complex information. There can also be health benefits when digital games are used to promote healthy behaviors, the report says.