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Although the world of educational programming and video games is vast, not all offers are created equal. So how should a parent or teacher choose?
Nadine Levitt, founder of the educational technology platform WURRLYedu, suggests asking whether or not (the show or the game) serves learning by inspiring creativity and curiosity, or replaces it.
That said, the “educational” label isn’t everything, says Lisa Castaneda, co-founder and CEO of education research organization Foundry10. “People may mistakenly assume there’s no learning value in games that aren’t marketed as educational,” she says. “I would say a bigger concern might be that games marketed as educational may not have the learning value that parents are hoping for.”
It is up to parents and teachers to help children make connections between their entertainment options and the lessons being taught. “When we select a game to learn, we need to think about our goals and then follow up with our kids to make sure those goals have been met,” Castaneda says. So if the game is skill-based and the goal is to practice and gain fluency, she says, check to see if those skills have improved.
Even without a specific goal in mind, Levitt says, reflecting after the child has watched a show is helpful. “It can be as simple as asking what’s the biggest ‘aha! moment’ was for them and how it made them feel.
Virtual reality options
Virtual reality tools can also benefit from tracking. “We had a teacher who used a virtual experience involving refugees to help students understand the experiences and perspectives of those trying to flee,” says Castaneda. The teacher set up a digital pen pal exchange with refugee students in that area, and the class raised money for UNICEF.
Whatever show or game you choose, remember: the child has to really like it or they won’t use it. “Students today enjoy fast-paced shows with lots of action,” says Caroline Farkas, math education specialist and founder of Doodles + Digits, which provides online resources for math education. . “I usually recommend ‘smaller’ movies or shows to parents that will hold their child’s attention.”
Keep your child engaged and entertained while increasing their knowledge with these recommended options:
number blocks (YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Premium)
Great for younger students, says math education specialist Caroline Farkas, as it uses lots of math models and explains basic math concepts in detail.
Cyberhunting (PBSKids.org or local PBS channel)
This cartoon covers basic math topics, includes real-world examples, and features games and worksheets.
Waffles + Mochi (Netflix)
Produced and starring Michelle Obama, this children’s cooking show takes a cheerful approach to healthy eating.
Wild Kratts (PBS Kids and YouTube)
Animal lovers will enjoy learning about wildlife, conservation and science while watching the animated adventures of Chris and Martin Kratt.
SciShow Kids (Youtube)
Questions such as “What are pickles?” are intelligently answered by the host and his robot rat in short creative videos.
Online educational platforms:
Founder Nadine Levitt’s music education platform, designed to make creating and learning fun, is used by the Department of Education nationwide.
Doodles + Numbers (Also available on YouTube and streaming on Highbrow)
Farkas created this channel to make math visual, relatable with real-life examples for elementary school students.
math antics (Also available on YouTube)
This video series breaks down complex mathematical concepts with a dose of humor.
Ask the StoryBots (Also available on Netflix)
This Emmy-winning show explains concepts like how cell phones work and why we need to brush our teeth.
Sumdog (computer or application)
This program offers personalized math and spelling exercises for students in kindergarten through 5th grade.
BYJU’s Magical Workbooks Featuring Disney (application + practical activities with Osmo technology)
Math, language and reading skills are adapted from kindergarten to third grade.
animal crossing (Nintendo Switch)
With positive messages and role models, this game fosters creativity and fosters real-world conversations.
Animal Planet: Amazon Odyssey (virtual reality)
Users learn facts about over a dozen animal species while cruising a boat down an Amazon river and breaking camp in the rainforest.