How video games can help kids supercharge literacy skills

Video games and literacy

A week ago I sat at a parent workshop about the importance of reading to young children. The contents focused on brain development and bonding. It echoed research that has passed the tests of time. I left inspired and validated. As a long time Reading and Literacy Specialist, I know this message to be true. As a parent of four and grandparent of six, I know that while reading a book can bond us to each other and to other worlds, there is a whole new dimension that today’s child has found in gaming; a world I knew little about, yet had a strong resistance towards. It was with that bias that I intended to find masterly ways of making video games more useful for children.

The more I learned about video games, the more I realized that there are many benefits of literacy development that video games provide. While the ominous effects of dopamine overload and detachment to violence are potential realities, research shows that gaming has proven to improve attention, memory, problem solving and even social collaboration.

These are all brain functions that are vital for the budding reader and writer. As I continued to research, I thought of several ways that games can be used at home to enhance the literacy level of your child.

With Common Sense as my primary resource, I selected highly recommended games. I then checked my ideas with the experts: some third and fourth graders that I supervise during lunch duty, two technology wizards and my grandchildren.

Pokemon: a great opportunity to talk about character development, and match personality with actions. Use the stories created in the various levels, or just the character traits listed on the cards, and put them into your own imagined situations. Would that character really go there or do that? What a way to build connections between characters, actions and settings while creating a story!

Mario Kart: opportunities to describe characters, races and settings. Write advertisements or be newspaper reporters talking about the games. Make up your own stories.

Lego Marvel Avengers: a great chance to explore drama; how excitement is created, create and build your own constructions and act out stories in different voices, use story vocabulary from games like “rampage” and “madness.” Turn the games into comic strips.

Minecraft: a panorama of creative opportunity, problem solving, and building stories with conflict, obstacles, and new worlds. Build descriptive language, emotional responses of characters.

The more I have studied these, the more I realize the potential each game has for vocabulary development, story elements, understanding characters, emotion, integrity, voice, sequence and plot, and exploring qualities of fiction with non-fiction. There is also the added blessing of reading directions, following procedures, and, …well, handling frustration!

So I close with this. Like reading, video games give us the chance to explore new worlds and perspectives. More importantly, they open new doors to the language development that comes from just plain sharing experiences with our children that we can then talk about. Talk is where reading and writing is born. That is the true foundation. The confidence is built through the time caregiver and child spend together sharing their interests and exploring each other’s world. That confidence and “good feeling” is paramount to reading and writing success. So go ahead and buy those games. Be prudent, pay attention, and enjoy the time they give you to spend together, instead of apart.

Rachel Kuklinski is a reading and literacy specialist for Wareham Public Schools.