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June 23, 2010

Security Blanket:

Video games do not hold a place of honor in the world of most parents; they’re blamed for keeping kids indoors on sunny days, for exposing them to inappropriate violence, for giving them short attention spans. The general parental attitude toward them much like that toward candy: Our kids will inevitably seek way too much, and our job is to do our best to minimize the only marginally tolerable presence in their lives.

There’s some justification for this attitude, and I don’t want my five-year-old playing Red Dead Redemption any more than the next parent does. But as I learned during my years at Cookie, there are plenty of video games out there for kids that entertain cleverly and amusingly, some even while stretching their brains a bit—certainly as much as the various board games most of us played as kids did.

However, I must shamefacedly admit that mine is among those Luddite households that do not yet own one of the big gaming consoles, so my exposure to most of these games is limited to hearsay. (I’m working on getting some guest posts for this blog from friends who are more expert in the field.) For the time being, Dash’s primary video-gaming medium is the computer—specifically, the TV-show-related websites that contain branded games. His and our favorite among these is, an astonishingly huge website that has hundreds of games on it, themed to the many kids’ shows the network broadcasts, from Sesame Street to Curious George to Super Why! (even, a bit spookily, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood—Fred Rogers is giving our kids games from beyond the grave somehow!).

The games are quite basic, generally of the Flash variety, but the sheer number of them means Dash never gets bored; the fact that it’s all free is a big plus, too. And they all have at least some educational aspect, from testing simple addition to teaching small scientific or sentence-structure lessons; in addition, he seems to have been motivated by the games to master his mouse and keyboard skills. While we don’t fool ourselves that this is “learning time,” exactly, it’s nice to think Dash might be getting some positives out of an activity he’s this excited about.

Which brings me to the other remarkable thing about the PBS Kids games: They’re actually fun, at least to a five-year-old, disproving my own childhood theory that any game labeled “educational” cannot be remotely enjoyable. Dash’s current top choice is a Sid the Science Kid game entitled Mystery Lunchbox, which, he says happily, “lets you watch a sandwich decay.” Yeah, he’s reached that age.)

The games area is merely part of the PBS Kids website, of course, which also includes show-related activities (little painting applications, for example) and, best of all, an immense archive of video clips. I’ve often wandered away while Dash was playing a game on the site and returned a few minutes later to find him watching a classic Grover sketch from Sesame Street that originally aired when I was a kid. He seems to revel in the choice: He can bounce from game to activity to clip and back to game with the click of a mouse, indulging his whims entirely in ways a five-year-old rarely gets to do.

It is true that we often have to tear him away from the website to, say, go outside on a sunny day. And inevitably, he wants to play these games far more often, and for far longer stretches of time, than we’re happy with—we haven’t evaded that battleground by any means. But at least with the PBS Kids site, we feel pretty good about what he’s playing when we’ve decided he’s earned a little candy today.

1 comment:

  1. Another site that has fun online things for Kids to do is ... Our kids love the "Feed the Monster" game and "Hide & Seek Zoomer" game ... plus the online stories w Audio. They also have a great Summer Fun guide with lots of outdoor games, crafts to do.