Is it possible for kids to learn and have fun at the same time? If given the choice, would you rather memorize information or learn through experience?

For many years, it’s been educational practice to teach through rote memorization, but times are changing. New ideas for learning encourage experience and simulation, even game play.

Just as much as a young child needs to play with objects to discover the senses, a school age child needs to play to help construct meaning in concepts they are being taught. Learning drill and practice in school may help some students through rote memorization, but it fails to reach a deeper level of learning that asks children to apply and process what they’ve learned.

In looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning, the basic knowledge level requires students to recall information. The problem is they often forget it. What makes a child remember concepts is higher level processing, such as applying, comparing, and evaluating. So how do we reach these higher levels of thinking? Through simulations, experiences, and ultimately, learn and have fun – gameplay.

Games have a deeper role in a child’s life beyond entertainment. Games seek to give children experiences that they might never have, or experiences in a setting where they can take risks. This gives a child scaffolding to experiment, to explore, to make mistakes, and to learn and have fun.

What they experience in a game can then be applied to real life. When a child takes on a role of an avatar, they must adopt skills to act within the game, thus learning skills that could help them in their daily tasks.

According to Diana Oblinger, “These types of games distribute expertise among the virtual characters and the real-world players.” By giving the child the chance to experience things they might face later in life, they are equipped with skills rather than just knowledge.

learn and have funThe best games allow children to learn and have fun by acting out skills they might exhibit in real life.

Allowing them to internalize the results, analyze consequences, and evaluate decisions. For example, in a game called Sand Dollar City, created by DoughMain the goal is for the child to learn and have fun with financial literacy through an avatar that must traverse an underwater world completing quests in the search for financial stability.

Of course, the child doesn’t realize how the financial lessons are woven into the gameplay. They simply see the quests asked of them, such as researching different banks, analyzing credit, and making enough of a product to meet the demand.

The child has the desire to complete these quests to reach goals and advance levels while learning basic financial concepts. The children who play SandDollar City will internalize how to handle money and their personal finances through the simulation of the game. But the best part is that they will not realize how much they are learning as they play!

In learning theory it is proven that “A large body of facts that resists out-of context memorization and rote learning comes easily if learners are immersed in activities and experiences that use these facts for plans, goals, and purposes within a coherent domain of knowledge.”

This ultimately means that children will learn and have fun by applying deeper levels of thinking as they play, which will help them to internalize the skills necessary to be active, responsible financiers- far better than a child who can only repeat the definition of income.

With the increase in technology use, kids learn and have fun with gaming. Gaming is becoming a more popular way to encourage learning. And why not? It can offer experiences children cannot get anywhere else. Not to mention, children are offered a way to construct meaning in their learning.

learn and have fun“In game worlds, learning no longer means confronting words and symbols separated from the things those words and symbols are about in the first place. In virtual worlds, learners experience the concrete realities that words and symbols describe.”

As in SandDollar City, a child experiences life as a shopkeeper, learning to keep financially afloat. The child will learn and have fun with the methods for computing interest, but will also need to apply them to continue the game. Income no longer is only a term, but a part of the avatar’s life.

As children work their way through the quests, they learn and have fun with the consequences of their decisions in a safe environment.

Gaming is a wonderful way to allow children to make mistakes and learn from them without ruining their lives. If a child were to end up in financial ruin within SandDollar City, they could just start over again and learn from their mistakes.But if a child were to do that in real life, they would have trouble starting over.

The game gives children a safe environment to learn and have fun while making mistakes, so that when they are faced with the same decisions in real life, they can make appropriate choices.

Teaching through games is an easy way to give children experiences which result in skills and knowledge that they might not otherwise gain through basic drill and practice learning. It engages more aspects of the mind, requires a deeper level of thinking, and provides children with a way to learn and have fun with important concepts.

A new domain of educational gaming is opening up as educators begin to see the value of the worlds and experiences that video games can provide. And who knows, but maybe someday these gaming experiences could replace the fact-driven textbooks we used to rely so heavily on, favoring the value of experience-based learning. 

Jennifer WhitehouseJennifer Whitehouse currently teaches fifth grade Language Arts and Social Studies. In addition to teaching fifth grade, Jennifer has also taught SAT and LA classes for students in fourth through 12th grades at a local learning center.

At DoughMain, Jennifer assisted in developing and writing content for DoughMain, as well as its three gaming sites, SandDollarCity IRuleMoney and TheFunVault She continues to develop content specifically targeted at children ages eight to 12, as well as teens. In addition, she is the author of many of the blogs and Did You Know Questions found across DoughMain and iRuleMoney She also facilitates many of DoughMain’s focus groups with children to learn what it takes for them to learn and have fun!