So you got that computer for Christmas, birthday, or just a hard-working weekend. Now it’s time to foster the development of habits which lead to safe and effective computer learning while having fun but without losing the balance toward addictive and uncontrolled game-playing.
No doubt many parents willingly buy their child a computer and learning games – only to find the child is not gaining any skills and is just clicking first one thing, then another.
Students are often so bright that they find the easy part (maybe an intro screen, a shooting game, etc.) and stay on that. In order to learn, they need to sample the variety of activities that today’s “edutainment” software provides.
There are ways to avoid that feeling of disappointment felt when an educational game isn’t providing learning by using preventive techniques as well as structuring strategies for children who are already headed in a non-learning direction.
Train Children on Software
It could be the first week of every month, or any other time which can be done for several days when first learning any new game. This time is especially important when the child first starts with the computer, or with a structured system shown herein, whichever is the case.
During this time, the child needs to experience each part of the game enough to know how to navigate as well as how to play the learning activities. This is where you can train a child not to just randomly click from one activity to another, but to actually perform the specified tasks, asking for help when needed.
Switching is appropriate when the student has worked in an area for a while and is tiring. In that case, switching to another activity prevents frustration. In some cases, it is appropriate for an adult to take turns to enable the child to maintain interest while getting a bit of a break.
Supervise Children on the Computer
Place computer in living room or other space where you will see it often. Then use hands-on supervision (especially at first of a new game or activity). This gives the adult a chance to know the game well and become aware of the child’s needs as related to the required activities of the software. Some children will require more reminders than others, but be an assertive parent and stick to your plan.
This allows the parent to make sure child is understanding what is expected and how to manipulate the game activities. For example, a math game may benefit from pencil and paper or manipulatives at the ready, or even a calculator in more rare cases. (Caution: A calculator can actually prevent some skill development, so playing the game with the child a few times helps adults know if a calculator would help or harm in that case.)
Many computer learning games have a built-in tracking system which a parent can check to see if a child is trying varied activities, and to verify if scores show that more help is needed.
Develop a System of Earning Rewards
Most children respond well to the concept of earning. During the early phases sit with your child and offer much verbal praise while empowering the child to set realistic, not perfectionist, goals.
Later when you monitor at a greater distance, stop by at moments here and there to offer words of encouragement, or to brag on little accomplishments, or just to proclaim how cool it all is. These little investments in your child’s self-esteem can make quite a difference.
Set up a system of earning rewards which specifies how much time to be spent on the reward activity. This prevents frittering away the 20 minutes of learning in order to get an unlimited reward of video game play at the expense of physical and social activity. For example, on school days parents could set a timer for 20 minutes of “edutainment” to earn equal amount of video game play. Of course, on weekends the times could be doubled. However, resist giving into more time than agreed upon to avoid undermining the whole purpose of the system.
Set Standards and Expectations
Make a chart of rules or expected goals. Include time to be spent on the “edutainment” software (learning time, not just killing time). Even after the adult spends time training, time spent to clarify expectations and enforce rules in a firm but gentle and loving way is an investment in the child’s habits which will continue for a lifetime.
Parents and other adults can guide children to enjoy computers while maintaining a balance between learning and entertainment. Maintaining this balance can help children become lifetime learners who don’t fall into the abyss of addictive computer habits.
Make that chart, communicate your plans and intentions to enforce, and feel free to watch your child enjoy many hours of computer learning!