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Kids, Games and Learning

 
 

by Art Willer, M.Ed.

 
 In my experience, kids have always demonstrated a perspective on learning, which can be very different from the commonly accepted opinions of adults. 
   
 In 1985, we completed our first keyboarding instruction program called Superkey. One of our authors Maxine Rheder brought her class of grade 4 special needs students to a lab of Apple II computers where she introduced the program and got the kids started. 
   
 Superkey was not a game. We knew it would demand intense effort from the children in this first keyboarding lesson. So we hoped the kids would endure for fifteen minutes before switching to something easier and more enjoyable. 
   
 When twenty minutes passed and the kids remained on task, Maxine had the children stand behind their chairs to flex their fingers and arms and relieve muscle tension. Then Maxine gave the kids an individual choice – to return to Superkey or to play a computer game. They had earned the privilege. 
   
 To our surprise, every child continued with Superkey. These special needs students voluntarily spent the remaining 30 minutes completing as many lessons and taking as many skill checks in Superkey as they could. 
   
 We were surprised because, like many adults continue to believe, we did not expect the children would freely continue with a game-free software program that was causing them actual pain as they learned to type. As it turned out, the kids had a different perspective and they taught us an important lesson. 
   
 This is what children have taught me over the years: 
   
 Kids love to learn. 
 They don’t always love school because sometimes school fails to provide an effective curriculum. But when children do learn, they always enjoy it. 
   
 Kids understand play. 
 Kids play most of their waking hours. Sometimes they play for fun and sometimes they play to learn. Children have no difficulty distinguishing among playing games, playing without games, playing just for fun, and playing to learn. Just ask them. 
   
 Kids do not have short attention spans. 
 Kids do give short attention when they don’t see why they should give more. While some kids suffer from attention disorders, most kids will devote any amount of time to any activity that they believe is relevant. 
   
 Kids are never fooled. 
 When adults try to trick kids into learning, they are neither tricked nor impressed. Kids would far rather we come straight out and teach them what we think they should learn or at least tell them what we are trying to achieved. In fact, attempting to fool them is confusing. Do we not like to learn ourselves, so we assume they do not? Perhaps the adults are the ones who need the help.
 
   
 The point of this article is not to argue against educational games but rather to point out that kids have natural learning appetites that can be exercised in a variety of settings. 
   
 Saying that kids need games to keep their attention under-rates young people. Kids love to learn, they pay attention, and they happily demonstrate their achievements whenever they are provided genuine opportunities to succeed. 
   
 Let’s maintain the highest respect for kids. And let’s give them the very best learning experiences whenever we can in whatever ways are appropriate. 
   
 About the author: An educator by profession, Art Willer is the founding president of Bytes of Learning who publishes UltraKey the popular keyboarding instruction program for schools. Mr. Willer instructs teachers in the understanding of learning processes.