I have heard from so many families asking if homeschooling with video games “counts” as gameschooling. My short answer is, “Yes! Of course!” I’ve also asked my friend Shawna, from Different By Design Learning, to share more details, because her boys have proven that homeschooling with video games is not only fun, but incredibly effective.
I have felt guilty about screen time for as long as I can remember.
It started with the Baby Einstein videos when my first born was just a toddler. He was fascinated by them and, truth be told, it was one of the only things that seemed to work and keep him calm.
Then Leap Frog came around. He begged me for one and, even at four, was able to articulate all the reasons it was educational.
When he was six, I won a brand new XBox 360 at work. I brought it home, not even sure what to do with it. I took a shower and my sweet little first grader had it set-up and working by the time I was blow drying my hair.
For years, I wrestled with what the world told me – screens are bad, video games are dangerous, you are ruining your child – and what I experienced in my own home – engaged and excited children, happily playing and sharing their experiences with an anxious mom.
I have always embraced play as an important part of learning. Moreover, I have seen first hand the benefits of adding games to our learning, particularly to accommodate various learning differences.
But for a long time, video games seemed like something off limits in homeschooling. Sure, my kids played them, but would I really consider video games a part of our learning?
Does Homeschooling With Video Games Really Count As Learning?
It wasn’t until my boys were a bit older that my perspective began to change.
One of the best examples I have is when my boys stumbled upon a game called Geoguessr. The game essentially drops you anywhere in the world on a google maps screen and, after exploring the terrain, you guess what city, state and/or country you are in.
For hours one morning, my children literally explored the earth from the comfort of their own desks.
They found themselves on a rural road in West Virginia, a cobblestone sidewalk in Italy, and a beautiful neighborhood in Finland. And all the while, I wondered if I should stop them because they had been playing video games too long.
Thankfully, my oldest turned to me at one point and said, “Well, I’ve taken care of school for us today, mom. You didn’t have to teach us a thing.”
I realized he was right. Not only that, I saw firsthand, that this “lesson” was far more engaging and effective than any random study I might pull out of a textbook.
Homeschooling With Video Games: This is How We Do It
As time went on, I grew more and more comfortable, and less and less concerned, about the amount of time my sons were on screens.
Now, I try to focus on what they are doing on screens rather than the length of time.
Because of this, some of our most successful homeschool moments have come from online games, including:
- Seterra (another maps game)
- Kerbal Space Program
- Pandemic (particularly in March of 2020)
- Scribblenaughts (good for spelling practice)
While this list is clearly more academic in nature, I have also learned to not discount the value of video games that are not necessarily “educational.”
For example, as many kids have struggled with isolation in lock-down, my boys have continued to enjoy online friendships developed through online gaming. It’s been invaluable for their social and emotional development.
I loved hearing this reinforced by Emily Kircher-Morris, LPC. She has dual Masters degrees in Counseling and Education and shared her experience working with kids who are struggling with social and emotional connection in a recent podcast.
In it, she talks about how parents may want to consider encouraging screen time as a way for teens in particular to connect with other children. She also dispels the myth that video games are causing increasing violence and mental illness.
It makes sense.
Before the rise in online gaming, children would exclusively play in more traditional settings like playgrounds, kickball games and cops and robbers on the neighborhood sidewalks. While the venue has certainly shifted in recent years to more online interactions and games, the potential for overall social development and learning through play still exists.
Prosocial behaviors like empathy, social reciprocity, helping and cooperation can be practiced and developed through video game play. In fact, this type of video game use has been associated with these types of prosocial behaviors across gender, socioeconomic status, school type and even when also playing violent video games (Harrington & O’Connell, 2016).
Video games are essentially another place for children to practice and learn social and emotional skills.
Why wouldn’t I want them to be a part of our learning?
Gameschooling and Video Games
Gameschooling is simply a part of how we homeschool – and part of how we gameschool, is with video games.
If you would like to see more of how my family’s interest-led approach to learning includes video games, you will find all the details here.
Incorporating play into our homeschool, even screen based play, has made all the difference in my boys’ learning. If you are struggling with any sense of guilt or worry over video games and gameschooling, please let me remind you, you are the expert when it comes to your children.
For some kids, video games are not helpful, inspiring negative behaviors and not producing any real positive results. For other children, including my own, video games can and do add a ton of value.
The good news is, as homeschoolers, we have the freedom to determine the best approach for learning, video games included.