What are Learning Games?

Mary Elizabeth

Learning games are opportunities for academic enrichment embedded in a fun activity. Besides teaching or reinforcing social activities such as sharing, turn taking, and choosing teams, games can actually increase skills and knowledge.

Magnetic letters can be used in games that teach children about the alphabet.
Magnetic letters can be used in games that teach children about the alphabet.

Did you think that children playing cards are just having fun? Many card games are learning games in that they involve general math skills, such as matching, counting, and sequencing. Memory games like concentration focus on the skill of matching—identifying things that are alike. The card games War, Old Maid, and Go Fish also require players to aurally or visually match items that are the same and distinguish items that are different. Counting is practiced in any card game in which each player is dealt a hand. And sequencing is frequently a factor in solitaire games, when cards often have to built up in numerical order.

Many board games offer a source of mathematical learning.
Many board games offer a source of mathematical learning.

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There are also card decks and games that are learning games with specific content area information included. There are many decks that are build like the game of Authors with books of cards that share information on a particular author and his or her work or another topic from the arts, history, or another field. Other card games teach the alphabet, colors, and other topics.

Chinese Checkers can help teach kids reasoning skills.
Chinese Checkers can help teach kids reasoning skills.

Board games are another source of mathematical learning. Games such as Candy Land®, Chutes and Ladders® focus on counting, with Candy Land® providing matching practice as well. Connect Four®, chess, checkers, and Chinese checkers all teach reasoning skills. But board games also can be more explicitly learning games with content area facts. General knowledge is covered in Trivial Pursuit® and other trivia board games; geographical understandings in Risk®, the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?® series, and a variety of National Geographic games.

Online learning games for children are available on a number of websites.
Online learning games for children are available on a number of websites.

Online learning games are available at a number of sites. There are games of this type appropriate for preschoolers, as well as games with an older focus and specialized content material. Word games, such as Hangman and word searches are popular.

There are a number of sites with online learning games. Although many focus on older students and specialized content areas, there are a number for preschoolers by, for example, Fisher-Price®. Online learning games featuring television characters are available from Nick Jr. For older children, look for Sheppard Software, National Geographic Kids, and Scholastic Kids.

Self-contained learning systems built like lap tops but having a limited range of functionality come stocked with learning games and may offer add-ons as well. One popular system is by LeapFrog®, maker of items such as Leapster Learning Game System. Other examples are V.Smile Nitro Notebook Interactive Learning System® and the Winnie the Pooh Interactive Computer® by VTech®.

Games like chess teach reasoning skills.
Games like chess teach reasoning skills.

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Discussion Comments


@Fa5t3r - Even though you could argue that children will learn from any game, I still think it's a good idea to try and give them as many educational learning games as possible so that they don't waste too much time with games that don't add a lot to their lives.


@croydon - Honestly, in my opinion the most important thing that kids learn from games is how to interact with others, whether they are winning or losing.

My young nephew was playing a series of computer games with me recently and he lost most of them but he was still encouraging to me. During the last game he lost pretty quickly and started to cry with frustration. But he still insisted that I play my turn and even cheered me on.

Now that is a child who knows how to lose with grace and is always going to be good at making friends because of it. If only we could stop him from doing victory dances when he wins!


I've played a lot of cards with kids and it's actually pretty cool watching as they start to figure out the deeper game that they could be playing. Generally they will start off just playing by the basic rules and trying to go all or nothing all the time.

I generally try not to beat them too much at this stage because I don't want them to get sick of the game. But eventually I'll win a few rounds and get them to try and describe how I did it and it will be something about deduction. For example, I'll know that I have this card and that card is in the deck, so it was safe for me to call the game.

Kids learning card games to the point where they can legitimately beat you is really satisfying. I actually think it's a pretty important skill to teach them.

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