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There’s nothing like being out in nature for hands-on learning. But on rainy days, sick days, or days when it’s just too busy to spend time together outdoors, children can learn a great deal about how our world works by playing science games for kids. In fact, that learning is likely to be more extensive than you may think.
Interactive science games are a fun way to learn about nature, from the names of animals to what makes a volcano erupt. But beyond the facts and figures of a particular subject, researchers have found that playing interactive games has several benefits that are not as readily apparent.
First, playing these games helps kids to refine their fine motor control and to increase their decision-making ability. In addition, because students learn incrementally, they have experiences of mastery that make them more likely to believe in their own ability to learn — which, in turn, makes them more motivated to learn.
Interactive games have also been found to produce positive mood states — learning is fun and children feel good learning in this way, which encourages them to stay at it. The ups and downs of playing the games may also help them to learn emotional regulation, the ability to manage both negative and positive emotions.
Another benefit of games is that they break down the barriers between subjects. For instance, even though children learn math in a math class, working with numbers is most useful when they later apply it to our everyday world. This impact of breaking down barriers between subjects is especially pertinent to nature study. Nature itself is a system in which elements from many disciplines interact. Studying how a plant grows necessitates some learning about physics, chemistry and meteorology in addition to botany as kids explore the conditions under which the plant thrives or dies. In doing so, kids learn that these seemingly separate academic subjects actually intertwine to describe the world in which we live.
While nature hikes can also contribute to this understanding of it as a system, the games offer an additional dimension in that they can take children’s minds into places where the eyes cannot see — for instance, inside the roots of a plant to see how osmosis works, into a bee hive to witness the birth of a new queen, or underground to watch how geysers form.
Kids can also witness their own impact on these systems. While simple games effectively teach basic concepts, like plant and animal categorization, more complex games go further by allowing older children to manipulate variables in the environment to see what happens. Watching pepper moths change colors in response to simulated natural selection, for example, is a powerful way to learn the basics of evolution.
The internet offers many vibrant and dynamic online science games for kids. Simply enter the subject you want you child to explore, plus the key words “interactive” + “game” + “elementary school”. This search should yield many results that will have your child happily exploring nature for hours.