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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 14, 2012 at 4:13 PM

Games for kids and budding computer scientists

Lots of feedback was generated by Monday’s column on Facebook’s Jocelyn Goldfein and encouraging women to study computer science.

Goldfein mentioned that when she was a young girl, her grandmother introduced her to logic games.

One reader asked what sort of games Goldfein would recommend for kids, because he’d like to encourage his daughter and nieces to consider computer science.

I passed the question along to Goldfein, who said a childhood education expert is probably the best person to ask. But she provided an “anecdotal” answer and listed a few games that her daughters play.

The logic puzzles my grandma did were very old-fashioned, kind of like this:

The modern-day equivalent is undoubtedly Sudoku (and in fact I’m an avid Sudoku’er and my daughter at age 6 started enjoying Sudoku herself).

But my broader answer is that it’s not the puzzles themselves that matter. You can’t toss a book of kids Sudoku puzzles at a 6-year-old and expect her to be interested. My daughter was interested *because* she saw me with my nose in a Sudoku book all the time. So the best games and puzzles to encourage are either ones you do yourself, or better yet, ones you will do with her. That can start with card games like Go Fish and Uno. Anything with sorting and matching and counting is great foundations for logical reasoning.

There are lots of great counting and sorting oriented board games, and then you know, we live in a golden age of casual video games for kids. There are so many wonderful smartphone apps and Web apps. My kids play a ton of them, from overtly education oriented ones (like Zoodles) to simple strategy games like Glitch or Pocket Frogs or Gaia — which actually require a lot of counting and logical reasoning skills, and have cute graphics and addictive game mechanics. Even more importantly, they are games the adults in their lives are interested in playing with them!

My bottom line is the best game is one that you’re going to do with her, and not its raw educational content. I do think parental investment and modeling is the biggest factor of all. (Plus, and you may have seen this covered elsewhere, but all the good research findings we’re getting now about how we need to praise our kids for effort and not traits.)

I also posed the question to Douglas Clements, a distinguished professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, who has written 18 books and hundreds of publications on early childhood education, math education and related topics.

Clements said that it’s a huge question. Lots of games have a variety of math and logic skills, and a myriad of factors pique people’s interest.

“Still, games are very good … from board games that build intuitions about number and probability (see our Building Blocks software) to logic games such as Dienes’ attribute games… which are excellent, to the old Learning Co. computer games (see the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis computer challenges too) to Logo.

And there is perhaps nothing better for computer programming… than … computer programming!”

Any other suggestions?

Comments | More in | Topics: Education, Facebook, Games & entertainment


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