Six healthy ways to include games in your child's life

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
How often should kids be allowed to play games? We have the answer to that and many other questions for parents interested in introducing gaming to their kids lives.

In today's age of technology and gaming, parents often wonder how much (if any) time they should allow their children to play games. While traditionally it has been considered "unhealthy" for kids to play too many games, recent evidence suggests that's not the case. In November of 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle reported findings from the MacArthur Foundation that show children can gain valuable skills from playing games online.

Last winter, I bought my oldest son a desktop computer. It may sound a bit insane that a 4-year-old owns his own personal computer, but he was logging so many hours on my laptop that something had to give.

Of course, he doesn't sit on the computer and type his ABCs into a Word Document -- he's online playing games. PBS Kids, Disney Online and Nick Jr. are three of his favorite game stops. I have each bookmarked for him in Firefox on his own desktop -- he knows how to turn on the computer, log in, and navigate to each of his favorite sites.


use games to educateUse Gaming to Educate

Kids can learn so much from today's games. For example, one of our family's favorites for our Wii is Endless Ocean. My husband considers himself to be somewhat of an expert on marine life, so he loves sitting down to play this game with our 4 1/2 year old Nate. In this game, you're a diver on various quests to explore the ocean and the marine life you find down there as you swim around. My son has fun as they explore and Dad gets to give him a lesson on sea life. Sure, we take many trips to the local aquarium but we can't do that every week and when we can't, this is one way he can experience and learn.

Many other Wii games deal with problem solving – the latest he loves to play on his Nintendo DS is Crayola Treasure Adventures, he uses problem solving skills to get to the end of each play.

If you don't own or want to buy a traditional game system like a Wii or PlayStation, you have other options. Many toy companies have made game systems with teaching children the top goal of the product: LeapFrog makes the Leapster Game System -- V-Tech, Fisher-Price and other toy companies have gotten in on the action. V-Tech calls it "Smart Video Gaming" and offers three different Learning Systems that you plug into your TV. Each of these systems incorporates games with education. Depending on the age, specific games will teach early reading skills, math or problem-solving, for example.

Don't want to buy any system? You can go straight to your computer: online there are a plethora of game resources available, such as PBS Kids and Disney Online.

use gaming to teach computer skillsUse Gaming to Teach Computer Skills

Last winter, I bought my oldest son a desktop computer. It may sound a bit insane that a 4-year-old owns his own personal computer, but he was logging so many hours on my laptop that something had to give.

Of course, he doesn't sit on the computer and type his ABCs into a Word Document -- he's online playing games. PBS Kids, Disney Online and Nick Jr. are three of his favorite game stops. I have each bookmarked for him in Firefox on his own desktop -- he knows how to turn on the computer, log in, and navigate to each of his favorite sites.

There are plenty of CD-ROM games you can buy for your child's age as well. We recently tested out a game called "Fish for Words,"

where my son would listen to a word and they have to spell it out. Each correct word typed gave him a "fish" for his aquarium. Another favorite are the ISpy CD-Rom games , where kids not only hunt for hidden pictures but play games that involve problem solving, reading skills and more.

Many companies also make add-on computer toys that, when plugged in, lead your child to more educational games. Fisher-Price offers Easy Link Internet Launch Pad system, a preschool-aged keyboard that connects to a computer via USB. Once connected, you can visit the Fisher Price site and play different games depending on which "Smart Key" (button that plugs into the Launch Pad) your child is using.

The ComfyLand system is another household favorite, similar to the Fisher Price one and is geared for children ages 1-5. My toddler is currently learning the basics of how to work a mouse and the purpose of a computer through this system.

take advantage of today's techTake Advantage of Today's Technology

Today's parents have preconceived notions about video games, which stems from our own childhoods. So many of us spent hours parked in front of our Ataris and Segas for hours at a time, not moving a muscle. Today's games offer much more physical activity than those we grew up playing.

Specifically, the arrival of Nintendo's Wii Fit takes "playing games" to another level, but requiring you to actually get up and move to play the 'game.' On Wii Fit alone, you can practice yoga, take a run or take a step class. The game also monitors your weight and BMI, encouraging healthy weight loss and eating habits. The more you work out and play, the better you do. It's a great family activity during the winter or on a rainy day. Games like Wii Fit actually promote fitness, teach fitness education and keep your kids moving rather than parked on the couch.

If you're not keen on playing Wii Fit, other kid-friendly games will keep players moving , such as Dance Dance Revolution (available for the Wii, PS2, PS3 & Xbox 360) or Guitar Hero (who can sit still through that?).


make gaming a family affairMake it a Family Affair

Another big trend in games; encouraging team playing among families and friends.

As a child of the '70s, it was hard to imagine my Mom sitting down and playing a game of Frogger with me for any extended period of time, but in our house today, my son and I (jokingly) fight for the Wii remote.

If it isn't Mario Kart, the two of us work together to unlock a level in Lego Star Wars – building LEGOs and solving problems.

There's also Rock Band , available for the Wii, PlayStations and Xbox), which we don't own but is obviously a great one out there for a family to do together.

Many team-oriented games are available and if you're a parent who knows your way around video games at all, it's a great way to connect with your children.


mario kart wii make it an extended gaming affairMake it an Extended Family Affair

Family bonding over gaming doesn't have to be limited to just the immediate family.

My parents live in Florida. As much as we try with regular phone calls and visits, nothing replaces the fact Mom can't jet over to our house to play with her grandsons whenever she wants.

So we connect from afar as much as we can -- one of the ways we've done this is with our Wii. We bought my parents a Wii and a copy of Mario Kart, and now we have weekly battles. We call on cell phones with free minutes and put each other on speaker phone.

It's a great bonding opportunity. None of us are all that good, but it produces much laughter and good times for everyone involved. And Mario Kart is a great "all-play" game in that anyone can play it – from my 4-year-old son to my 63-year-old Dad. The playing field is level when they're all behind the wheel, and it's something they bond over.

Limit game time

When all is said and done, it's still good to impose guidelines around "game time" in any household. It's easy to get sucked in – even my husband and I find we have to force ourselves to turning things off at some point.

We have a rule in our house for my oldest: no Wii in the morning, and no Wii if it's sunny and he hasn't been outside to play yet. There is much good to be found in gaming (and fun) with your children but nothing can replace good old fashioned play out in the backyard.

As with anything in life, it's about providing a balance. A little bit of everything encourages a well-rounded and healthy environment for your children to grown up in – and that can include gaming.

Whitney Wingerd is the Editor and Founder of Mommies with Style, the online community for trendy Moms.
Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners