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While the world of educational programming and video games is vast, not all offerings are created equal. So how is a parent or teacher to choose?

Nadine Levitt, founder of the educational technology platform WURRLYedu, suggests considering “whether or not (the show or game) serves learning by inspiring creativity and curiosity, or replaces it.”

That said, the “educational” label isn’t everything, says Lisa Castaneda, co-founder and CEO of foundry10 education research organization. “People may wrongly assume that there is no learning value in games that aren’t marketed as educational,” she says. “I would argue a larger concern might be that games marketed as educational may not have the learning value parents hope they do.”

Lessons learned

It’s up to parents and teachers to help children make connections between their entertainment options and the lessons being taught. “When we select a game for learning, we should be thoughtful about our objectives, and then follow up with our kids to ensure that those objectives were met,” Castaneda says. So, if the game is skill-oriented and the objective is to practice and gain fluency, she says, check to see if those skills have improved.

The Doodles + Digits online platform makes math visual and relatable with real-life examples for elementary students.

Even without a specific goal in mind, Levitt says, reflecting back after the child watches a show is useful. “It can be as simple as asking what the biggest ‘aha! moment ‘was for them and how it made them feel. “

Virtual reality options

Virtual reality tools can benefit from follow-up, too. “We had a teacher who used a virtual experience involving refugees to help students understand the experiences and perspectives of those who were trying to flee,” Castaneda says. The teacher set up a digital pen pal exchange with student refugees from that region, and the class raised funds for UNICEF.

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