24 Video Games You Can Say Yes to After School

Kids can learn all kinds of things, from social studies to social skills, with these great apps and games. By Jeff Haynes
24 Video Games You Can Say Yes to After School

Summer's over, and school's back in session. Time to pull the plug on your kids' video games, right? Not so fast, Mom and Dad. To the great relief of kids everywhere, it turns out video games and school are not incompatible. New studies on the effects that playing games has on kids indicate positive benefits for learning, thinking, social-emotional skills building, and, yes, even school performance.

Games provide new ways to engage with various subjects, whether it's learning about math through an air-traffic-control simulator or practicing musical timing with a dance app. So the next time you see your kid playing a strategy or music game, know that he or she may actually be learning history or working on physical fitness. Below, we have recommendations of apps and games to support every subject on your elementary, junior high, or high school student's schedule.


Elementary School: Math Blaster Online, 7+
Do your little ones need help with equations? Math Blaster Online gives them plenty of practice as they join the Blaster Academy to save the universe using their math skills. It also lets your kids team up with other players to solve problems together in a safe, socially positive online environment.

Middle School: SMART Adventures Mission Math 2: Peril at the Pyramids, 10+
Peril at the Pyramids is a story-based math app, where kids test their math knowledge to solve a mystery of disappearing artifacts at an archeological site. The app provides an engaging setting for players to use their logic skills as they solve engineering, science, and technology problems, as well as play mini-games that reinforce math concepts.

High School: Sector 33 App, 12+
Sector 33 gives kids an idea of how math works in the real world, as they take on the role of an air traffic controller, directing flights to San Francisco International Airport. Players must not only gauge distance, time, and the rate of speed of each plane, they also have to balance flight plans, delays, and other complications.


Elementary School: Lifeboat to Mars, 8+
Young scientists can experiment with creating a brand-new ecosystem on Mars to help support terrestrial life on Earth. Players can choose to work on microbes or on animal and plant missions to accomplish the task of terraforming the red planet. Even cooler, once they've finished a few missions, players can design their own missions for other players to try.

Middle School: Spore, 11+
Can you design and develop the perfect creature? Spore lets you develop a species from its microscopic origins to an intelligent, social alien life form that can venture into space and interact with other sentient life forms. This is a great way for your young scientist to explore the methods and ideas behind biology.

High School: Solar System for iPad, 13+
Bring stargazing to life for teens with this far-out collection of astronomy facts, photos, and animations. The app focuses on our solar system in particular, with information about the sun, planets, moons, asteroid belts, and more. Kids can learn about gravity, patterns (such as rotations around the sun), and each planet and moon, including facts about diameter, mass, volume, gravity, and atmosphere.

Language Arts

Elementary School: My Reading Tutor, 5+
My Reading Tutor builds on the basics of early reading skills to help strengthen kids' literacy. Phonics, letter sounds, and more are presented in a fun, engaging manner, and kids can even record their voices as they read stories. Parents can track their children's progress in the reading tasks to see how well they're doing and what they need help on.

Middle School: Duolingo App, 12+
Whether your kids need help with a foreign language class or are simply interested in learning a new language, Duolingo can help. In a friendly environment, the app provides practice in basic words, phrases, and sentence structure in six languages. Players can test what they've learned against the computer or other players in competitive games or help translate Web pages for other users around the world.

High School: Shakespeare in Bits: A Midsummer's Night Dream, 13+
Shakespeare is a staple of high school English, but the old English text is challenging. Shakespeare in Bits helps make the Bard more accessible, with animated characters acting out the plays and multiple ways to understand confusing or obscure words.

History/Social Studies

Elementary School: Oregon Trail, 9+
Oregon Trail has been teaching and entertaining kids for more than 40 years. The game continues to innovate through digital versions that provide realistic story lines and context. Players take on the role of a wagon leader directing settlers from Missouri to Oregon in 1800s America while dealing with issues such as disease, food, and weather.

Middle School: Sid Meier's Civilization V, 11+
With a total of 43 playable civilizations from around the world, Civilization V is an ideal supplement to history class. Players lead a civilization from the Stone Age to the future with a range of political, scientific, or military goals, learning how cultural, ideological, and geographical factors can change a world’s geopolitical landscape.

High School: Tropico 4, 15+
Political analysts frequently talk about unstable or corrupt countries that spring up around the world, but how many times do you get the chance to run your own? Tropico 4 makes you president of your own island and lets you choose factions to appease according to your political goals. A parody of political simulations, Tropico 4 will make teens laugh -- and teach them at the same time.


Elementary School: Just Dance: Disney Party, 5+
You don't have to be a fan of Disney classics such as "It's a Small World" to love Just Dance: Disney Party. Players imitate characters on-screen that are dancing to hit songs from Disney movies and TV shows. The completely contagious game teaches how movement and music work together in a fun, social environment.

Middle School: GarageBand, 10+
GarageBand has exactly what fledgling musicians need to take their music to the next level. Kids can record vocals and instruments and mix tracks to create -- and share -- new songs while learning essential audio-engineering and composition skills. It's like having a professional recording studio in the palm of your hand.

High School: The Beatles: Rock Band, 14+
The Beatles created classic, timeless music, and this Rock Band will take teens on a magical mystery tour of their entire career. Similar to the other Rock Band games, you can sing and play drums, bass, or guitar on 45 remastered Beatles tracks. 


Elementary School: Art Academy, 8+
Art Academy is more than a video game -- it's a fun art tutorial. The game walks you through the basics of drawing, shading, and other skills so you can apply them to real-life creations.

Middle School: Animation and Drawing by Do Ink, 10+
Fledgling animators are always looking for ways to bring their drawings to life with simple, easy-to-understand tools. Animation and Drawing by Do Ink walks kids through the entire process of creating clips, whether it's sketching out an original composition or using clip art as a template. In-depth tutorials also help users define and develop their work, which can easily be shared with others.

High School: Procreate, 13+
Procreate is an affordable app that provides professional-level tools for artists to create original works. Users can create high-quality work with the mix of brushes, layering tools, and high-resolution exporting settings. Young digital artists also can share their creations through social media and other digital portfolios quickly and simply.


Elementary School: Zumba Kids, 6+
Want to get your little ones' blood flowing? Zumba Kids takes kid-friendly songs from pop artists and lets them perform 30 routines in a wide variety of dance genres. Plus, they get to imitate the kids dancing on-screen, who provide lots of positive reinforcement through each song.

Middle School: Wii Fit U, 10+
Wii Fit U turns getting physically fit into a game. In between the many mini-games and activities, kids will learn that moving their bodies can be fun and yield meaningful results. Wii Fit U comes with a pedometer to help track your steps taken, calories burned, and distance traveled so you can make fitness progress even away from the game.

High School: Dance Central 3, 13+
The most advanced dance game on the market, Dance Central 3 tracks every bit of your body, making you a better dancer as you perform routines for more than 60 popular songs. This game includes a new story mode for dancers to move through, as well as a dance tournament for up to eight players and even a fitness mode that acts as a serious workout for dedicated players.

Social Skills

Elementary School: Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster, 6+
Parents who want to make sure their kids learn about friendship, generosity, and other positive life skills should look no further than Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster. An interactive experience wherein players engage with characters from the show, the game teaches as it lets kids play active roles in stories and participate in entertaining games.

Middle School: Thomas Was Alone, 10+
Thomas Was Alone is a unique puzzle game. It doesn't focus on graphics, complex control schemes or tense gameplay; instead, the two-dimensional game tells a story about friendship and human relationships. With humor, well-paced storytelling, and an emphasis on diversity and trusting others, Thomas Was Alone will stay in players' minds long after they've finished it.

High School: Papers, Please, 15+
Papers, Please manages to meld social and historical commentary with an exercise in making ethical decisions and navigating their consequences, forcing you to think during every portion of the game. Players take on the role of an immigration inspector in a communist nation, approving or rejecting applicants seeking to enter the country. As political events change throughout the story, players will need to handle situations such as terrorist attacks, asylum seekers, and the undocumented while also dealing with the effects of their choices. 

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About Jeff Haynes

As Common Sense's senior editor of video games and websites, Jeff Haynes spends his time doing things like blasting aliens, winning sports championships, and creating digital worlds to tell kids and parents about the... Read more

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Comments (7)

Parent of a 4 and 11 year old written by bowlerskates

Just a few more to consider: Shelter; Battle Chess; Kerbal Space Program; Influent; Rollercoaster Tycoon; Scribblenauts; Besiege
Parent of a 4, 7, and 10 year old written by GregNeumayer

Since most of us aren't likely to run out and buy the appropriate platform based on the game, a little more information in the header would've made this something I'd take time to read. I don't want to click on every link to "double-check" compatibility before reading. It would be helpful for me next time you could quickly start with the essentials: "Name -- Platform -- MSRP"
Adult written by mouseclicker

Under the history section, I think the Age of Empires series is an excellent addition. It teaches resource management and quick thinking, as well as planning for the future. It also reflects real history cultures fairly accurately, and even includes a large encyclopedia section that has a lot of information on all of their cultures and civilizations depicted (especially the first and second games, which cover prehistoric, classical, and medieval groups). When I was young, I spent as much time reading the encyclopedia section of the game as playing the game itself, and learned a lot about historical peoples.
Teen, 14 years old written by odognate

I don't recommend allowing children screen time after school. It is habit forming....also, I would be very careful about buying into the "educational video game" concept. There is a lot of money involved in this kind of spin. Believe me, as a mother of two boys, I fell into the same trap and I can tell you that the best thing I ever did was make "screen time" only on the weekends, and limited to 2-3 hours each day (once in morning and once at night) It is not perfect, and we still struggle to find balance. But if you have little ones, really the best education is to PLAY with friends, or PLAY in the back yard with their imagination. There are lots of studies, too, that amazingly validate the educational, and developmental importance of play. And most importantly, there is NO doubt that tv, computer, and video games are habit forming and addicting. Just notice when your kid gets off of a game, or tv, they are at loose ends, and feel immediately bored. There is nothing wrong with boredom! That is where creativity can thrive! I love Common Sense and refer to it often. I think a good debate and discussion about these issues is helpful. Thanks!
Kid, 11 years old

You are 'teen, 14 years old' but you say you are a mother of two boys. Hmm... something doesn't match up here.
Parent of a 4, 7, and 10 year old written by GregNeumayer

I agree that we should have screen-time limits (and we do in our house), but I believe that there's nothing "more right" about real-world chess than ipad chess. Turning the screen off and watching them go look at Pokemon cards doesn't really change the real challenge, which is keeping their minds exploring through various ways, screens included. In fact, I've seen them explore concepts that I didn't have the opportunity to as a kid. What kid has a laser and a prism sitting around? But I can experiment with optics on my computer! Screen simulations open many new exploratory trips that we lacked in the 80s. I let them explore physics with bowling balls, tubes, balloons and fire on the ipad (Casey's Contraptions). ...then send them out to the trampoline. :)


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