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
Video Games You Can Say Yes to After School

It's a modern-day dilemma: Do you ban gaming during the school week in hopes it will encourage more studying? Or do you use games as a reward for finishing homework but risk kids doing a rushed job?

Research on the positive effects video games have on players' brains may make those questions moot. In fact, all that decision making, logical thinking, and strategizing kids do while they're playing may not be wasted on enemies in Fortnite. Spatial reasoning, for example, is strengthened by playing games that emphasize building -- a lift that's especially good for girls interested in STEM careers. Action games can boost cognitive abilities including perception, attention, and reaction time. And some games can condition the brain for all kinds of learning -- sort of like how football players take ballet to improve their coordination.

So, how do you find the kinds of games that encourage the type of thinking that pays off? Look for games that include planning ahead, experimentation, problem-solving, and creativity. These games might not have the same appeal as Fortnite or Far Cry 5 (which can also serve up brain benefits) but might be the middle ground you and your kids can agree on for school nights.

Of course, it's still a good idea to make sure video games are balanced with plenty of offline brain-building activities and exercise. And taking an active interest in your kids' games and other media is another surefire way to boost learning. Check out these great games that you can "yes" to after school -- or anytime.

Math Blaster Online, 7+
Do your kids 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.

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.

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.

Minecraft, 8+
Minecraft can reinforce geometry concepts as it strengthens players' thinking and reasoning skills, creativity, and even collaboration. The game has a strong, positive online community and even has an educational module teachers can modify for classroom lessons on different subjects.

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 storylines 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.

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.

The Political Machine 2016, 10+
While The Political Machine 2016 may be focused on the main political players of the 2016 presidential race, the hot-button topics that candidates have to address are no less important today than they were then. Whether you're addressing issues like gun control, immigration, or global warming, players will have to figure out ways of swaying public opinion to their viewpoints, raise funds, and hopefully conduct a successful campaign.

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.

Walden, A Game, 10+
It's not often that students get a chance to explore a celebrated work of American literature in a video game, but Walden, A Game puts you directly in the shoes of Henry David Thoreau as he explores the wilderness around Walden Pond back in 1845. The game highlights many of the themes of the novel, including the simplification of your life, the importance of self-reliance, and the impact of nature.

Sid Meier's Civilization VI, 11+
With more than 20 cultures from around the world, Civilization VI is an ideal supplement to history class. Players lead a civilization from the Stone Age to the stars, using a variety of political, scientific, or military goals to accomplish their ends. Players can also found new religions, spy on rival countries, and explore various governmental systems through their country's development as they try to become the most important society in the world.

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.

About Jeff Haynes

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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 (9)

Teen, 14 years old written by Extractinator

Spore and Minecraft should be your go-to if your kid wants to play a game after school. Maybe I'm a bit biased since so are the only ones on the list I have played (outside of Oregon Trail), but it's just my two cents. :)
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. :)