This is a picture of my perfect homeschool moment: We are in New York City, waiting for The Lion King to begin. My sons have never been to a Broadway show. They are mesmerized by the grandeur of the theater, and I am giddy with anticipation of seeing their faces light up when the show starts. This is the most exciting kind of “educational moment.”

But the truth is, most of our homeschooling involves no grandeur, no lesson plans, and tons of video games. This is not to say we don’t do cool stuff. We do pottery and skateboarding and swimming, and well, you’ve heard the list before. It’s a dream-come-true childhood, really, all the fun stuff they do. But there’s a lot of time in between Broadway shows and private horseback lessons, and almost all that down-time is filled with video games. Read more

Map, by Jasper Johns

One of the biggest gripes about US students is that they have no sense of geography.

I have a six-year-old who knows every state by it’s shape, so I thought I’d tell you how he learned it: From video games.

First, he was in the car one day searching for a new app on my iPhone. He went to top ten downloads for kids, and found one about states. He didn’t really want to learn about states, but he was sick of playing Angry Birds and Battle Bears and he couldn’t find anything else. Read more

After doing a lot of investigating about video games and their effect on kids, I realized that limiting kids playing video games has a much more deleterious impact on kids than letting them play video games unfettered by parent oversight. Here’s why:

1. Game time is about respect.
When you tell kids they can’t do what they like, you tell them they have poor judgment. The whole point of child-directed learning is to tell kids that they have a good sense of what is interesting to them and they should respect that in themselves.

I noticed that when people ask me why we don’t teach subjects in our homeschooling, I’d say, “I trust my kids to figure out what they want to learn, and I’ll help them learn it. Passion isn’t divided into school subjects.”

Then invariably one of my kids would yell out, “So why can’t we play video games?!?!?!?”

And the adult would laugh, but I would think, “Yeah. It’s a good question.” Read more

The biggest problem we have in our child-directed learning program is that my kids want to play video games all day. Well, that’s not true. They’ll choose eating over video games if they’re hungry. And they’ll choose to turn off their games to participate in activities they’ve chosen, like swimming or skateboarding.

But the way to deal with any moment of boredom is to turn on the video games. And in our lives, that means anything from a two-minute drive to the wood pile to a 90-minute drive into Madison. I have made a compromise with them: they turn down the volume on their DS’s and I play whatever violin or cello piece they are learning, or Bach, or, sometimes I take special requests like Willow Smith.

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This is a guest post by Lisa Nielsen. She’s in charge of technology and teacher training for the New York City public schools, and she is the author of  the book Teaching Generation Text. None of the opinions in this post reflect the views, opinions, or endorsement of her employer. 

At their most basic level video games are similar to books. Books can be anything—trashy novels, historical fiction, non-fiction, classic literature—each type with varying potential for learning. Likewise, video games offer different purposes and varying levels of usefulness when it comes to learning. Adults should focus on the type of learning they want to support in young people, and then consider if games are a good tool for that.

Here are some of the more popular types of games students use for learning today: Read more