One of our dear friends and ally Jen Choi recently took an interesting look at how playing games can help with standardize test taking skills. We are pleased to know that Seperation Anxiety was among the choices for this really quality list. As you will see, a total of 5 "Fat Brain Favorites" made the cut. Please take the time to read through and think - What other skills do educational games teach children?
REPUBLISHED FROM FORBES
As a writer of toy reviews, it’s easy to find families who want to test products. However, at this time of the year, I have trouble getting my testers in the upper elementary grades to play with the toys. Why? Simple: It’s testing season now. Stress is high among teachers, parents, and students alike.
Toy testing can wait, but I feel sorry for our children. In some ways, I see them being no different from the toys themselves, just sitting there waiting to be “assessed.” Since when did standardized testing become so passive? When I was in high school, we bought books with titles like, Cracking the SAT and even today, I see titles such as The Perfect Score: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT and The SAT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective Strategies Ever Published.
I suppose the one difference is that these kids, as young as nine, aren’t really the ones being assessed, so maybe they’re not supposed to care so much. As we all know, the goal of these tests is to evaluate teacher and school performance. But guess what? The kids do care. How could they not? I am not concerned about their scores so much. Rather, I worry about what could be the repercussions of their mounting anxiety on top of their playtime already being reduced. Moreover, kids are being told that they can’t study for these tests which probably causes them even more anxiety!
Thanks to the great world of toys and games, I think that statement can be proven wrong. Not only can kids prepare themselves to be better test-takers, but if you try out some of these suggestions, they can probably sneak back in some much needed playtime.
Why Be “Assessed” When You Can Score?
We can teach a child to re-imagine her role from one that is about to be tested to one where she is testing herself. The latter role requires a child to hunt, gather, and protect their points as if she were playing a game. Changing their mindset from this passive role to a more opportunistic one can give them a chance to feel a bit more in control and most importantly, help reduce some anxiety. Here is a list of my top ten go-to games that can feed the hunter spirit in every child, playfully and productively:(in reverse alphabetical order)
Move Your Body (as much as the proctor will allow): WordARound by ThinkFun
It’s hard to move around when you’re taking a test, but maybe you can get away with gentle swaying, tapping your finger, or even doing a stretch every two minutes. For some children, this can really help. I saw that in my own son when he read words with increased speed while playing WordARound. He had so much fun as he quickly moved about trying to read words in a ring. Players won’t know which is the first letter or even in which direction the word should be read, but if you are the first to answer correctly, you score. Karin Buitendag, Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Director of Occupational Therapy at the STAR Center (Sensory Therapies and Research Center) in Denver once told me, “If there’s more movement, he gets better feedback.” She also added that this helps him direct his focus. Basically, this exercise actually supports both sides of the brain talking to each other and the great part is that reading requires one to use both hemispheres. Who knew?
Pay Attention to Details- No Matter How Painful: What’s In Ned’s Head by Ideal
I thought this game was really gruesome looking, but Nicole Kolenda, an experienced speech and language pathologist who treats kids in her private practice and teaches courses at Columbia University and New York University, told me this game was totally awesome. I am so glad I followed her advice because What’s in Ned’s Head’s best asset is actually how gross it is. Players must race to feel for clues of a particular object which asks them to visualize and talk to themselves in their heads. They can’t pull out the object until they’ve fully decided that they’ve found it. They must feel out every last gross detail (plastic versions of antennae, bug legs, brains, tongues) and they soon will start to get really grossed out. However, to win, they must persevere! In the world of test-taking, some kids want to get things over with so badly that they may skip over important details. Tests require a lot of stamina and patience. Use Ned’s Head to show them that they have what it takes to beat the testing games.
Organize Your Mental File Cabinet: Tribbit by Mindware
How do people know which words to use when they’re speaking? This process is very much like opening a folder of similar words and picking which is most appropriate. It’s a language skill that is embedded in every page of our children’s English Language Arts test and part of their Mathematics test too. The speedy game of Tribbit is a great way to work on their own mental file cabinet because the best way to sort and file is to do it quickly. Who wants a slow filer? One round can be finished in less than a minute as players must create groups of three frogs wearing the same thing. The trouble is that each frog is wearing two things, so you must make choices and create your groups quickly. Speech and language expert Nicole Kolenda also explained this concept, emphasizing that learning words and storing vocabulary is an important part of developing language abilities in kids. “These skills are learned in school and are essentially needed for life,” Kolenda added. “We all belong to many categories and understanding this concept is crucial to interacting with society.”
Be Decisive: TENZI by Carma Games
This is an incredibly simple but addictive game that asks children to make quick decisions as keep rolling dice until all 10 are the same number. Each player will get 10 dice of the same color, but different from their opponent’s color. He will roll all ten of his dice, assess which number is most prevalent, (“Ooh, I have a bunch of sixes, I’ll keep those and re-roll the rest.”) Players keep rolling the remaining dice until they all come up with that chosen number. The first person to achieve this shouts TENZI to win the round. This very simple game gives players the ability to hyperfocus despite everything feeling topsy-turvy. Moreover, with each roll, they must make a decision, which is a great way to practice trusting their judgment. Sometimes, they will figure out that they’ve made a mistake, but quickly realize that there is no time to lament about it. The worst thing to be feeling in a test is self-doubt and self-pity. Games like TENZI have a way of lifting confidence and changing moods in minutes. It’s magical.
Think Fast, Think Very Fast: Tapple by USAopoly $19.95 What does your brain tell you when you hear a clock ticking? In a testing situation, the message is very clear: You are running out of time. The good news is that we needn’t be so negative. We can teach kids to make time their ally, not their enemy. With the sound of ticking clock, Tapple raises heart rates and heightens senses as players race to name words in a given category using remaining letters that have not been “tapped.” The truth is that for many people, a little anxiety and a little stress can be helpful. A constant reminder that time is passing could help us tune out negative or meandering thoughts. Playing Tapple gives us an opportunity to let our kids practice thinking faster all while having a blast.
Sharpen Those Scanners: Separation Anxiety by Fat Brain Toys
I love this game! There are two major skills being sharpened here. The first is simple decoding but it’s not so simple because three different words printed in different colors are written on top of each other. This is great way to practice visual discrimination which will help children not only read words but read numbers too. All too often, test-takers young and old complain that everything starts getting fuzzy as they trudge through a test. I see this game as an opportunity to strengthen the senses so we can all suffer less fatigue, especially during test time. The second benefit to to this game is a simple which-does-not-belong question. Out of the three words, you must choose the word that does not belong and justify why it doesn’t. This exercises a totally different set of skills as real reading is not just decoding the words but also understanding those subtle differences in meaning that make reading so pleasurable. All of this is done in a race against an opponent so you must work fast.
Hammer It Into the Foundation: Multiplication Slam by Educational Insights
Why do we demand that kids memorize the multiplication tables when we already have calculators? This is a subject of debate these days as one can argue that relaxing this requirement can allow kids to work on higher-level problem-solving. What isn’t debatable is that many kids dislike having to memorize their multiplication tables by writing them out – over and over again. This method frustrates so many children and perhaps that is the reason why someone at Educational Insights came up with the clever idea that kids can memorize their tables by slamming out their answers. Like writing out the tables, this game uses repetition to train players but with a solid beat, some lights, and most importantly something to slam, many kids prefer this method of memorizing their tables. With my testers, this game was a real hit! No pun intended.
Choose the Best Answer: iota by Gamewright
For a standardized test, someone upstairs has decided that a student can not score unless they choose that one single correct best answer. There is no partial credit for a “decent answer.” This can be problematic for the kind of child who sees possibilities in everything. Iota is a game where opportunistic players will likely see numerous possibilities but a good hunter will figure out which option will bring the highest score hence, the “best answer.” This is how we can teach children to practice more critical thinking when taking tests as they must pick an answer that would be considered the “best answer” given the clues provided. Oftentimes, the same kids who do well in these games are the ones who may not do well with standardized tests. We can help them by telling them it is definitely okay to be just as opportunistic when playing the Testing Games. Susan Schwartz, veteran learning specialist at the Friends Academy in New York City often tells me that naming the skills used in a game helps the kids identify what they are doing right. In the workplace, good supervisors do this all the time. Schwartz gave an example of what that could sound like, “Wow, you had to be strategic. You had to plan. You had to cultivate being a good executive and dividing your attention. Let’s think about those skills when you are needing to do something else.”
Training Eyes to Pay Attention: CUBU by Funnybone Toys
This is a game that works on the skill of visual attention- training your eyes to pay better attention to things. Each card dazzles all the players with beautiful visual illusions as players must work fast and hard to find color sequences among the cards. Working on visual attention might seem like no big deal but think about how we are attentive with our other senses ie. hearing kids sneaking around not sleeping, tasting that oaky Chardonnay. Experts will tell you that there is ample reward for those whose eyes pay close attention. According to Amy Baez, Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Founder of Playapy, visual attention is even important for building good social skills. Baez added, “It’s also important with reading because when your eyes are constantly averting off the page, then you’re going to lose your place.” How many times have you ever lost your place when reading something you were forced to read? Get CUBU. It’s amazing.
Give Their Memory a Real Workout: HearBuilder Auditory Memory by Super Duper Publications
What? A video game? In this list? Oh yes! I am an admirer of technology and I love this game. If you believe that a person’s memory can be improved then the only question you need to ask is “How?” While an auditory memory program is essentially helping kids remember what they’ve heard, I have no doubt that this program improves working memory as well. The stars of the show, the very cute Kim and Joey even teach players different tactics for memorization such as chunking or putting things into a tune. Working memory is the type of memory that acts like your mind’s post-it notes. We need them to complete our tasks correctly
You may think that teaching children to approach their tests like a game is foolish. What if they don’t take it seriously? In my experience, having tested game after game with so many kids, one thing is crystal clear: When kids play games, they play to win. Even grandparents play super-competitively! Kids are no different. They are willing to work hard for that victory.
A child’s primary occupation is to play so why wouldn’t they take their job seriously? That said, we should all remember that guiding kids to become more opportunistic test-takers is not really about scoring higher. I only see that as a likely side benefit. Rather, the hope that this change in mindset will protect their emotional well-being before and after each of these tests. Excessive and unnecessary anxiety is toxic and it’s in all of our best interests that every kid’s childhood is protected.