The Hidden Benefit of Video Games

Written by NPN Guest on February 11th, 2011

Homeschooling, Natural Learning, Reading

Kaila's daughter enjoying a game with her brother.

Although my husband is a big proponent of video games, I have a hard time expressing anything but dislike for them. While he could play them from dawn till dusk, I on the other hand could never bring myself to waste so much brain space on something so mindless. Sure, they have their place in the world, especially for those times when you just don’t feel like doing anything but vegetating on the couch and numbing your mind. For the most part though, I have a very negative view of video games and thought absolutely nothing good could ever come from them. Or so I thought, until I braved the idea of letting my child play them.

I did it. My daughter asked to play video games, and I let her. This coming from the mom who doesn’t have cable television or even Disney movies. Somehow, I overcame my perceptions and allowed her to engage in a mind numbing video game. A number of horrible thoughts ran through my head as I handed over the controller, such as what a waste of time this was going to be, and how it would surely lead to a life of obesity and laziness. Naturally, my significant other was happy to show her what each button did and help explain general gaming techniques. I must also point out that she started with a game that does not show blood, guns or other violence and was relatively PG rated, not ultimately wanting the user to kill anyone at the end of the game. To this day, it is her favorite game.

Why do you want to hear about my daughter playing video games? Because it lead to an amazing discovery for both me and her. In the beginning, she was so excited to discover this world full of fun, cartoon images with very creative scenery and an interesting storyline. She asked for help often and asked for someone to read the text for her even more often. Over time, her questions became fewer and fewer. Eventually she stopped asking me to read the text and she began reading them aloud to herself and me. Wait, WHAT?! Did I just imply that this stupid time waster taught my child to read?

Prior to this game fascination, she received a typical exposure to reading and writing. Although we are homeschoolers, reading workbooks and busy work have never been a large part of our lives. We make trips to the library, read lots of books, answer questions, sing the ABC’s, and engage in typical parenting “reading readiness” activities. So why, at barely five and a half years old, did my daughter start reading? I believe she had a need and desire to. Mindless phonics workbooks did not give her a reason to learn to read, other than to finish the workbook and get a gold star. Real learning, I believe, stems from a genuine need to learn. My daughter wanted to be able to read the video game storyline without help. She wanted to be able to figure things out alone and not wait for an adult to show her, thereby giving her that next step towards independence.

And what has my role become in all of this? I am there to support her interest, and just as I followed her cues from infancy, I let her take the lead in determining what interests her. Had I continued my technophobia and aversion to my children playing video games, it may have taken a lot longer to achieve what is considered such a monumental step in childhood. I had to take that step in acknowledging her interest by actually letting her play, and then supporting her by reading when she asked me to. I learned to pay attention and realize this game was not a complete waste of brain space, because she was really learning something! She was ready and I was not going to hold her back. If there is no passion, no desire, and no real need to learn to read, it won’t happen; at least not authentically.

Photo Credit: Author

Kaila Halvorsen is a forever growing and learning human. She is the mother of two and is expecting a third with her wonderful significant other. She is dedicated to a life worth living, sharing and experiencing together through connections both big and small.

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