Whether you're buying for Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Gamecube or Game Boy Advance, there are literally hundreds of games to choose from. The diverse selection available from adventure and sports games to titles that have players composing music or learning to dance ensures that with just a little work, you can find a wide variety of kid-friendly games that your child (and even you!) will enjoy.
Before buying, see how your selection rates by running it through our checklist.
Is this age-appropriate for my child?
The best place to start is the ESRB rating. Almost all video games now come with these standard ratings that give a general idea of what age the game is suited for. The ratings translate as follows:
- EC, Early Childhood, is good for ages 3 and older
- E literally means Everyone, but is best for ages 6 and older
- E10+ stands for "Everyone 10 and older"
- T is the designation for Teen (13 and up)
- M stands for Mature, the video game equivalent of an "R" rating for a movie.
But don't rely solely on these designations some teen-rated titles only get the rating because of the lyrics in the soundtrack songs and not because of the content of the actual game. On the other hand, just because a game has an "E" rating doesn't mean it is suitable for your 6 year old it may be too complicated for younger players. For more information on games, browse The Scholastic Store (see Shopping Quick Links) and read the descriptions and look at the pictures on the box. If you have the game in hand, read the "Content Descriptors" on the back that give greater detail on the content in terms of violence, language, and other areas.
How long will my child be able to play this game?
Some games have a practically endless play life, while your child may get through others in one long sitting. Open-ended games such as sports or arcade-style games will keep her coming back to play as long as the games remain challenging and entertaining. If it's a goal-oriented game where the object is to complete a mission, check to see how many levels of play it has and whether a memory card is recommended to save games a save-game feature tells you not only that it's not designed to be finished in one sitting, but also that you'll be able to limit game-playing and not have her complain about losing "all her hard work." Another element to check is if there are different modes of play, games within the game, or bonus games that unlock through playing, which are all ways to extend playtime. Another great idea is to rent a game before buying it to see if it's really worth owning.
Is there an educational element?
Just because consoles and Game Boys are thought of as gaming devices doesn't mean that your child can't learn while playing. A few strictly educational software titles have console versions now, such as Dragon Tales, but an even larger group of games belongs to the "edutainment" category, games which build your child's skills while she's happily playing away. She can test general knowledge while competing in quiz-show games like Jeopardy, build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills with adventure games such as Scooby-Doo, develop a sense of strategy with sports like All-Star Baseball, or even build language arts skills with a game like I SPY! Challenger.
Will she find the text and illustrations appealing?
Check the description of the book's tone and style to see how your child may respond. If she likes repeating words and phrases aloud, poetry or nonsense stories are a great choice. Also, study the cover to see if it catches your eye. If you know she's enjoyed a particular author, illustrator, or series in the past, go with titles from the same creators. Choosing award-winners will help you select quality books, but don't go by medals alone — interesting subject matter is just as important.
Early Learners PreK to Grade 1
Introduce the rich world of video games through the familiar characters your child knows and loves. Young children will enjoy the act of playing a game as much if not more than reaching any goal that a game may have just pressing a button and watching the Rugrats or Teletubbies jump or run on command will have your youngster giggling with glee. This makes it a great age to reinforce and build skills through titles like Blue's Clues Alphabet Book, Elmo's Number Journey, or Winnie the Pooh Kindergarten. Beyond that, pick games that have simple graphics so your child won't feel overwhelmed or frustrated while playing.
Elementary Schoolers Grades 2-5
At this age, games should be fun and friendly. Favorite characters still hold sway and are good indicators of age-appropriateness: if she loves SpongeBob, Barbie, or Monsters, Inc., their games will probably entertain her as well. Action/adventure games like Jak and Daxter and the Mario and Crash Bandicoot series are a safe bet for pure fun, as are arcade games like Tetris and Frogger. If a game is entertaining, your child won't even notice she's learning. Good bets: introduce sports and decision-making with the Backyard series; extend problem-solving and planning skills with adventure games like Harry Potter or simulations like Animal Crossing; and foster self-confidence and respect in addition to building language, music, and rhythm skills with PaRappa the Rapper.
- Middle Schoolers Grades 6 to 8
Pre-teens will want to play T- and M-rated games, but there are plenty of E-rated games that are both complicated enough and adult enough to hold them at bay. Sports games are so realistic and the world within them is so rich and detailed that these are a great choice for any sports lover. Any game from the EA sports series, such as Madden NFL, is a safe bet. Games that require a degree of finesse with complicated controls ,like Spider-Man, or that benefit from a basic understanding of concepts such as physics, like Gran Turismo (not to be confused with Grand Theft Auto!) will now enthrall your pre-teen. As for those T-rated titles, you'll have to make the call on a case-by-case basis. If you think your child is old enough to see the movie The Lord of the Rings, he is probably ready for the game as well. Many T-rated adventure and role-playing games are great brain-twisting options, but watch out for warnings of mature themes E-rated choices like Yu-Gi-Oh are a good alternative. You can be relatively secure with T-rated sports titles, though fighting and wrestling games may still be too violent. If your pre-teen is insistent on getting a fighting game, choose ones without excessive blood and gore like the Mortal Kombat series. Instead try the PokÃÆÃâÃâ Ã¢â¬â¢ÃÆÃ¢â¬Å¡ÃâÃÂ©mon version or the Virtua Fighter series, which has characters fighting in styles based on real martial arts forms.
While console systems don't come with multiple controllers, it is definitely worth it to buy an extra one so your child can play with a friend (or even with you!), making it a more social time. A number of games also offers four-player action, which does require an initial investment in more controllers and may require a multiplayer adapter, but can bring an even larger group of real people together to engage with these virtual worlds. The Xbox also offers many games with an online multiplayer component, where players can interact with others in the same game. If your child wants to play online, be sure to discuss Internet safety rules with her first.
If your child is especially interested in sports games, suggest that he keep a record of how his teams compare to real teams in the sport. Or if he likes role-playing games, why not encourage him to write his own story with the characters or summarize the story of the game for you? Be inventive with ways to bring his interest in games out of the virtual world.