Educational, Communal Gaming Recommendations for the Holidays

  • December 14th, 2018

By David Miller

Dr. Andre Denham, assistant professor of educational technology at UA.

The Christmas break is a cherished time for school children. Beyond the expectancy of gifts, children will spend up to two weeks away from the classroom.

This downtime doesn’t prompt worry of “brain drain” that teachers and parents work to combat during the longer summer break, but Christmas break provides a unique opportunity to weave educational gaming into gift-giving and family bonding, said Dr. Andre Denham, assistant professor of educational technology at The University of Alabama.

Board games like Mancala, an ancient African counting and strategy game, and 7 Ate 9, a card game that requires counting, subtraction and addition, serve to educate and provide a simple, cost-effective communal gaming experience.

“The Christmas break is a great time to build traditions in families,” Denham said. “And there are a lot of important skills, like critical thinking, problem solving and cooperation in board games.”

Video games, too, address some of the soft skills found in board games. “Tetris Effect,” the latest incarnation of the puzzle game first launched in 1989, helps children develop spatial ability, a skill that is correlated with math ability, Denham said.

“People in STEM fields tend to have high spatial ability,” he said.

Denham recommends the following board/card games for families:

  • Skip-Bo
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Settlers to Catan
  • Apples to Apples
  • Mancala
  • 7 Ate 9
  • Jenga
  • Codenames
  • Drop It

While the educational gaming commercial market isn’t as robust outside of schools, mainstream video games can still provide educational benefits. Denham said games that include highly accurate and detailed historical references allow gamers to participate in narrative storytelling. Additionally, games like “Cities: Skylines” and “Civilization Switch VI” immerse players in world-building and require creativity.

“Talk to your kids and have them explain what they’re doing,” Denham said. “It may be a game that’s not specifically designed for it, but there are some soft skills in those games that aren’t readily apparent. You can find those teachable moments.”

Denham said that, like some of his board game recommendations, communal gaming should also be considered when purchasing video games as gifts. Games like “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate” is a great multiplayer option for families.

Denham’s picks for video game gifts for children:

  • “Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu”
  • “Cities: Skylines”
  • “Civilization Switch VI”
  • “Spider Man”
  • “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate”
  • “Tetris Effect”

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.