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Game Ratings & Descriptor Guide from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)
Video Games: Preschoolers
As screens become ever-present in our lives, especially ones that are small and portable, young children are spending more time playing digital games. Though it’s not always possible to be engaged with your child when he’s absorbed with a screen full of images and sounds, the greatest learning will take place when he’s interacting with you as well as the game.
Asking questions, giving him a chance to show you what he’s mastered and letting him describe a game as he sees it are all ways to help him get the most out of his playtime. (Don’t be surprised, by the way, if he sees a game quite differently than you do!)
5 Ways to Make the Most of Digital Games
- Ask your child questions about the digital games he likes.
Your questions will get your child thinking about what comes next: What are you trying to do? What happens if you push that button? If you feel unsure of a game, join in and get to know what’s involved.
- Ask your child what he discovered about a new game or level.
Find out what your child understands about his screen play. Because what he has accomplished is not the same as what he has discovered, you may need to ask guiding questions: What did you do that was new? Have you ever done that before? What would you have to do to make the same thing happen?
- Limit how much time your child plays digital games, even those that have physical movement built into them.
Physical games outdoors, interacting with friends and family, making arts and crafts, and exploring other kinds of play are all key to his development.
- Familiarize yourself with game ratings and take advantage of rating summaries.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board assigns the age and content ratings displayed on all computer and video games. For parents that want more specific information, they also offer rating summaries.
- Go beyond the ratings.
Game review websites like Common Sense Media offer parent-focused reviews for popular video games, along with screenshots and other helpful information. After reading a few reviews, rent or borrow a game and try it out before you decide to buy it.
4 Game Qualities That Benefit Children’s Development
- Multiple levels of difficulty.
Being able to set the skill level allows your child to begin in an open-ended “explore” mode. As he masters the program, he can then move on to more challenging levels at his own pace.
- Chances to make decisions.
Look for games and activities that give your child opportunities to express his preferences and interests, rather than having everything preset by the software. The freedom to select a color or a character at the outset of a game — as well as the chance to make other choices throughout the play — will develop your child’s independence and sense of control.
- Multiple players at once.
Playing a computer game or program with someone else — another child or perhaps you — gives your child a chance to talk about what he’s learning and discovering. These conversations are a great way to find out what he is experiencing. You may be surprised: what you see your child doing may be different from what he thinks he’s doing.
- Absence of stereotypes and violence.
Subtle gender and cultural bias may be embedded in some activities. A character’s voice, for example, may connect a certain accent to a negative behavior. Read online reviews or rent games before you make any purchase. Avoid games whose characters use violence to resolve conflict.