People don’t always think of print books as being interactive, or using games, but they are and they do. I write mainly nonfiction and concept books, as well as interactive apps. To engage children and keep them interested, and to impart information in a fun way, much of my work uses a form of “gamification”: lift-the-flap, mazes, guessing games, inside-outside concepts, search-n-find, ABCs and numbers, puzzles, matching games, hidden objects, word/noun object recognition, and so forth.
EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures uses mazes to explore and understand ecosystems, to see the vegetation and geology, and a finding/counting game to learn about which animals live in the habitat. In Hatch! an egg or a clutch of eggs is shown. Children try to guess what kind of bird it is from hints (“The bird that lays these eggs is found on every continent except Antarctica.” “This one never drinks water” “…fastest running two-legged animal on Earth. But it can’t fly.”). In Busy Builders children see the giant bug, and then turn the page to check out the unusual kinds of structures certain bugs make, and why. In Slithery Snakes they are encouraged to try to figure out what kind of snake it is from the close-up scaly skin patterns shown, along with tantalizing facts about the critter: “Its common name comes from its skin pattern (like a precious stone) and its unique tail (which sounds like a child’s toy).” Turn the page and the answer appears, visually, with its name, and more fun facts – you see the snake in its home, with other creatures that live in the same habitat. In Mazeways: A to Z, the letter of the alphabet forms a maze … A is for Airport (ever been to Heathrow or JFK? They really ARE a maze!), H is for Highway, L is for Library, R is for Ranch, and so on – you are playing, but also learning more about the places and how they work. In Market Maze (Holiday House, Spring 2015) children explore where food comes from and how it arrives at their town greenmarkets. All of these are nonfiction subjects, with a structure that encourages play, learning, and engagement.
Many subjects lend themselves to these sorts of game-like interactive formats. Authors and illustrators of children’s nonfiction materials should consider these devices. For learning about a person, an animal, a historical period, science, a place, or even a fictional character, you can start with a question, and note fun facts that may allow the child to guess who or what you are interested in, before they get to the satisfying answer. Or in a more interactive way, they can lift flaps, play matching games, find and count things, solve a maze…
Engaging in games helps children with concentration, setting goals, problem-solving, working together and collaboration (many allow multiple players), perseverance, and celebrate achieving goals. Many games, and mazes in particular, also help children learn decision-making and critical thinking skills. They make them think ahead and plan steps in advance. Mazes teach alternative ways to solve problems and judge spatial relationships. For younger children, they help develop fine motor skills; for older children, maneuvering through mazes helps improve handwriting. Game formats are particularly suited to reluctant readers, boys, and special needs children. And they’re fun!
(FYI, in June, I’ll be doing a workshop at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference on “gamification” [primarily for interactive apps] with Kellian Adams Pletcher, founder and senior producer at Green Door Labs.)
In the educational community, and among parents, learning via games has gained credibility, respect, and lots of interest in the last couple of years.
If you want to learn more about the “gamification” of children’s materials, here are some great links:
Three Keys to Gamification for Education http://www.informationweek.com/mobile/mobile-devices/3-keys-to-gamification-for-education/d/d-id/1109937?
The Gamification of Education http://www.knewton.com/gamification-education/
Four Benefits of Gamifying Education in Your Classroom http://www.esparklearning.com/gamification-of-education/
Vegetables or Candy? Digital Book World looks at the Gamification of Children’s Books http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/55546-vegetables-or-candy-dbw-panel-looks-at-gamification-of-children-s-books.html
Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool http://www.games-ed.co.uk/resources/Games-Based-Learning-Analysis-and-Planning-Tool-0.9.pdf
Gamification and Education: The Core Principle http://iridescentlearning.blogspot.com/2013/05/gamification-and-education-core.html
Game-based Learning: Analyzing a Rising Sector http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/initiative/games-and-learning-publishing-council-analyzing-a-rising-sector/
Using Gaming Principles to Engage Students http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/using-gaming-principles-to-engage-students/
The importance of Play in raising inner-directed (“intrinsic”) children (rather than “extrinsic” more materialistic kids)