Most of us grew up with the notion that libraries are a place for books (or maybe videos, if you’re young enough). Some libraries around the country are changing their catalog, though—and adding toys and video games. Why? Because studies show that kids who engage in free play(i.e., unstructured play led by children themselves as opposed to adults) have “higher self-directed executive function.” That means that these kids are more likely to start and complete a project on their own and have more success with self-generated goals. They also may be better equipped to cope with stress.
While offering toys that kids may have limited access to is great, typically older kids start to outgrow what we usually think of as toys once they hit middle school. Libraries aren’t abandoning teens, though—they’re just giving them a different kind of toy.
I know, I know. Some of you are probably thinking “teens don’t need more video games!” Others may be reeling in horror at the notion that these kids are learning to read from such unsavory sources. But the statistics show us that at libraries that offer video games, kids actually spend a lot more time reading—there’s a 15%-20% increase in book circulation, to be precise. Not only are they reading more, they’re reading better. Some kids were reading at levels eight grades above their previous level after playing games.
If you’re still unsure, I implore you to rethink your stance—sure, some games are badly written. But who really cares where kids are learning to read, as long as they’re learning? And if reading in a video game gives them pleasure instead of angst, they’ll be much more likely to seek out new and diverse materials later on. (It’s also worth noting that library game collections include mostly—or entirely—educational games, games for kids, or at least games on the friendly side of the ratings.)
Not all games are good for reading comprehension, of course. Some have little to no text, and others make it easy to skip over text. However, it’s true that giving kids a purpose in reading makes it much less of an obstacle. You want to complete this quest and buy a dragon mount? Well, you’ll have to read the quest-giver’s directions to do that.
And in my experience, earning a dragon mount is a much better incentive than earning a B+ on the test.