by Word of Mouth

In 1983 Ronald Reagan gave a speech at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida extolling his new found understanding of the virtues of video games: “I recently learned something quite interesting about video games. Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye, and brain coordination in playing these games [...] watch a 12 year old take evasive action and score multiple hits while playing space invaders and you will appreciate the skills of tomorrow’s pilots.”

32 years later, video games have made great leaps not just in terms of realistic graphics but also in their ability to challenge players with an unending supply of sophisticated problems to solve. Today’s video games offer a wide range of learning experiences for children, that goes way beyond preparing them for the high tech world of battle.  

Listen to the radio story:

We spoke to Greg Toppo, USA Today’s National Education and Demographics reporter about the role digital plays in schools today. In his new book, he argues that electronic games have been unfairly maligned for making children fat, violent and lazy, and that today’s video games can be one way of leveling the playing field. His book is called: The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter.In the book, Greg talks about game designer,  Lat Ware who is working on a game that he hopes will someday be prescribed by doctors to help treat children with ADHD. 

Watch a video of Lat's game: Throw Trucks With Your Mind:

Toppo also mentions others that are working with digital games to help children.

Bruce E. Wexler, M.D. is professor emeritus of psychiatry and senior research scientist at Yale School of Medicine and director of the Neurocognitive Research Laboratory at the Connecticut Mental Health Center.

He is working on a program called Activate™ which integrates cognitive software, physical exercise and cognitive assessments to treat kids with ADHD and other disorders. Early trials in school show promising results.

"In Brooklyn, an elementary school principal credited it with turning the school around. Students who got twenty-five or more sessions, he said, saw one year's worth of reading gains in three months."  

In Fairfax County, Virginia, more promising results from the more than 1,000 students participating, "including results from two urban schools where, for the first time, over half of the students saw their scores on standardized reading and math scores outpace those in the rest of the city." (Toppo 182)