By Kate Thora

For the last several years, we’ve heard all about how limiting screen time is best, and that kids are losing out socially and emotionally because of the lack of interaction. If you’re a parent, you may feel that game time needs to be cut off if you want your child to succeed. But what if we told you that there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that kids can use video games to learn—and have fun while doing it? The secret is educational online games.

Educators and child development experts are now doubling down on screen time in place of some traditional instruction time. The key to making this work is selecting games and programs that not only engage children but that also can help them develop critical thinking skills and boost educational performance. Here are seven examples to choose from:

1. ABCYa.com

This is an exceptional website for school-aged children, offers a selection of games for preschoolers as well and is very easy to navigate. You can select a grade level and then browse through the different types of games—categories include letters, numbers, skills, thinking and even seasonal games that can help keep your kids entertained. While it is free to play, you can also go ad-free by paying for a subscription. Works great on both tablets and PCs.

2. FunBrain.com

FunBrain offers a wide variety of games and keeps going all the way to eighth grade (whereas many other sites cut off after fifth grade). It is free to play, but a bit heavy with advertisements. It lists each game with a grade-level, type, subject and skills that it addresses. It has a fantastic assortment of games, but you may need to help younger children get set up to avoid navigation problems.

3. PBSKids.org

Easy to navigate, and full of your kid’s favorite characters, PBSKids.org offers not only the academic basics but also devotes a section to social and emotional development. If you’re looking to help your preschooler learn about sharing, friendship and social behavior, this is a great place to help teach some of those “soft skills” your child will need throughout life.

4. Poptropica.com

This is a unique take on the educational website and one that mimics online gaming quite well. Children create a character, and then take it on quests and adventures throughout this fictional island world. While free-to-play, there is a membership that you can buy to unlock other features.

5. Kids.NationalGeographic.com

National Geographic has an excellent reputation for providing top-quality information and some very fascinating subject matter. This is a great option for exploring topics like animals, science, space, ocean life and world cultures, and it is best suited for school-aged children. It also contains videos, photography and other resources that are both educational and entertaining.

6. GameClassroom.com

Game Classroom has a variety of games for Kindergarten through fifth grade aligned with state standard curriculums. One of the best features of this site is that you can sort and filter the game based on skill types such as problem-solving games, reading games, fractions, etc. This makes it easy for parents and educators to find a game that coincides with what the student is working on at the time. Some of the games are linked out to other sites that may require membership to play.

7. Arcademics.com

Arcademics combines arcade-style games with educational concepts. Move your player forward or earn points by answering questions correctly. Just like real arcade games, it allows you to view leaderboards and compete against other players. It is an excellent site for practicing skills, though it doesn’t really get into instruction.

While all of these sites offer some good games for free, many of them also charge a premium for upgraded content and for tracking progress. It might be a good idea to try them all, then decide which ones, if any, you want to purchase a membership for.

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Kate Thora is a Senior Content Specialist for Uphours. Follow her on Twitter: @katethora1


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