Games are the undisputed queens of classroom fun, but they can also be exceptional tools for deep learning and thinking. The problem is, a lot of games that claim to be educational are little more than dressed-up quizzes that challenge students to recall facts, faster and faster. These games might hook students, but they don’t lean into what makes games great for learning. With this in mind, we've taken a look at the most popular websites for educational games to try to find those sites that support true game-based learning. We dug into each site's learning design, feedback loops, and supporting resources for learners and educators. We also kept an eye out for ads and overall look, feel, and ease of use.
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Robust collection of learning resources covers an impressive array of topics.
PBS KIDS is just simply on a different level from every other educational game site when it comes to pedagogy and game-based learning. There's a clear focus throughout PBS KIDS on thoughtful, game-based approaches to learning objectives across the curriculum (and often several subjects in one game!). Great educational games find ways to accomplish learning objectives through novel game mechanics. Bad educational games are basically digital worksheets. PBS KIDS is the former -- each game seems to have a new, unique spin on learning content that gives students agency and helps them be creative. There's also quality feedback that communicates to learners that getting something wrong isn't bad, but part of the journey. Finally, it's an easy sell; it's free and doesn't feature any ads or commercialization. It also scored really well on our privacy evaluation, making it a trustworthy product schools and families can turn to.
This extensive collection's videos and games break down ideas in clever and thoughtful ways.
BrainPOP does a great job of curating the best educational games from across the web alongside their own games. The third-party games come from some of the better developers and publishers of learning games, including a hefty dose of research labs as well as giants like iCivics. Teachers can browse the games by subject and even by those that make use of BrainPOP's novel SnapThought tool, which lets students screenshot their play and then annotate it for assessment. Note that BrainPOP Jr. also has a games section, but it's a lot less impressive and doesn't receive the same recommendation from us.
Other options (with caveats)
Maybe worth a look (with a paid upgrade)
Since the games rely a lot on drills they're more about quizzing than learning, but they could fill some gaps.
Outside of PBS KIDS and BrainPOP, there's not much we'd recommend without a lot of caveats, or in limited scenarios. Out of that bunch, Arcademics is probably the best option, but you'll need to pay for the features we think make it stand out. Arcademics has a wide variety of simplistic -- but also addictive -- games with a big focus on multiplayer. These aren't groundbreaking games, and we wouldn't even call them examples of game-based learning, but they do help students develop fluency with facts they've already learned. A paid account is a must, though, since it'll remove the annoying ads and also add progress-tracking and customizable content.
Paid, comprehensive math program
Great all-in-one solution for math support and practice, with solid adaptive tech.
We didn't consider DreamBox officially as part of this list, but it's worth mentioning. While everything else we looked at is a grab bag of sorts, DreamBox is a carefully thought out program. It's self-paced, so students work through interactives (rather than play games) and grow their skills over time. The program is designed to adapt as students struggle or succeed. So if you're looking less for one-off games and more sustained learning -- and you're willing to pay for it -- this is one worth checking out.
Compare the tools
|Price||Free||Free to try||Free, Paid||Free to try|
|Platforms||Web||Web||Web, Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch||Web, iPad|
|Pros||High-quality resources backed by strong learning design and attention to kids cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.||Cartoon videos and interactives make tough subjects easy to understand.||Fast-paced games correlate to Common Core standards. Teachers can customize content.||Inquiry-based learning focuses on concepts rather than procedures.|
|Cons||So much variety can be overwhelming. Kids will likely need guidance to access specific resources.||The site's deeper, more collaborative learning activities could use more support.||The free version contains ads. The games offer simple skill practice vs. deep learning.||K–2 students may need support with the interface and games, at least initially.|
|Bottom Line||Robust collection of learning resources covers an impressive array of topics.||This extensive collection's videos and games break down ideas in clever and thoughtful ways.||Since the games rely a lot on drills they're more about quizzing than learning, but they could fill some gaps.||Great all-in-one solution for math support and practice, with solid adaptive tech.|
|Read our review||Read our review||Read our review||Read our review|
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