10 Engaging Games for Summer Learning

July 11, 2014
Ellen Holderman
Common Sense Education

CATEGORIES Out-of-School Learning, Tools

For this week's Top Picks List Friday, we're featuring games for summer learning. Anything remotely school-related is a total summer-break bummer. But that doesn't mean the learning has to stop. Kids are sure to become engrossed in these great at-home games that are also teacher-approved.

To see the rating of each app, game, or website, visit the Top Picks List, Ultra-absorbing Games for Undercover Summer Learning.


Kerbal Space Program
In Kerbal Space Program, students set goals, build rockets, evaluate mission results, change designs, and then try again. The game offers a solid simulation of astrodynamics and physics, and students who take the time to observe flight readouts and toy with the ship’s trajectory will learn fundamentals of rocket science and realistic modern-day space flight. Read full review.

Garry's Mod
Garry's Mod (GMod) is a physics sandbox stuffed with art and models from Valve software's popular games, including Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike. With a large library of generic objects, recognizable props from Valve's games, and pre-built devices like thrusters and wheels, users can build and share nearly anything they can imagine. Read full review.

LittleBigPlanet 2
LittleBigPlanet 2 (LBP2), the second game in the series, is just like its predecessor, but it brings new features, more tools, and additional templates to make a bunch of new games, including shooters, RPGs, racing, and puzzlers. It also adds a more user-friendly interface and free access to all the content from the first game. Read full review.

Portal 2 Puzzle Maker
Portal 2 Puzzle Maker is a game design and learning tool that allows educators and students to create test chambers -- or puzzle levels -- in Portal 2, a hugely popular and influential first-person physics puzzler with a great sense of humor and mind-bending challenges. Read full review.

SimCity is an always-online, fast-paced, intuitive, and forgiving city simulator that lets kids build (and destroy) single-player cities in multiplayer regions. Kids playing together in the same region can develop their cities into specialized economic powerhouses that cooperate on great works to benefit the whole region. Read full review.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Professor Layton carries a winning story and a wide variety of challenging and rewarding puzzles to engage different thinkers. It's on Nintendo DS, so it's not easy to weave into a classroom, but it's worth it, bridging ELA and math in complex puzzles guaranteed to absorb students. Read full review.

Sid Meier's Civilization V
Civilization V is the latest entry in the historic Civilization franchise, the premier turn-based strategy series. Players expand and grow civilizations through time, pursuing historically based -- but ultimately fictionalized -- scientific, political, and societal advances as they explore the world, stake their claims, and build their cultures and cities. Read full review.

Sound Shapes
Sound Shapes is a visually stunning platform puzzle game set to a rich musical soundscape that evolves as players interact with the environment. Players navigate a blob character through various obstacles and challenges, completing "albums" of levels and unlocking new sounds and shapes that can be used to create their own levels. Read full review.

Geocaching serves as a home base for an ongoing user-supported, real-world treasure hunt. Using a GPS system, smartphone, maps, and other instruments, users try to find hidden containers (geocaches, or just caches) other users have left in locations around the world. Read full review.

Minecraft is a sandbox game that rewards players for collecting and combining resources into new, useful items that enrich gameplay and help further exploration and creativity. An irresistible and seemingly limitless incubator for 21st-century skills, it's a game that, with a little guidance, can chart new courses for learning. Read full review.

Photo by Amanda Tipton.

What are some games your students are highly engaged with? Why do you think they become absorbed in certain games versus others? Sign in to comment below.