Common Sense

TOP PICKS | 33 TOOLS

Best Summer Learning Games

Anything remotely school-related is a total summer-break bummer. But that doesn't mean the learning has to stop. This list of the best summer learning games has titles that are just as engrossing as other at-home games but come with the added bonus of being teacher-approved. These games have what makes games great (player agency, just-one-more-turn gameplay, and challenging scenarios) plus learning outcomes seamlessly blended into the experiences. The results are awesome, super-secret learning games kids will find fascinating.

Continue reading

Top Picks

RELATED

PrintPrint list

Busy Water

Solve, create, and share puzzles that gush with STEM learning

Bottom line: This challenging yet kid-friendly set of logic puzzles wonderfully allows kids to solve problems and experiment with light science concepts.

The Infinite Arcade by TinyBop

Simple game-design app has endless creative potential

Bottom line: Design, play, and improve your own arcade games.

Contraption Maker

Solve problems, puzzles, brain teasers while creating wacky machines

Bottom line: Hands-on problem-solving leads to great fun and independent learning with the right curricular wraparound to connect what kids are doing with what they need to know.

Bridge Constructor Portal

Engineering game is a blast to play, needs extensive teacher guidance

Bottom line: It's a solid game not designed for education, but in the right hands it could be a great hook for an engineering unit.

Minecraft

Spiraling sandbox of adventure and creation gets kids to dig deep

Bottom line: An irresistible and seemingly limitless incubator for 21st-century skills that, with a little guidance, can chart new courses for learning.

WordWhile: Casual Literary Fun

Clever fill-in-the-blank game playfully promotes literature

Bottom line: A different spin on reading the classics can engage students in the short term, but teachers should find ways to extend learning.

Adventure Time Game Wizard - Draw Your Own Adventure Time Games

Terrific option to teach basic game design in-app or on paper

Bottom line: A highly engaging hook, along with the ability to design games on paper, make this a great option for STEAM teachers.

Elegy for a Dead World

Compelling sci-fi world imagined -- and written -- by its players

Bottom line: With some teacher guidance, Elegy offers an opportunity unlike anything else to get students to write stories and stretch their creative muscles.

W.E.L.D.E.R. Swap

Mashup of Boggle and Candy Crush gets kids forming new words

Bottom line: Students, especially word geeks, will dig this strategic game, but it's unclear how much it'll impact learning.

Journey

Gorgeous, moving adventure -- a jewel of social and emotional learning

Bottom line: Journey is a must-play experience and a shining beacon of the good that games can do.

Never Alone: Ki Edition

Illuminating native Alaskan folktale supports SEL skills

Bottom line: A beautiful achievement developed in cooperation with indigenous folk that offers players valuable SEL skill building and a respectful window into Inupiat culture, ways of life, traditions, and stories.

Scribblenauts Unlimited

Stimulating and creative adventure helps kids grow their vocabularies

Bottom line: This game encourages kids to expand their vocabularies and practice spelling.

Construct 3

Ideal 2D game builder supports students to create, innovate

Bottom line: Limitless game options, reasonable cost, and extensive support make this programming environment perfect for an educational setting.

Epistory - Typing Chronicles

Practice typing by exploring and defending a world made of paper

Bottom line: Great for practicing touch-typing skills, this adventure game draws players in with a slowly revealed backstory.

FTL: Faster Than Light

Failure is frequent and fun in this strategic starship sim

Bottom line: This starship simulator isn’t easy, but gritty kids will learn from failure and practice systems thinking.

Hack 'n' Slash

Zelda-inspired puzzler lets players peek behind the code curtain

Bottom line: A great intro to variables and how algorithms work, this game would shine as a supplement to a larger unit on programming.

Human Resource Machine

Addictive, unique way to supplement coding instruction

Bottom line: A novel way to learn programming that will require student collaboration and extra adult support.

Papo & Yo

Powerful tale of alcoholism uses puzzles and metaphor to build empathy

Bottom line: A beautiful game that's sure to build students' empathy skills and provoke deep conversations about alcoholism and abuse as well as metaphor.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Brilliant, charming puzzler challenges kids' ELA and math skills

Bottom line: 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.

SimCity

Exciting city simulator great for online play

Bottom line: SimCity does a great job teaching kids about cities by putting them in control of designing them, but this game needs a constant Internet connection.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Heartfelt story-as-history-lesson humanizes World War I

Bottom line: Part history lesson, part action, part puzzler, all wrapped inside a sincere and emotional story that builds skills, historical knowledge, and empathy.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Unique cooperative adventure with lasting social and emotional impact

Bottom line: With good support, an extremely powerful game to build empathy.

GameMaker Studio 2

One of the best creation tools available for aspiring game developers

Bottom line: Provides teachers with the best choice for a full unit or class on game design, and gives students a tool to help them realize their game-making dreams.

Geocaching

Leave and locate hidden packages in a real-world treasure hunt

Bottom line: Kids learn problem-solving, teamwork, and mapping skills, but the site doesn’t provide instruction or explanations for most of those topics; educators will have to fill in the gaps.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

Best entry in classic strategy series might not be best for classrooms

Bottom line: As with all games in this series, Civilization VI is a great learning experience with the right support, but older, cheaper versions may be more practical for classrooms.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

Slow but alluring game uniquely depicts how folklore shaped America

Bottom line: While it's not perfect, it could serve as a nice complement to a unit on American folklore or as a way to inspire students to write their own tall tales.

Garry's Mod

Complex physics sandbox is daunting but rich

Bottom line: This physics sandbox ramps up the complexity but not the usability, leaving it up to the right teachers and students to unlock its benefits.

Political Animals

Charming political campaign sim mixes data analysis and civics

Bottom line: It's a highly entertaining and surprisingly deep way to help students see the strategy -- as well as ethical choices -- involved in elections.

Walden, a game

Thoughtfully designed game illuminates Thoreau's writing, philosophy

Bottom line: It's rare to be so moved and permanently transformed by a work of art; that this game manages to (re)create these experiences is a triumph.

Gone Home

Compelling narrative game fosters empathy, self-reflection

Bottom line: If you're searching for a unique way to analyze storytelling from a social and emotional angle, look no further.

Kerbal Space Program

Design and launch a rocket into space in realistic astrophysics sim

Bottom line: This accurate rocket sim encourages trial-and-error learning and makes for great (and often explosive) physics and engineering experiments.

This War of Mine

Strategy game offers superb, mature take on war and civilian survival

Bottom line: A stark portrayal of civilian life in a war-torn city that requires strategic thinking and invites repeated plays.

Everything

Philosophical game invites students to ponder everything's existence

Bottom line: Meaningful and humbling take on interconnectedness, but in that existential sort of way that's highly individual and potentially hit or miss.

Get tips for using these tools in the classroom

See related resources