Friday, 24 June 2011

Of video games & education. Yes, in the same sentence.

As some of you are aware, our oldest 2 children have special needs, and due to some unfortunate cracks in the education system Mr Light and I homeschool Simon, Alvin, and Theodore . Okay, so homeschooling Theodore is more like  letting him playing with alphabet blocks, but the concept is there. The reasons behind this decision were convoluted and various, but to say that we never thought we'd find ourselves in this position is an understatement. That I'm a homeschooling Mom right now is as much of a shock to me as to anyone. If you have any questions about why we homeschool, how we homeschool, and what on earth we could be possibly be thinking, feel free to fire away in the comments. But this post is about the role that Wizard101 has played in our homeschooling life.

And yes, it has played a role. A very helpful one at that. Who knew?

One of the unexpected benefits of homeschooling is that, while I certainly use a traditional elementary-style curriculum for all subjects, I can pull almost anything from my kid's lives into their school day and work it into their education. And at this age, anything that can grab a kid's attention and get them actually CARING about their education is a good thing. In our case, we started homeschooling at about the same time our family was introduced to Wizard101, and the result is that we frequently use concepts from Wizard101 to make lessons more interesting. Here's an worksheet we used for math recently.

(Age at the time of the child completing this worksheet : 5)

The main purpose of this worksheet was address an issue with word problems - these questions are intentionally verbose. Genereally speaking, word problems were a struggle for Alvin because he simply didn't care enough to read them thoroughly. But throw a little Wizard101 into the equation and suddenly his mind was able to focus and pay attention, because for once he actually wanted to. Aside from that - look at the concepts this game employs even at it's most basic levels. Percentages, ratios, subtraction, and all in such simplicity that even a five year old can understand them. More importantly, a 5 year old WANTS to understand them and is actually willing to work to do so.

Math concepts aside, by nature of their autism, Simon and Alvin struggle with social situations. They don't always know what's appropriate, what's polite, and what's expected. The game, especially within the confines of menu chat, has given them concrete social rules to play by. If you want something, you need to say please. If someone does something nice for you, you say thank you. Don't jump right into a conversation without even saying hi. You don't jump into someone else's space without asking first. (Note to KingsIsle - you added a 'Please may I join?' chat option, but not 'Please may I teleport?' option. That would be fantastic.) There are millions of little social rules that most people pick up on automatically, but that Simon and Alvin have struggled with. Now, though... well, check out this screenshot I took of a conversation Simon had with me on his wizard the other day (you may need to click to enlarge).

We've tried to teach these rules in the real world, but the boys didn't get the necessity of them until they tried to conquer life in the spiral. By practicing them in game and seeing first hand the benefit of being kind and polite, they've actually transferred those manners to real life. It's second nature for them now to follow up a please with a thank you, and to say you're welcome. They don't interrupt a conversation with their own random comments and requests... as much. Life in the spiral has impressed on them the lessons that were difficult to grasp in real life.

And then there's history. I can't tell you how the boy's eyes lit up when we read about Theseus and the minotaur in the labyrinth, or Odysseus and the Cyclops in the cave. Mythology in particular has come to life for them. It's given their imaginations a springboard to work from and they've been diving into the classics with a fervour I could NOT have imagined. They've even on occasion taking to acting out their favorites, just for fun.

Children with autism, playing pretend? For fun? This is HUGE. So huge, in fact, that their therapists had to see it for themselves before they would believe me.

In short, this game in moderation it's been an incredibly valuable tool in an educational aresenal. It's helped my kids ENJOY school, and drawn them into the learning experience that much more.

Next up - fractions! Oy.

And, because I couldn't let this post go by without mentioning it - Ravenwood Ball, tomorrow night at 6pm CST, in Ravenwood on Vampire Realm! WOOT! Bring on the par-tay!


  1. i have read lots of blogs. from well known to not. i have never commented. this, blog, deserves a comment. wow. as a mom, i understand how difficult it is to raise children, and to enrich their lives. to teach. it is wonderful to see how something, as simple as a game, could change a child, especially ones as special as yours, so much. my children go to a regular school. i have seen the changes with their reading since we discovered the game. you have fully taken grasp of the advantages of this and used it as a means for so much more. bravo. i have yet to read a more inspiring post.

  2. This post is beautiful. It's quite ironic, actually, because I was just listening to Christina IceDreamer talking about how the game has some very educational aspects. This game has also helped me as well. When I discovered it over two years ago, I was a depressed and suicidal teenager. However, by discovering the great people in this community, I've moved away from that mindset and have come to live a healthier life. I love hearing stories like this. I wish your children the best of luck!

    -Luke GoldHorn

  3. Amazing post! Simply amazing.
    Good luck with fractions; they really are the most fun, after all! ;D

  4. I love the post and see ya tomorrow I hope.

  5. I am not sure where to begin with a response to this. Just like Tatiana's comment above I agree that this blog deserves a lot of acknowledgement and a comment. (I found a link on the wizard101 facebook page to your blog by the way)
    It's so beautiful. As being a fellow wizard myself I knew it was more educational than most may think, and this just proves it even more.
    I applaud you! You have earned my respect and you now have gained a new follower.

    As for me- I am also a mother of an autistic child. She has taken great interest in wizard101 while watching over my shoulder, and has become quite a little co pilot. Maybe in the near future when she begins to read I will have another young wizard running around the Spiral.

    For now- I am very curious on how to homeschool.I have quite a few questions and also a very good reason for wanting to know a bit more of how you went about this. I am so confused and rather uneducated in the autism category- and honestly don't want to take the spotlight away from your brilliant blog..
    I know this may be wrong of me to ask- but is there a way you and I could get in contact?

    ~Sincerely yours,
    One very curious wizard

    Esme Moonsong

  6. What a great post. I love your children's names! (Having grown up with the Chipmunks). I stumbled upon your blob on facebook because it was featured on Wizard101. I dunno how the story went as to how they found your blog but I am certainly happy they decided to post it. I really love this game, it does have a great educational subset that I think really drew me into it.

    When you mentioned the Greek mythology stories that you have introduced them to, I think I can say without shame that I lit up too when I began playing the game and realizing the amount of stories they have introduced into this game. I am 24 and still feel like such a kid when I play this game. It makes me smile just thinking about and also thinking about how much it has enriched your children's lives. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours and hope that you find more great things from the game and from everyday life to teach you're amazing children. Thank you for posting this wonderful message for the world to see! <3

    -Sean Emeraldforge

  7. I hop you do more posting because i live this one

  8. For the record, mangopancake - these aren't my children's real names, lol. It's just how I refer to them online. I prefer to keep our real names & identities a little more guarded. :)

    Esme, I'll try to send you an email. If for some reason I can't reach you, feel free to email me at

  9. Sorry, that should read kath_light@hotmail.CA

  10. What a great post this is! I had never considered the possibilities that W101 could open up for autistic children... I'm a shy adult and i get many benefits from the game on a social level... I will definitely be sharing this posting with some of my friends that work with autistic children and adolescents...

    Very inspiring :)

  11. I think it is wonderful you have found a fun and creative way to home school your children! Knowing the internet and online interaction will be a large part of my little wizard's life, I have used Wizard101 to train her for that world. I never considered the additional educational value. Thank you very much for sharing :)

  12. I love your post! Wizard101 gives so many opportunities and you've used it to help your children and I think that's awesome! You're truly a super mom. :)

  13. I am an adult player but the nice thing is no one knows my age so I can be a kid like the rest, I play just like the rest. I really enjoy this game. I like the fact that only if the bad guy goes in the center of the magic battle circles which form do they even touch you, so most of the time, you are just using spells, compared to other MMO's who are right on you, right away. My husband is a keen gamer like me, he often says Hey come join LOTRO or similar but no, I like this one and for that type a game- its the only one I would for good long while. I like Nancy Drew games too- again I am older but my nieces like them too so I get to pass them on any they like them just as much as if new . This is a great game- One of my nephews has possible autism, he does have learning problems which are know of- maybe this could help him- his father is high functioning autistic.

  14. Thank you for showing the positive effects games like this can have when used carefully. In a time when we hear that games are turning our minds numb, you found a way to use it to your advantage to help your children. We have been playing as a family also to help our son learn to think about problem solving, rather than act in irrational manners. To examine the situation and look at all possibilities. Raising children is a challenge in itself. Home schooling adds another layer to that challenge. And then to have special needs, add again. Your an inspiration to any parent who has a child with any challenges.

  15. WOW! and WOW!
    Congrats on your ability to introduce the Real Life into the Wizard101 and to bring Wizard101 into the Real World.
    I am a Player on Wizard101 as well. All of mine has same name "William ThunderSword" on 6 Wizards. If I can ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to ask.
    I applaud you for your efforts and the very best That Life has to offer to you and your family.
    God Bless you and your Children!

  16. Enjoyed the post, and the vindication for playing (as a mom who was finally coerced to play and now loves it). Passed it on via facebook to a friend who has an autistic son. So glad to hear that you are a Christ-follower AND that your sons are not named after the Chipmunks...;p

  17. Here, here, Katherine! I'm right there with you. My boys are Aspergian home schoolers who, like your children, learn valuable math, reading, and social skills in Wizard 101. Love that you also see the educational value of the game. It's gratifying to know there's another wizarding/teaching mom out there.

    Happy Wizarding,

    Iridian Shadowweaver of Mooshu

  18. I found myself smiling as I read this post as I love playing wizard 101 (and had never thought of the educational benefits) and because I'm always amazed by anyone with such a huge commitment to their children. I have three girls whom I love dearly but I also like sending them off to be educated by someone else. I like to think that if I had to I'd step up and spend every minute being their teacher as well as their mum but the fact that I don't have to leaves me in awe of those that choose to. I'm so glad this was posted on my face book and just find it a shame that your children can't get the same common sense solution to learning from other educational services. Children will always learn better when it's something they're interested in, why it's this method used for autistic children with in schools? Keep up the fantastic work and all the best.

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  20. Katherine, this is truly amazing what you have done using W101 in your schooling of your children. I'm Babydoll77 on central and in game I have seen you around. I've got 7 wizards of my own and five more belong to either my husband or kids. You are an amazing woman, maybe we can catch each other in game sometime.

  21. Very nice! I don't homeschool, but me and my 3 kids play the game together and it does seem like you can learn a lot from the game that applies to the real world.

  22. At first, I did not know about all the educational benefits that Wizard101 had until i read this post. I am amazed that you could mesh a fun and intuitive game like this and school subjects together. I have heard from many people that autistic people learn best when they are captivated into something, and what more interesting than this? Your works will help many parents who just dont know how to control there autistic children or to just get there child interested into something as boring as math. Keep up the good work! :D
    Blaze SpellSong (myth 56)

  23. plz be my friend michael goldhammer

  24. i think this is incredible, and kudos to you for thinking of it. i recently finished my schooling via an online school due to my health. they did somethign similar, using games as both an incentive and inspiration. half of the students were there because they'd been expelled form too many schools, i was shocked to see the instant turnaround in them when games were introduced

    great job, keep it up