You will find people everywhere saying that we should try to limit children’s screen time. For the most part, I agree with that, but, as long as your children have plenty of fresh air and exercise and other creative pastimes away from the screen, then a small amount of screen time can’t hurt them.
My children are nearly grown now, and the time they choose to spend on screens is their own choice, but when they were little I encouraged them to use screens, but, wherever possible to find something enriching to do on the screen instead of just staring at rubbish. I would frequently ask them to show me the stuff they were looking at, and we had lots of great family conversations centering around the things that they had found online and were interested in.
Over the last couple of years, all UK parents have had to homeschool to one extent or another, and screens have become essential for school work, and also to fill a bit more time, when outdoor play was limited by the pandemic. Parents have had to find things for their children to do in order to give them space to work, and it’s not surprising that some of that has involved playing games on large or small screens.
If you are trying to entertain/educate your children indoors a bit more over the next few months, wouldn’t it be great if you could find some games for them to play that also had some educational content.
I came across a suite of games on the website Culinary Schools the other day. They have put together a suite of over 150 online games which all focus around a theme of food and drink. Most of these games are similar to those you might find elsewhere, but they are all free to play on your phone or your tablet provided you have an internet connection
I had a quick browse through the list – many were just simple games that had just been altered to include food – Match 3 games, memory games, MahJongg games, paint by number games. You might find something among this lot to entertain you on your phone while you are waiting for the kids at one of their activities. The joy of these games over the app versions is that you don’t have to watch ads every few seconds and they are not constantly badgering you to make in-app purchases. The graphics might be a little bit more simple, but I very much enjoy an ad-free environment.
More than just a game
However, if you look through the list of games, you can find one or two, that although still fun, have got serious educational content as well.
For very small children there is a game called Can I Eat it? The character in the game holds up objects and you have to choose as soon as possible whether you can eat them or not. You get 15 seconds to get as many right answers as you can – one wrong move and you are out. I could see toddlers really enjoying playing that with mum, especially if they saw silly mummy trying to eat a stick or a bug, or throwing away a perfectly good apple.
For young school-aged children there are games that test the spelling of food names and also some simple mathematical concepts, and there are several games like Fast Food Combat, where players race to eat delicious fruits while avoiding eating foods that will make them sick or slow them down.
Here are some more games for school-aged children that look quite fun, although I haven’t tested them on that age group
Real World Lessons
Now that my children are a bit older, I was more drawn towards the section called Serving Eaters. According to the website, these games help students learn attention to detail, process repetition, and simulate what it would be like to serve orders out of the kitchen or work as a waiter or run a business in its entirety.
I looked at a couple of these games in more detail, and I think that many older children will enjoy them. Here are the ones that I tried.
You are a waiter in a small restaurant. People come to the restaurant and you have to seat them at tables, take their orders, serve them food, take money and keep the tables clean for the next customer. As things progress, the speed gets faster and there are lots of things to do. Each day has a target – if you make it, you continue on seamlessly to the next day, if you miss it then the game ends, and you have to start back at the beginning.
This game is quite good as far as it goes, although the graphics are quite basic. I wasn’t able to take it beyond day 4, but I guess a younger person with quicker reflexes might be able to do better. On the positive side, the game goes quite quickly and is very absorbing for the short time you are playing. There are certainly lessons to be learned each time, and ways to improve, and, having worked as a waitress myself I think it does simulate the constant decision of what to do next when things get busy and start to pile up.
This is a very similar game to the last one, but with a few differences that I think make it a bit better. To start off with, the graphics are much more child-friendly – I think children would enjoy playing with the penguins much more than with the stick men of the previous game. The graphics are larger too which would make it more suitable to play on a phone.
You play a penguin waiter, who has to seat, serve and collect money from a variety of customers in a restaurant in each shift.
Each day you have an earnings target as above, but unlike the previous game, the play stops at the end of each day. If you have failed, you repeat that level, if you have passed you move on to the next one. So the game can in theory be unlimited, but you get regular breaks between the spells of activity.
I could see myself getting into this, and I’m sure my children would have liked it too when they were a bit younger.
Tap Supermarket puts you in charge of a supermarket. You have to restock the displays, check the customers out and keep the stockroom full, then add in new displays and staff members as and when you can afford them.
This is another game that teaches the concept of running a business, all the different things you have to balance, and decisions you have to make in the heat of the moment. When I first started playing I thought the concept was really good.
For me what this game lacked was a definitive endpoint or targets, nor any penalties for failing. After a while, on my first playthrough, I got to the point where I had all of the new displays that were possible was restocking adequately and the business was making money at a fast rate, but I couldn’t see any further challenges to it nor any endpoint.
So, it is good as far as it goes but I’d like to see more.
This was my absolute favourite of the games that I tested, and one which I will probably keep playing and will be recommending to others. You play the proprietor of a coffee stand. The game lasts for fourteen “days” and at the end, you have to see how much profit you can make.
At the beginning of each day, you have to buy stock of coffee, milk, sugar, and cups. You choose the proportions of each ingredient to put in your coffee recipe and how much you want to charge for it. Each day you get a weather forecast and you are told that if it is colder people will want more coffee and will be prepared to pay more for it.
Once you are set up for the day you press play and watch an animation of the day, which shows all the people who pass by. You can see their reactions before they buy (it’s too hot for coffee, or the weather is nice, the price is right, or the price is too expensive) and their reactions after they buy (it was too expensive or the right price, it needs more coffee, milk, sugar, or the recipe was right). Based on what you see and the forecast for the next day you can tweak your price, tweak your recipe and restock based on what you think you might sell. When you start getting it right you build a reputation, and then more people come to the stand just because they have heard it is good.
I’ve played this game through around six times now and I’m definitely going to keep at it. Each game takes about 20-25 minutes – one minute each for the daily animations, plus the length of time it takes you to make the decisions for each day. There is a lit to think about, a lot of different things you can tweak each day, and good feedback from the screen to give you clues what to do.
In the first run-through I ended up with about $2 at the end, but I have done better than that since and my top score was $182.70 at the end of Day 14. I am definitely motivated to do better than that though and I will be sharing this game with my family to see if they can beat me.
If you are starting out I would recommend playing on a large screen first just to understand what and where everything is, as some bits, like the weather forecast, are hard to see on a phone, but once you know what you are looking for it plays really well on a phone too.
Al things considered, I really like the variety of games offered by Culinary Schools. I think there are some great educational experiences to be had within this set of games and some good fun too. I like the fact that the games are free to use, ad-free and with no in-app purchases.
My own opinion is that there are times and places for children to have limited screen use and if you can find something educational, age-appropriate and fun for them to do, then a screen can be positively beneficial to pass the time in certain circumstances