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Gaming for Children with Special Needs: What to Play?


Chances are, if you made it to, then you’re well aware of the benefits of gaming, including the development and reinforcement of various cognitive, literacy, and social skills. So the question is, what are you going to do in 2011 to enhance gaming services in your community? Our suggestion is  expanding these programs to a new audience, and there is none better than children with special needs.

For complete information on the how and why of gaming for children with special needs, see the article from the December 2010 issue of School Library Journal, “Rated E for Everyone”. Then come back and check out this list of game recommendations and get a program started for this frequently under-served audience!

Card & Board Games

  • ThinkFun Zingo is a fun, fast-moving matching game similar to Bingo in which players try to match up their picture card with tiles that are revealed by pulling on a Zinger. The first player to fill his or her picture card wins. This game is great because it accommodates 2 to 8 players, keeps kids engaged, teaches image and vocabulary recognition, reading, matching, memory, concentration, and encourages social skills such as taking turns, following rules, and sharing.
  • I Spy Memory Game is a memory game, for 1-6 players, with riddles just like the I Spy book series, which can be played three different ways to accommodate younger and older players. This game helps young players to develop memory, reading, thinking and language skills, as well as important social skills such as taking turns, following rules, and sharing. Kids that enjoy reading I Spy books and playing I Spy computer games will enjoy this board game, which has simple rules, is easy to set up, and can be completed fairly quickly.
  • Jenga is a stacking game consisting of wooden blocks that are big and easy to grab.  This interactive, engaging, and tactile game teaches kids the importance of strategy and concentration, while improving dexterity and coordination. Jenga is great because the rules are simple, a game can be set up and completed fairly quickly, and requires only 1 or more to play.
  • Pictionary Card Game is a fun, fast-moving card game that is played in teams as small as two, which combines the fun of Pictionary and Charades. Players race to act out the clues using only the simple images on the cards by combining them, building scenes with them or using them as props. This interactive game is great because no drawing is required, is easy to play, and improves concentration, while fostering imagination, creativity, thinking skills, teamwork and cooperation.
  • Sequence for Kids is a fun, fast-moving sequence game, similar to Bingo in some ways that preps kids for strategic thinking as they anticipate their opponents’ next move. This game is great because it only requires 2 to 4 players, fosters social skills such as taking turns, following rules, and sharing, and builds matching, pattern recognition, counting, and literacy skills.

Video Games

  • Wii Active Life Outdoor Challenge is a fitness game that will get kids up and moving, similar to Nintendo’s Wii Fit, in which players are actively engaged in a variety of 16 fun, energetic, fast-paced mini-games such as river rafting, mine-cart adventure, log jumping, see-saw, jump rope, water trampoline, and many more.  Using a specially-designed eight pad Active Life mat, this game will help kids will improve their overall fitness level, sense of balance and coordination, eye-hand coordination, literacy skills (reading on-screen directions), as well as foster teamwork, cooperation, and social skills such as taking turns and sharing. (ESRB Rating: E for Everyone)
  • Wii Boom Blox Bash Party is the exciting sequel to Wii Boom Blox that challenges the players’ reflexes, dexterity, and problem-solving skills. Like the original Boom Blox, players use the Wii Remote to direct objects and forces toward structures made of blocks in order to knock them over. The Jenga-like gameplay requires players to pull out blocks, with the goal of toppling over as many blocks as possible, without bringing down the entire structure, and like Jenga, kids will learn strategy skills, improve dexterity, and observe physics in action.  Wii Boom Blox Bash Party is great for all ages, is easy to play, and features quick games that foster teamwork, cooperation, and collaboration. (ESRB Rating: E for Everyone)
  • Wii Just Dance 2 is the energizing sequel to Just Dance, featuring 45 songs that can be used in four different dance modes to help kids improve their overall coordination and physical fitness levels, build teamwork and social skills such as sharing and taking turns, and work on memory, pattern recognition and following instructions.  Basically, players hold a Wiimote in their right hand, and copy dance moves presented by an animated dancer presented on the screen. Just Dance 2 is suitable for tweens and teens, but if you have a younger audience, you may also want the very recently released Just Dance Kids (ESRB Rating: E for Everyone), which will contain more age-appropriate songs and lyrics targeted toward a younger age group, which also helps kids work on similar skills as noted for Just Dance 2. (ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+)
  • Wii Party is an interactive and engaging kid-friendly party game featuring 13 different party game modes and 70+ mini-games, which provide kids with lots of variety that includes cooperative and competitive gameplay that turns over quickly to keep the game moving. This game helps kids improve their eye-hand coordination, builds literacy skills (like Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, players can read on-screen instructions for help), and social skills (taking turns and sharing with other players).  (ESRB Rating: E for Everyone)
  • Wii Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party is the third Wii game in UBI Soft’s popular Rayman Raving Rabbids series, and features 60+ fun, quick minigames. The “rabbids” are bunny-like creatures who communicate by screaming and occasionally hitting each other with any object that comes into their hands. The rabbids have taken over the TV stations, broadcasting a series of nonsense shows in an effort to drive Rayman crazy. Players will discover new and innovative ways to play with eight types of gameplay, which will help them improve their sense of precision, dexterity, balance, and coordination, and reading written instructions to complete the mini-games will help kids improve their literacy skills. This game also fosters teamwork, cooperation, and social skills as kids practice taking turns and sharing.  (ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+)
    Game reviews by Peggy Wong, Children’s Services Librarian, Piscataway Public Library
    pwong AT lmxac DOT org
Retro gaming display at Piscataway Public Library

Retro Gaming is Fun for the Whole Family


Retro gaming display at Piscataway Public Library

Retro Gaming events are great for public libraries. This program is fun, loud, and active. It presents an opportunity for everyone to connect through a shared interest. Mom is showing kids the Atari 2600 she played in the late 70s, teens are showing dad their favorites games on by-gone consoles. Everyone is interacting, engaging, and learning. Nostalgia abounds!

And a simple display can accomplish much of the same magic. Identify people in your community who have retro consoles or games and provide a secure area for them to display their treasures in the library. Between the consoles and controllers and games and artwork, these displays are highly engaging, and the conversations that result are priceless.

Public libraries are about connecting people and ideas, and the opportunities presented by retro gaming are endless.

Sky Blue at Piscataway Public Library World Cup Event 014

World Cup Programming in Libraries is a Win for the Whole Community


Sky Blue FC player looks on with Piscataway-area kids during the 2010 FIFA World Cup US-Algeria game on June 23.

On June 23, the Piscataway Public Library was cloaked in silence. Not the regular kind of library-silence. Silence, as people sat on the edge of their seats, hoping and praying. The silence suddenly erupted into yelling, clapping, and cheering. The U.S. had just scored a goal in the 91st minute to gain a victory that sent them into the next round of play in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. But as far as I was concerned, the real win was for the community of Piscataway.

Coordinated by the director, James Keehbler, the Library hosted its first ever World Cup event. At around 9:30 am, I stood in the back of a room packed full of 60 plus jersey-clad people of all ages. The far end of the room featured a large movie theatre style screen displaying ESPN. There was a buzz of excitement in the air that this building just wasn’t quite accustomed to. Was I really in a public library?

In addition to screening the all-important group C match, the Library also arranged for the local women’s professional soccer team Sky Blue FC to join in the fun. Sitting with kids from the community, the team watched the drama unfold, and signed autographs for fans during halftime. During the break in play, I watched a young girl wearing an “O’Reilly” jersey talk to none other than Heather O’Reilly (two-time Olympic gold medalist and member of Sky Blue FC) and the full impact of this event really hit me. I don’t know what they were saying to each other, but I had a feeling the young soccer fan would not forget this day any time soon.

Piscataway is an incredibly diverse community, and the demographics have changed considerably in recent years. The room was packed with people young and old, and reflected a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. But on June 23, none of that seemed to matter. For one magical morning, regardless of where we were born, or what language we spoke at home, the only country on our mind was the United States of America.

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