Bringing the past to life: Video games for history and geography

5 Days of Video-Game learning series: Video games that teach about history and geography

The adults in our family do all of our work – and most of our recreation – via laptop and phone.

My 80-year-old mom keeps up with friends and reading via her iPad.

While we don’t have the latest and greatest video-game systems, technology and especially gaming are a huge part of our lives. Is it any surprise that they’re a major part of our teenage son’s homeschooling experience as well?

We’re not just talking the standard “educational games” here. We firmly believe learning happens all the time, and we’ve had chances to discuss all sorts of concepts in popular games like the Assassin’s Creed series, Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and more. We also believe in the value of apps for learning, in a traditional educational sense and beyond.

That’s why I took part in the iHomeschool Network’s “5 days of…” Hopscotch series with a look at 5 days of video-game learning.

Today, we’re talking about the ways modern technology is helping us learn about the past.

Video games for history and geography

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Let me just start out by saying I’m not a history buff. At. All. Ashar actually really enjoys history – everything from Native Americans to the Titanic to Elizabethan England. As we’ve delved into the topics that he’s most interested in, I admit, I was surprised to find him requesting some related video games. These were things he knew about, some from friends, some from public school, that I wasn’t familiar with.

  • Hidden Mysteries games – This series, for either PC, Wii or Nintendo DS, is in some ways comparable to my favorite Facebook time-waster, Hidden Chronicles, where you find objects in a whole bunch of different scenes. Except, guess what? THIS series comes complete with serious history facts, as well as some bonus logic puzzles that you really have to think to work through! We had gotten the Civil War and Buckingham Palace combo pack, I think at our library’s discount media sale, for something like a dollar. And Ashar loved them! He was telling me all about letters written from Antietam and how the Changing of the Guard works! For Christmas, he asked for and received another combo pack, this one featuring her favorite historical topic from the past year. It was a Titanic and White House set, again surprisingly fact-filled. There are some more in this series I’d like to pick up after trying these discs – Notre Dame and the Salem Witch Trials among them! I think they’d really spark Ashar’s interest, because he can and does play the others for more than an hour at a time!
  • The Oregon Trail – C’mon, you didn’t play this in the fourth grade obsessively, like I did, scrambling to earn computer time in class so you could sit on that ridiculous plastic chair and look at that boxy screen full of wagons and oxen?? OK, nostalgia time is over, but this truly is a great game straight out of history. Apparently now you can get various computer versions of this, as well as a 3DS and Wii version, and even apps for your phone. (There’s a whole list here.
  • More classics – The Amazon Trail and Galleons of Glory were two other titles I played, and that you can still find (especially if you’re tech-savvy; there are online emulators that work great for both.)
  • Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? – This is a “classic” that’s gotten new life both as a Facebook game and for more modern computer systems. An INCREDIBLE geography reference – you will learn where Myanmar is or was, where Burkina Faso is or was, and where a whole host of other neat-sounding world places are. And it’s actually fun – not “so educational” that your kids will roll their eyes at you. (I’m a little bit guilty of trying to go that route at times, and Ashar will tell you that “Math Circus is just math with ugly clowns.”) This one, he enjoys. Even though we have to look up almost every clue, we do it together and have a good time researching!
  • Age of Empires – I admit, I hadn’t thought of this one at first, because it wasn’t one I’d played a lot myself. But seeing this post on how one family uses it in their relaxed homeschool made us think we should give it a shot on Steam, and to see what else we might be able to find on there!

I’m sure there are more modern games that have a historical twist, too. These are the ones I’m most familiar with because they’re our style of game, but I know there’s some good stuff out there in the World War II realm! (And a couple of Ashar’s older friends love Red Dead Redemption; I don’t, particularly, but even that seems to have taught Ashar about the Wild West!)

Wikipedia even has what I think is pretty cool – a list of video games with historical settings. I wouldn’t suggest there’s a year’s worth of curriculum in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which is mentioned there, but some of them sound pretty intriguing!

The rest of the series

Sunday: Why “All my kids want to do is play video games!” isn’t such a bad thing (introduction)
Monday: Virtual friends, virtual art: Video games for social skills and creativity
Tuesday: Digital currency: Video games for math
Wednesday: Pixels and punctuation: Video games for writing and spelling
Today: Bringing the past to life: Video games for history and geography
Friday: Our fitness is pretty funny-looking: Video games for physical education

You can read all the posts here!

More five-day fun

This post is part of the iHomeschool network’s January 2013 “5 days of…” Hopscotch series.

You can see how some of my fellow bloggers are spending their five days here.

We’re sharing everything from tips and tricks for getting out of debt to using posterboard in your homeschool, from catapults to eating whole foods.

We sure are an eclectic group – I hope you’ll check out more!

And if you’re into the things we do in our family homeschool, check out my previous “5 days of…” series, 5 days of real-world math.

More great history resources

Unschool Rules: Part of the iHomeschool Network Massive Guide to Homeschooling HistoryThis post is part of the iHomeschool Network Massive Guide to Homeschooling History.

Make sure to check it out for tons of other great history resources, including links to a dozen more Unschool Rules posts!

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3 thoughts on “Bringing the past to life: Video games for history and geography

  1. We were reading today about how Fort Riley got started as a service to people travelling the Oregon and Santa-Fe trails. 7 year old says: “Oregon trail – haven’t I heard of that before?” 12 year old: “Yah, you know it’s that funky game mom had on our old computer.” LOL – I had a whole bunch of old DOS games that would play on Windows 98 on our old Gateway computer and Oregon Trail was one of their favorites.

  2. I bet you tried to ford the river!! LOL. We were just talking about Civilization last night (both the board game and the computer game.) I don’t know too much about Age of Empires but will definitely check it out!

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