Do you teach a class full of kids abuzz about the latest Minecraft mod, Fortnite skin, or Oculus game? Are you having trouble following this classroom chatter? Or unsure how to steer students back towards your lesson plan? VR games for kids just might be your saving grace.
Virtual reality (VR) is essentially limitless, and so is VR’s educational potential. Donning a virtual reality headset allows individuals to immerse themselves in the metaverse, essentially a 3D iteration of the internet. Just as the internet has become a priceless educational resource, so will the metaverse if educators choose to get on board.
Gen Z and Gen Alpha are both groups that grew up in a tech-saturated world. For many in these generations, screens served as pacifiers and the internet was always just a part of life. This means that many young students are predisposed to dive into virtual reality.
Educators can play a critical role in introducing them to this tech in a safe, age-appropriate way. But before that, they’ll need to understand the basics.
Feel like you’re navigating the sea of kid-friendly VR with nothing but a smartphone and some loose goldfish in your pocket? We’ve been there.
Fear not, we made it to the other side and we’re here to offer some insight.
Are Kids VR Games Safe?
First, let’s talk about what makes VR age appropriate for kids. There are three things you should keep track of here: device, content, and screen time. While we’ll explore these dimensions of online safety from a VR perspective, note that they are very similar to screen safety on other devices for kids.
In other words, you’ve got this!
Kids VR Games: Headset or Tablet?
Let’s start with the most unfamiliar terrain: devices that connect users to the metaverse.
There are a few options here, but the newest and most high-profile is the virtual reality headset. Pictured above, headsets are devices that users wear over their eyes in a band around their head. However, these are not zero visibility gadgets. Many VR headsets include outward-facing cameras, allowing users to delineate safe play area limits (free of Legos, end tables, and other trip hazards) before starting any fully immersive game.
During immersive play, games alert users if they step outside their predetermined play area boundaries, or guardian. This means that even young players can stay safe while mesmerized by a fully virtual world.
However, this does not mean that virtual reality headsets are appropriate for all ages. Currently, companies that sell headsets do not recommend them for players aged 12 and younger. Companies are erring on the safe side until more research comes in about kids, safety, and virtual reality.
Based on the minimal existing research, it seems that any health risks that VR poses to children are similar to what they may experience after using devices like a tablet (i.e. eye strain).
For younger children excited to dive into VR, the good news is that players can access the metaverse from a wide range of devices, including:
At Kai XR, we’ve even created Exploration Mode: a way for younger students to transform their tablet and experience VR. This means that we can even deliver virtual field trips for kindergarten and preschool students.
Kids VR Games: Content
When it comes to tech, the type of content children access is just as important as their physical health and safety while playing.
If you’re a parent, grandparent, educator, older sibling, babysitter, or anyone else responsible for kids on a regular basis, we’re betting you are quite adept at setting content settings on sites like Google, YouTube, Netflix, and even TikTok. The good news is that you can feel confident in transferring these skills to monitoring the virtual reality content kids are accessing.
There are two main pathways to regulating content:
- Choosing educator-approved VR games for kids (more on that below!)
- Monitoring live play
Our first suggestion is a no-brainer. The metaverse is far from a VR kid-proof utopia, since it caters to a diverse range of ages. However, there are specific virtual experiences and worlds that are aimed at a younger audience.
For example, at Kai XR we create virtual field trips specifically for young VR explorers. Our experiences are safe, ad-free, educator-approved, and also include specific age guidelines on each offering.
However, we also understand that–outside of the VR classroom–kids may want to access less regulated games. Adults can work with children to establish guidelines for what content is and is not age-appropriate. This communication can lay the groundwork for future online safety.
In this discussion, we suggest introducing to kids the idea that age-appropriate TV content is often different from age-appropriate virtual reality content. This is largely due to the hands-on nature of virtual reality.
For example, your household or classroom rules may permit kids to watch content with mild superhero violence. However, watching a superhero punch a villain is a lot different than embodying the superhero as she knocks out a villain in a simulated reality.
At the end of the day, every child’s unique perspective and disposition will affect how VR impacts them. While you should be sure to take this into account, you should also remember that virtual reality imitates actual, lived experiences, making it hard for the brain (especially young, impressionable brains) to perceive it as fantasy.
Beyond screening the games that children can access in the metaverse, responsible adults can also set up controls directly on the device.
Since virtual reality headsets are relatively new, available parental controls aren’t as stringent as what’s available on smartphones and tablets.
However, there are a couple of easy workarounds. A great first step is having children cast (essentially, screenshare) their gameplay onto a central TV or desktop. While educators and guardians may not be able to stop what they’re doing and monitor their children every time they don a headset, casting real-time gameplay can keep children accountable to sticking to age-appropriate features. It can also help trusted adults monitor whether chat and audio features are suitable for kids.
If you decide that chat and audio are not suitable for kids, best practice is to remind them to disable these features on each game before playing. Making sure you discuss this with the children whose devices you are monitoring will help them:
- Feel that they still have some autonomy
- Develop skills that set them up for long-term metaverse safety and success
- Explain to you how the metaverse games they play work
For example, when you discuss removing chats on all virtual reality games, children may push back. Rather than shutting them down, figure out why. You may discover that a chat feature is integral to a fully kid-friendly game and that, as long as children can retain this chat, they are fine foregoing chat features on other virtual worlds.
We will note here that if you are working to keep a child’s personal virtual reality headset safe, regular check-ins are good practice, since guardian controls are still a work in progress on most of these devices.
When it comes to classroom devices, requiring an administrator password to make any purchases is a great way to ensure that students can only access pre-approved virtual reality environments. Educators can work with their school’s IT or tech personnel to set this up.
Kids VR Games: Ads and Privacy
The best VR games for kids understand their audience and take safety seriously. This means that beyond providing age-appropriate content, developers commit to keeping games ad-free and are fully transparent about how personal data is used.
The truth of the matter is that many platforms that kids access use their data to deliver personalized ads. In a mediascape where even adults have trouble parsing valuable content from ads, it’s no wonder that many parents are in favor of removing all advertisements in content marketed to children.
In 2021, Common Sense Media made policy recommendations for VR developers and platforms. They include:
- Clearly explain privacy notices including how VR-devices collect and/or use biometric data
- Ban advertising to children and adolescents based on behavioral data collected in VR experiences
- Do not use VR to make assumptions that could be used to discriminate against or harm VR users
- Enforce and extend restrictions on data collection and use
- Reduce manipulation-potential of VR experiences
- Find pathways for protecting virtual identities
If you align with Common Sense’s recommendations, then you’ll be happy to hear that all of our offerings at Kai XR are 100% ad free.
Our virtual field trips are filled to the brim with impactful, engaging content, not marketing materials.
Kids VR Games: Screen Time
Finally, even the best VR games for kids should only be enjoyed in doses.
Many children may be accustomed to playing a classic video game or watching a movie for hours at a time. This habit can continue with reasonable safety on virtual reality games accessed through a tablet, laptop, or smartphone. However, fully immersive VR is a different story.
At Kai XR, we recommend that children who play in fully immersive VR environments do so for no more than 15 minutes at a time. This helps to prevent any possible physical side effects before they happen. In the same way you’d advise a kid not to read in a dim room to prevent eye strain, you will also want to tell them to keep VR screen time to a minimum to avoid dizziness or other mild side effects.
We are committed to delivering mindful screen time as painlessly as possible. That’s why none of our virtual field trips run for more than 15 minutes, and most are much shorter than that.
This means that our VR games for kids have a natural stopping point before screen time limits are reached. Shorter run times are also conducive to full-class involvement, even when VR headsets are limited.
The Best Kid-Friendly VR Games: Educators’ Perspectives
Now that we’ve covered the safety basics, it’s on to the fun stuff about how VR games for kids can become a useful educational tool.
There is a growing body of research on media use’s effects on kids. You may be surprised to learn that many studies find positive relationships between kids and media.
In 2019, the Society for Research in Child Development published a report reviewing the existing literature on the interplay between children’s cognitive development and digital games. Notable studies found that:
- Educational TV programming for preschoolers is associated with academic achievement in math, English, and science
- Some video games are associated with improvement in young adults’ motor, perceptual, and cognitive skills
- Digital games can be associated with bolstered executive functioning, metacognition, math skills, and problem solving abilities in middle childhood and adolescence
Whether or not you’ve read the research, it’s a good bet that you know of an educator who incorporates digital games into their classroom. Nearly a decade ago, in 2013, 74% of teachers reported using digital games in the classrooms. In the wake of mass remote learning, this number is undoubtedly higher. Plus, the metaverse provides even more digital possibilities.
- Two separate studies found that individuals learned more about human anatomy through 3D images in immersive virtual reality than they did through traditional study
- One study on engineering and architecture students found that individuals who supplemented learning with an immersive virtual reality experience scored better on tests than they had before immersive learning
- Studies found that students who learned about software engineering in an immersive virtual experience eventually outperformed students who did not
Basically, virtual reality and education can work together to produce amazing learning outcomes.
But how can educators and homeschool groups get involved? VR games for kids are a great way to get started. We’ll drop some tips below.
Kid Friendly VR Games for the Classroom
Familiar video games can be a great introduction point for VR in the classroom. Minecraft is a big one. Students who are already fans of the game should be able to translate their existing skills to a virtual environment with relative ease.
In Minecraft, math educators can have students explore geometry concepts and social studies educators can have students build models of historical sites. In other words, Minecraft’s flexibility means that it’s adaptable for all sorts of classrooms and subjects.
While entertainment-focused games like Minecraft can have educational applications, we still highly recommend sourcing virtual games for kids from high-quality, educator-backed orgs. We pride ourselves on being an innovative member of this group.
Kai XR was founded by an educator who saw how the technological gap in her classroom affected learning potential. She decided to tackle the problem head on by creating 360º virtual field trips for her students, and Kai XR was born.
We help classrooms access cutting-edge tech, allowing them to show their students the world despite resource and time constraints educators know all too well. Our content prioritizes inclusivity and prepares students to be productive global leaders and citizens.
Classrooms, homeschool groups, and families can access our virtual field trips and games. On our platform, students can:
- Shadow astronauts training for missions in NASA’s neutral buoyancy lab
- Travel through baseball legend history at the Negro League Museum in Missouri
- See the Obama portraits with artist Amy Sherald
- Hear from children just like them who are living in a refugee camp in Jordan
- Go behind the scenes on Broadway’s Lion King Musical
- Learn about the process of making a movie
- Enjoy a dance party with their favorite cartoon characters
We offer a range of VR offerings so that educators have a resource for fun classroom breaks, discussion-generating experiences, impactful lessons, and everything in between.
We also have a Makerspace in the works, because we believe children should receive the training and tools necessary to create content, not just consume it.
Get Kai XR’s Kid VR Games Today
Ready to usher your classroom even further into the digital age with kid-friendly VR games? You can sign up for Kai XR today.
We offer pricing for groups of all shapes and sizes, and our plans come equipped with:
- Professional development for educators
- Metaverse curriculum and lesson plans
- 24/7 customer support
Check out our other blog posts:
- Black History Month Activities: Virtual Reality Activities for Students
- Black History Month for Kids: Learn with Virtual Field Trips
Featured Image: Pexels