Friday, February 15, 2019

Gamification: A Cool Way for Children to Learn by Roxie Munro

Today author Roxie Munro discusses gamification--one technique for infusing fun into nonfiction for kids. Thanks for your contribution, Roxie.

“Life is more fun when you play games,” Roald Dahl once wrote.

Teachers who play are more likely to bring joy into their classrooms, according to a recent study. Learning at its best already has game-like elements that are latent and waiting to be unlocked. Great teachers offer the kind of interactive, discovery-based learning that works so well. For their students, learning already starts to look a lot like a game.

Nonfiction print books aren’t often thought of as being interactive, or using games, but they are and they do. Some authors and illustrators “gamify” nonfiction, making it a fun new way of looking at the subject. The author wraps the content around a concept or a construct, using clever devices to engage children, keep them interested, and impart information in creative ways: lift-the-flap/paper-engineered books, mazes, guessing games, inside-outside concepts, search-n-find, ABCs and counting, puzzles, matching games, hidden objects, and more.

Steve Jenkins (often with Robin Page) makes beautifully designed books using game elements, including What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?, Who Am I?: An Animal Guessing Game, and Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics. Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg by Mia Posada is a guessing game too.

For books on math, numbers, and counting, look at How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti illustrated by Yancey Labat and How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz, pictures by Steven Kellogg. Laurie Ann Thompson and Ammi-Joan Paquette’s Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive urges kids to tell fakes from facts, and the classic forever-in-print Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb, recently reissued and revised, often uses play to teach.

My first series of books used inside-outside concepts to inform kids about cities and places (Inside-Outside New York City, Washington DC, London, Paris, Texas, and libraries). Then I started doing maze books about real things. In Mazeways: A to Z, the alphabet letter forms a maze … A for Airport (ever been to Heathrow or JFK? They really ARE mazes!), H for Highway, L for Library, R for Ranch, and so on—you’re playing, but also learning about how places work.

EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures uses mazes to explore and understand ecosystems and a finding/counting game to learn about which animals live in the habitats. In Market Maze children see where food comes from and how it arrives at their town greenmarkets.

My lift-the-flap books include Rodeo (the action and rules of the sport), Circus (various acts in motion), Go! Go! Go! (about transportation), and Doors (learn about the space station, a doctor's office, a mechanic's garage, behind-the-scenes of a theater, a firehouse, and more).

Many of my books use a very visual Q&A format.
—In Hatch! an egg or a clutch of eggs is shown. Children try to guess what kind of bird it’s from.
—In Busy Builders children see the giant bug, and then turn the page to check out the unusual kind of structure it makes, and why.
Slithery Snakes presents close-up scaly skin patterns—along with fascinating facts—and encourages kids to figure out what kind of snake it’s from. —In Rodent Rascals, the game-like device is ever-increasing real-life size.
Masterpiece Mix has a seek-n-find game, with 37 famous paintings hidden in the finale.

This is all nonfiction content, structured to encourage play, learning, and engagement.

Many subjects lend themselves to game-like interactive formats. For learning about a person, an animal, a historical period, science, or a place, you can start with a question, and note fun facts that allow the reader to guess who or what you are discussing, before they get to the satisfying answer. Or in a more interactive way, readers can lift flaps, play matching games, find and count things, or solve a maze.  However, “games” have to be logically associated and integrated with the subject, not just put in gratuitously. They must immerse the young reader, not distract.

Engaging in games helps children with concentration, setting goals, problem-solving, collaboration (some allow multiple players), and perseverance. It also gives them an opportunity to celebrate achievement.

Many games (mazes in particular) help children with decision-making and critical thinking skills. Young readers must think ahead and plan steps in advance. Mazes also teach alternate ways to solve problems and judge spatial relationships. They can even help children develop fine motor skills, which can improve their handwriting.

And they’re fun!

Roxie Munro is the author/illustrator of more than 40 nonfiction and concept children's books. Her books have received the New York Times Best Illustrated Award, Cook Prize Silver Medal for STEM, numerous Best of the Year lists (SLJ, Bank Street, Smithsonian, NCSS-CBC, NSTA-CBC, NCTE, more). Recent books include Rodent Rascals, Masterpiece Mix, and Market Maze. Roxie lectures in conferences, schools, libraries, and museums. She lives and works in New York City. Visit


  1. It makes learning an even more fun experience! Thanks for sharing, Roxie!

  2. Love these fun titles! And thanks for including our Two Truths and a Lie series! =D