Nintendo Switch and learning and thinking differences: 6 things to know

As a toy expert (and occupational therapist for kids), I’m often asked about the popular video game system, Nintendo Switch. Is it good for the family? What about for kids who learn and think differently?

I’ve been reviewing Nintendo’s consoles and games for the last five years on an unpaid basis, and the Switch is one of my favorites.

It’s a versatile system that kids and families can play together. The Switch can connect to a television for traditional game play. It also has a screen and can be used as a portable, handheld gaming system. Finally, the Switch’s “Joy-Con” controllers have motion sensors for movement games.

As with any game system, there are concerns to watch out for. Kids, especially those with , often struggle with transitioning from task to task. They may resist when you ask them to turn the Switch off. That’s why it’s important for parents to schedule time for transitions, give warnings and use a timer to limit game play if needed.

I also recommend families have rules to manage screen time. Finally, parents need to monitor any online use (fortunately, the Switch’s parental controls are easy to learn how to use).

If you can manage these concerns, Nintendo Switch may be a good choice for your family. Here are six things to know about the system.

1. Nintendo Switch involves social gaming.

Parents often share worries with me about kids playing video games alone, which may not be good for kids who struggle with social skills. Nintendo Switch is different. The game system encourages group play.

If you own enough controllers, games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can have up to 12 people playing competitive games at the same time! Another popular game, Snipperclips, allows up to four players to work cooperatively as a team to solve puzzles. This group interaction can open the door for interaction and communication.

2. Social gaming can stimulate conversation skills.

Because of the social gaming involved with Nintendo Switch, playing could help improve conversation skills. Quiet kids will have to speak up to make sure they don’t miss their turn! And some games will require talking out problem-solving strategies as a team.

There’s also the shared conversation that comes from being a Nintendo fan. Many kids love discussing their favorite Super Mario characters, as well as secret tips and tricks in games. This shared interest can help spark social interaction with other kids at school.

3. Kids may want to read (to win).

Most Nintendo Switch games are intuitive and easy to learn to play, mainly through trial and error. However, kids who enjoy more complex games like Minecraft for Nintendo Switch or Splatoon 2 will encounter text phrases and captions that pop up while playing.

Younger kids may need help to figure these out. But don’t be surprised if you hear your child reading words out loud, without argument, while playing! Kids will want to read if it leads to a hidden feature, a secret move, or a tip to win.

4. Movement games help kids get energy out.

The Switch’s controllers attach to the wrist with a strap and easily fit in the palm of the hand. By following on-screen prompts, kids can play a variety of movement games.

For example, Just Dance gives kids the chance to move their arms and legs while grooving to popular music. Even if kids don’t dance perfectly, chances are they can still have fun and feel success. And movement breaks can help kids let out physical energy to stay focused for other tasks.

5. Kids can practice motor skills.

Kids who struggle with motor skills can be reluctant to try physical exercises to improve strength and coordination. The Switch offers a game-based way to encourage kids to practice these skills.

For example, the game 1-2 Switch lets two players compete by acting out simple virtual activities. Using the controllers, kids can win by milking a cow, shaking a bottle of soda, or rocking out to an imaginary air guitar.

No video game system will fix a specific motor skill deficit. But the Switch’s controllers can create experiences that help kids practice their fine and gross motor skills.

6. The system is portable, which can help with parent monitoring.

One final benefit of Nintendo Switch is that, unlike most video game consoles, it can be played anywhere. The console itself is portable. It can easily be packed in a backpack or purse for family events and holiday gatherings. You can set the Switch up in the backyard or at the kitchen table, so you can monitor game play, even if your child is playing alone.

Get more insights on games. Read about Minecraft and executive function. And read an expert’s take on Pokémon GO and kids with ADHD.

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