More than 800,000 Kids Learn Ag from Video Games

To understand agriculture, you have to learn about math, science, geography, weather – a little bit of everything.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

For the past two years, the American Farm Bureau Foundation has given teachers and parents another tool to help young people learn about agriculture. The program My American Farm now has 19 video games that teach kids about arithmetic, nutrition, conservation and world cultures.

“We try to keep it lively, not dumbed down in any way, but appropriate for different ages,” said Julie Tesch, the executive director of the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. The foundation has been around since 1967 and launched the games in 2011; Dupont Pioneer is the largest sponsor, giving $500,000 to the effort over the past three years.

The games challenge kids’ brains, but are fun enough to keep them engrossed. More and more kids play each year; in 2013, the number of players rose to nearly 818,000.

Over the holidays, Tesch allowed her first-grader niece to play the games on her tablet. She was engrossed in playing and learning new skills.

“After a while, she said, ‘I can count by 5’s now. I’m ready to learn something else,'” Tesch said.

The foundation comes out with a few new games each year, more if sponsors help pay for them. One of the newest games is “Power Up,” a game sponsored by Colorado energy company Tri-State G&T. The game tells the story of a different fictional energy crisis in one of four regions of the U.S.; then, after explaining the natural resources in the region, the game asks the player to design an energy plan to save the day.

Tesch’s favorite game is “The Great Seed Search,” a spoof of “The Amazing Race” which sends kids flying around the world in search of adventure and knowledge about the local crops.

The foundation now offers five games on a tablet and would like to have more available in that format in the future.

For the first time this year, foundation representatives will hold a teacher training in Denver, Colo. , to explain how to best use the games as labs to reinforce what kids are learning in the classroom.

Since long before the foundation began to make video games, the group’s mission has been to collect and verify accurate agriculture teaching materials. It maintains a library, sells materials and selects a book of the to encourage teachers across the country to use it in the classroom. (This year’s title is “The Bee Man.”)

Along the way, the foundation finds a fun way to reach out to teachers and kids, and other groups are noticing.

“We are finding now that the games are getting used at state fairs and farm shows because they offer something for kids to touch and interact with,” Tesch said.

For instance, the game “Amazing Grains” presents math word problems using corn (and game show style music to make the player feel a sense of urgency to answer the question). Along with an “Amazing Grains” challenge, a fair might have a live demonstration to let kids shuck corn.

Visit the My American Farm games.