On the Episode #7 of GeekSLP TV recorded in 2010, I talked about my favorite computer game for promoting language skills: The Sims. Since then, EA Games has released the iPad version of the game called Sims Free Play. I have played the game a few times, and despite the fact that it is not even close to as flexible and powerful as the computer version, the Sims Free Play can be one great game for promoting language skills and vocabulary. This app contains rich graphics without any real verbal language; this way therapists and parents can have the opportunity to elicit language at any time. Many goals, particularly verbs can be targeted in the context with a fully animated visual aid.
Clinicians who work in languages other than English can also switch the language on the game and work with the app.
My only pet peeve with the app is the fact that, since it is a free app you are constantly bugged to buy Simoleons (Simms money) in order to purchase furniture for the house. You can still earn money by completing tasks within the game, but when using this app with children you need to be aware of the constant buy-in app request.
Let’s go on to the specifics
Possible target objectives
- Vocabulary (During character building)
- Body Parts
- Clothing items
- Personality traits
- Vocabulary during activity
- Following directions
- Story telling
If this is the first time you play Sims on the iPad, you will be prompted to create your own characters. You get to give your character a name, pick the gender and the fun of creating the detailed features of your own person.
Selecting the personality trait of the Sim is one mini session within the character session. Allow the child to navigate through the personality options, they have 16 personality traits such as villain, rocker, crazy, spiritual, geek, etc… These personality traits can be a fantastic way for exploring new vocabulary. The sim will even have gestures that demonstrate each personality trait. As soon as I selected a personality trait (geek), my avatar started playing a video game. You can also select a rocker and watch the character play guitar.
As part of creating your Sim, there is so much opportunity for working on basic vocabulary such as colors, body parts, and clothing items. As well as the advanced vocabulary of personality traits I discussed earlier.
Once The Sims is created, you get to move them into their home with basic furniture.
The game play
Just like most games, The Sims starts with a basic set of furniture (vocabulary in context) such as a bed, refrigerator, a sink, TV, a couch. The game starts by giving some tasks that the user must complete in order to progress to higher levels, keep the character alive and happy and earn Simmoleons (following directions).
There are six areas that the user must maintain in order to keep their characters happy: hunger, hygiene, bladder, social skills, energy, and fun. Managing these areas can get challenging overtime, users need to plan their actions in a logical order to keep the happiness of their character (sequencing & planning). For example, as I played my character was both starving and tired I needed to make her eat first then sleep. Clinicians can guide children to make choices on the game by showing them to make inferences and predict possible scenarios such as ” eating takes only 5 minutes while sleeping takes 8 hours, which one should we do first to be able to accomplish our task? or “what would happen if she needs to both use the restroom and eat, which one should we do first?
These real life scenarios can be useful not only as a language-building tool but also for teaching children life skills.
As you direct the character to perform one specific action, such as eat, bathe, play with the dog, you get a full visual demonstration of verbs in context as a response of a command made by the user, in this case the child.
Purchasing furniture for your home
As the user earns Simoleons, you get to go shopping for furniture for your new home. Some furniture items as purely used as decoration, others are used for achieving a specific task. The house does not come with a microwave or cook top, you can buy one to cook better meals. You can also buy a computer, which will help your character get entertained or find a job.
Adding new characters to the game play
As you progress in the game, you are led to add a neighbor. This creates a whole new level of possibilities for targeting social skills. The characters get to interact and you get to make choices about which social engagement the characters will have, options such as “be nice” or “be funny” are available. Their friendship also progresses from strangers to acquaintances (vocabulary) to even a possible relationship. Social scenarios such as walking into a person’s home without knocking on the door can open a great social skills lesson. The possibilities for following directions and managing two characters at the same time can also be a great source for planning.
Growing into higher levels also means you will be adding a new context for practicing language skills! Let’s head to the boat party!
Overall, The Sims provides an interactive platform for clinicians or parents to engage in linguistic interactions with a child or a group of children. If you are looking to expand your Sims world to be more flexible, with even more available context, I would recommend checking out the computer versions of The Sims.