'PaRappa the Rapper' is a memory workout as well as a musical experience. Your kids won't even know they're learning as they practice memory and timing.
By contributor
updated 8/30/2007 7:48:28 PM ET 2007-08-30T23:48:28

After a summer of fun and games, it can be tough to get your kids ready for school. But no need to force your little ones to part with the video games yet: Brain-building titles can give your kids a kick start for the new school year.

Sure, educational games are probably about as popular with your kids as cleaning their rooms. But there are a few games for the handheld Sony PSPand Nintendo DSsystems that are so fun, your kids won’t even realize they’re learning. And with price tags ranging from $20 to $30, they’re easy on your wallet, too.

Midway’s “Hot Brain” ($29.99) is an exclusive PSP titlesure to spark the back-to-school fire in many kids. This rated-E game tests their brains in logic, mathematics, concentration, memory and language. Kids can challenge themselves, or play against up to three players head-to-head via a wireless connection. Only have one PSP? No problem. My son and I take turns seeing who can top the other. I almost always lose. 

Do your kids have problems with memory? Help is here — in the form of a rapping cartoon dog. Sony’s “PaRappa the Rapperpushes your child to remember sequences and timing of various lights and sounds — sort of like that old tabletop game “Simon.” If players are successful, they hear a rap and advance to the next level. If not, they’re given another try. Players that reach the final level are rewarded with an alternate ending and a bonus song. This is a memory workout as well as a musical experience. Rated E for everyone, this game retails for $29.99.

Take a test to see how much your brain weighs with 'Big Brain Academy.' Just be prepared to have your kids make fun of you.
Also on PSP: “Puzzle Challenge” from Crave Entertainment, which sells for $12.99.This simple game offers an assortment of easy crosswords and word-search puzzles that come in a variety of styles, themes and difficulty levels. They’re easy to pick up and will get your kids’ flabby brains in shape by Labor Day.

How about a thinker’s game? “Lemmings" is also another PSP title from Sony, it retails for $19.47. This game has players lead 100 lemmings through 120 levels. Each lemming is assigned certain skills, and the goal is to get them all to the end of the game. Different skills are offered for lemmings throughout the levels and levels are re-playable failed. Get all of the lemmings to the end of the game to win. The cool thing about this game is that it teaches kids that every action has certain reactions. Great for imparting the all-important lesson, “think before you act.” (I know adults that need this lesson too!)

On the Nintendo DS, my favorite pick is “Big BrainAcademy.” This title, which retails for $18.99, offers games in several different categories — compute, think, analyze, memorize and identify — and offers practice and test modes. The results don’t focus on right or wrong, but rather on the weight of your brain. Apparently, my brain weighs about half a pound, much to the amusement of my son. This game can be multiplayer courtesy of Wi-Fi and can accommodate up to eight players. Just be prepared to have your kids make fun of you when you mess up.

This next game was actually prescribed by a doctor. When my friend’s mother was in two car accidents in a short period of time, her doctor told her to play "Brain Age" as part of her therapy. “Brain Age," which also sells for $18.99, is great for training the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that orchestrates thoughts and actions. This title focuses mostly on reading skills and math, but if your kids like Sudoku, that’s on there too. The results are stored so you can monitor your progress over time. And seeing results can make learning that much more fun, right?

Going back to school can be a bummer and gearing kids up, a challenge. Easing your kids back into learning with video games is a great way to make the transition easier. And it’s a way to keep them ahead of the class throughout the school year.   

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