Game That Nourishes Kids’ Minds, Souls & Tummies!

free-rice-play-and-help.jpgLast fall I wrote about Food Force, an internet game you’d WANT your kids to play. Now, the same ingenious folks are at it again, this time with Free Rice, a new, quiz-style vocabulary builder that rewards correct answers with ten grains per bowl to feed hungry children, distributed by the U.N.’s World Food Programme.

Beth Kanter’s blog listed it as one of her many excellent picks for the Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s a fabulous free find to engage kids on multiple levels of giving and learning simultaneously. FreeRice begins with a mishmash of words at different levels of difficulty, using a 3:1 ratio, for advancing/retreating from your learning level to keep you at the ‘outer fringe” of your vocabulary. Brilliantly challenging.

My daughter became a little TOO eager to help out, carping, “10 grains? That’s not even a mouthful, we’ve gotta earn a lot more than that if we’re gonna feed anyone!”

At first, her logic made perfect sense to me, so I agreed to ‘team with her’ figuring I could ‘score high,’ and help her make a hefty contribution since I’m one of those life-long learners that looks forward to a ‘word a day’ feed from

We played until we earned 2000 grains, which was no small feat…and in retrospect, probably a parenting mistake. Why? Because we sorta ‘cheated’…

I was quickly humbled on the knowledge front, AND I think I fouled up by conveying the wrong message by ‘pooling resources’…because it translated to ‘game the system for a good cause.’

How do I know?

Later, when playing solo, she’d tabbed an online dictionary to be open at the same time to help her as the difficulty increased, so she could earn a full rice bowl.

Hmn. Put THAT in your ethical conundrum media hopper. It’s right up there with those Table Topics like, “Is it ever ok to lie or cheat?”

Admittedly, I didn’t click through the hows and whys of the site before playing, nor did I see the sister site so when she asked “If they have all that free rice to give, why can’t they just give it away right now?” I didn’t have the answer!

Ahem. Read the Free Rice FAQ, Amy…

Sure enough, there it is, bigger than Dallas.

freericebowl.jpg“FreeRice is not sitting on a pile of rice—you are earning it 10 grains at a time….When you play the game, ads appear on the bottom of your screen. The money generated by these ads is then used to buy the rice. So by playing, you generate the money that pays for the rice donated to hungry people.”

Oops. Ad revenue generator model, but clearly unobtrusive.

I should’ve known better, for the FAQ anticipated even more sophisticated players:

Q: “Couldn’t I just write a computer program to play all day and give a lot of rice that way?

A: “There are two problems with this. First, it overloads our servers so that real people can’t play and learn vocabulary. Second, without real people playing and eventually buying products, it is no longer cost-effective for companies to advertise. Without advertising, we cannot give any rice at all.”

My bad. Yikes am I ever feeling silly…

FreeRice appears to be a social entrepreneurial hybrid engine with the .com feeding the .org…much like Zoey’s Room, and our own initial business plan for Shaping Youth.

freerice-wherericegoes.gifFreeRice just launched last month, and has free banners if you want to add them to your own site or social media groups—(can’t wait ’til we have our new format ready for that!) They also have an option where you can remember your total and keep your own game going, or start fresh each round. This helps when you have multiple players on one computer at different levels (like kids, who are NOT fudging!) 😉

FreeRice surprised me a bit by the ad rev model because when Shaping Youth started getting pings from advertisers who ‘wanted in,’ I slammed up against some of my OWN ethical conundrums being a purist on the advertising front…

I wanted to ensure I could ‘cherry-pick’ like-minded orgs to keep a consistent brand message and centrist voice beholden to no one. (The WFP has aligned orgs and has handled this well, so I should probably check in with them on the how-tos here, since I’m still messing with our model for sustainability, after shifting our nonprofit’s hybrid game plan.)

My goal for Shaping Youth?

Global free-sharing via Creative Commons, using their tiered resources…

creative-commons.pngI’m a huge open source fan, and REALLY want to offer ALL of our Shaping Youth media literacy games and life skills FREE via digital download to ANYONE (parent, youth group, after school program, YMCA, slumber party, teacher whoever wants to play!)

That requires underwriting, grants, sponsorship, ad rev, a hybrid model, individual donors or all of the above…In short, we’re still primarily self-funded and working this out, so if any of you Web 2.0 content and syndication specialists want to troubleshoot the nuances and add your advice, your input is welcome…Ping me and I’ll fill you in!

free-rice-vertical.jpgMeanwhile, visit FreeRice to build your verbal skills, your child’s awareness of what’s going on in OTHER parts of the world, and add some meaning to this season of giving thanks. To learn more about hunger sites and aligned programs, here’s a link list of orgs doing fabulous work in this area.

AND…As the holiday media/marketing machine ramps up with commercialism, check out the Fair Trade Federation for global gift giving ideas, or ditch it in favor of this great idea from Steve Garfield (via Beth’s blog) to turn your Amazon wishlist into a charity hub of your favorites.

May not work for the kiddies quite as much, though you’d be surprised…

I have a middle-schooler ready to go after another 2000 grains of rice, and other games like this, as she seeks a Global Tribe to call her own.

(This one came my way via the youth at the EASE (un)conference, check them out, “Media & Action for Young Global Citizens”…I feel a story coming on!)



  1. Thanks for cruising by my blog! I loved your breakdown of the Free Rice site. Best of luck with your venture–I’ll post a link to your blog on my young adult literature site, Finding Wonderland (

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