I have spent some time in the past weeks playing various educational games to get a feel for how they are designed, and hopefully come away with some ideas about how to design games aimed at young children.
I have mainly spent my time looking around the BBCs selection of learning resources and games. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/games/ they seem to be one of the best places to go for free educational games and are generally used by schools all over the country.
All of these games look extremely simple in design. They are not very graphical, and have no complexity about them, however they still manage to captivate children and help them learn their chosen subjects without them feeling as if they are doing hard work. Every part of the game is interactive, if there are words involved the game does not ask the children to type them out, it provides an interface which allows for drag and drop, or clicking various pictures which represent the words. This allows the children to feel as if they are playing a normal game, the interactivity keeps their mind stimulated and avoids the tedium of typing long sentences or simply writing in answers like they would do if they were working on questions on paper.
Reward also seems to be a big part of the games. If the player gets something correct, they are usually treated to an animation, or one of the game’s characters popping up and giving them simple words of praise which encourages them to continue playing, as well as making them feel good for learning and figuring out the correct answer. If the player gets the wrong answer, the game generally does not respond more than just making the clicked object flash and allowing the player to try again indefinitely. While it is possible that nothing will be learned since you could just press every answer without thinking until you get the correct answer and move on, it also makes the games less demanding, and aggressive.
From this research I have gathered that my game does not have to be extremely graphical to create emersion and provide reward. These current games manage to do that in different and arguably more effective ways, which would be more suited to me as I am not a very good artist.