The Best Educational Board Games for Kids and Families

The Best Educational Board Games for Kids and Families

Experts say board games can boost a slew of skills that help kids do better in school. And playing them as a family just ups the benefits—and the fun factor.

Games are great for kids for different reasons at different ages. For preschoolers, they’re a fun way to learn how to “follow rules, focus, take turns and defer gratification, which helps with self-regulation, the basis of problem-solving and thinking creatively,” explains Peter J. Pizzolongo, the senior director of professional development at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Board games also get bonus points for bringing families together (especially if family dinners are rare) and for luring kids away from addictive video games. And all kids get lessons in decision-making (“Should I buy Boardwalk or save my money?”), consequences (“Ooops—no more cash!”) and strategic thinking (“If I swap two railroads for Boardwalk, I can start buying houses”).” For ideas on what to play, read on for the games that get the highest marks from experts.

Uno

The card game Uno is for two or more players and can be aged up (the original, with words, numbers and colors) or down (with Thomas the Tank Engine or Disney Princess characters), says Shannon Eis, a play and development expert and mom of two. It’s good for preschoolers to about age 8 or 9.

How you play it: Shuffle the deck of 108 cards and deal seven to each player. Put the rest of the cards in a pile, and turn one over. The card that’s face up is the start of the discard pile; the larger one is the pile you draw cards from. Each person must put down a card that’s either the same number or color as the card on the discard pile. There are also wild cards and cards that cause a person to skip her turn, draw more cards and so on. The first player with no cards wins. What it teaches kids: Paying attention is a crucial skill in school—and that’s just what preschoolers pick up when they focus on the cards and remember to play the same color (or character). Besides reinforcing numbers and colors, Uno also sharpens pattern recognition: your child won’t take algebra until eighth grade, but patterns will help her understand the relationship between objects and numbers, which is the basis of algebra. Older kids get lessons in logic, reasoning and strategy by deciding which cards to throw down now and which to save for the next turn.

Bingo

Bingo is another game that can be tailored to preschoolers who don’t yet know their letters or numbers, says Eis. You can buy versions that are just shapes, colors or everyday objects (Zingo), or you can just cut out photos of things that fascinate your little one (cars, say, or animals) from catalogs. Kindergarteners on up can play the classic version with letters and numbers.

How to play: Each player gets a pile of tokens and a card divided into a 25-square grid with 24 numbers and a blank space in the middle and a row on top that spell out “BINGO.” The caller picks out numbers from a basket, and calls it out: “B-5,” for example, or “I-26.” The first player to fill up a row with tokens — either diagonally, horizontally or vertically — shouts “Bingo!” and wins the game. What it teaches kids: No matter which version you’re playing, your cutie’s listening and memory skills will get a workout. Another benefit: She’ll practice her ability to visualize shapes and objects (and later, letters and numbers) and then match them on her card, both of which are necessary for learning to read and do math.

Dominoes

Dominoes is another grade-school game that can be scaled down to the preschool level by buying tiles in colors, Disney characters or animals, instead of the classic tiles marked with dots (like dice) from 0 to 6, says Eis.

How to play it: Put the 28 tiles face down on a table and shuffle them. Each player draw seven tiles, and the rest are left in what’s known as the “boneyard.” The person with the highest double tile goes first, placing the domino on the table. The next player must match one of the halves with a tile containing the same number or character. If a player can’t make a match, she has to draw a tile from the boneyard. The player who gets rid of all the dominoes wins. Older kids can play for points—the first one to reach 50 or 100 wins the game. What it teaches kids: Besides being a good way to get kids to recognize numbers or objects quickly, dominoes is also good at honing a kid’s ability to spot patterns, since that’s what you need to make a match. The game also sharpens critical thinking and strategy, since older kids must decide how to maximize the number of points.

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