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Supermoms in the Spotlight

5 Best Board Games to Trick Your Kids Into Learning while Playing

These days, most kids are heavily into video games and apps, but there is much to be said for a good old fashioned board game. No matter how old your kids are, sitting down for some dedicated time together will thrill them (even if they won’t admit it). Most Americans tend to stick to the classics we know like Monopoly, Battleship, Chess, and Trivial Pursuit, but there are many exciting new board games out there that can liven up family game night!

Here is my list of the 5 Best Board Games.

At our house, we dedicate two to three hours of every Saturday night to family game night and try to never play the same game two weekends in a row. This keeps the kids (and us) from getting bored and gives everyone a chance at winning since most of us have expertise in different types of games. Here’s a look at five of the best board games we’ve made part of our family game nights that offer the added benefit of tricking our kids into a little learning while we’re having fun playing together.

These tabletop games are fun for both adults and kids in the elementary to middle school age brackets.

Apples to Apples

This game doesn’t have a board, just cards. It comes in both junior and regular versions. This was a game our youngest son introduced us to after playing it at school. It’s a comparison game (thus the name) that expands the vocabulary, encourages critical thinking and usually provokes serious belly laughs.

You take turns judging by selecting a green apple theme card that usually contains a one word descriptive like “adorable.” The other players each choose a red apple card they think best matches the theme. Red apple cards played might include “Koala bear” or “Hello Kitty.” You can also go for something funny like “Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

This game never gets boring and when your kids come across people, places, pop culture references or words they’re not familiar with, offering a quick explanation enriches their knowledge base and teaches new vocabulary. The grown up version is great for kids 10 and up and the junior version for grades 2-4. No matter the version, it’s a good time for kids and parents alike.

Settlers of Catan

This game is an award-winner created in Germany where tabletop gaming is a passionate pastime. It’s appropriate for ages nine and up and combines the appeal of Risk without the frustration of being wiped off the board by aggressive opponents. Settlers of Catan teaches strategy and cooperative bargaining because this is a game where you have to trade to succeed.

settlers of catan

The hex shaped board game offers spaces that provide you with resources including brick, ore, wheat, sheep and wood. You use these resources to expand your holdings by building settlements, roads and upgrading to cities. Because you start out with limited resources, you must bargain and trade with other players to progress. This requires you to be both cooperative and competitive.

This one is a big hit in our household and has spread like a virus to our friends and family who’ve played it at our house. Once you master the basic game, you can try expansion kits that add fishing and seafaring into the mix. Other exciting versions of Catan include Traders & Barbarians, Explorers & Pirates and historical versions like Ancient Egypt or Greece.

Rory’s Story Cubes

This tiny game has won big accolades including Child Magazine’s Seal of Excellence, Best Game at the Independent Toy Awards, Dr Toy Best Game and Educational Toy of the Year. One of the best things about Rory’s Story Cubes is that the game fits in the palm of your hand so it’s great to take on trips or to a restaurant so that family game night can travel with you wherever you go.

Each tiny boxed set version comes with nine “dice” with images instead of pips. This gives you 54 options to spark the imagination. You roll the dice then create a short story of a few sentences that must include every element. The basic set features story prompts such as a cell phone, house, bee, pyramid, sheep, fish and an eye. What’s also fun is that there is no winner. It’s a just-for-the-fun-of-it game.

As you and your kids create stories to fit the images, you stretch your imagination and strengthen reasoning and logic skills. Other versions include Voyages and Actions. Mix and match sets to make the game more challenging. It can be played anywhere: in the car, on a table, even on a plane. I keep a set in my purse so if we get stuck somewhere, we can kill time when our devices are dead or there’s no WiFi.

UpWords

Scrabble is fun enough, but UpWords is more engaging because it literally takes it to a new level. It’s also played on a grid with letter tiles and game time runs from 40-90 minutes depending on number of players and skill level. Everyone gets seven tiles and the first player has to play a word that includes the center square on the board (like Scrabble also requires).

upwords gameFrom there, it gets crazy. You can either lay down a new word that crosses an existing word or build on top of someone else’s word. For instance, if someone plays the word “games” you can replace the G with a T to make “tames.” That’s a simple instance that younger kids are likely to play. Older tween players will explore more sophisticated options that allow them to replace several letters.

One letter of the prior word must be left uncovered. For instance “cater” can be turned into “laser” with an L and an S. UpWords helps to expand vocabulary and encourage language development. It also tickles your brain by adding spatial thinking to a language skill which doubly stimulates your cranium. Another plus is that the plastic tiles hold firm so a table jostle won’t send your words skittering.

Establishing (and sticking to) a family game night while your kids are younger can become a family tradition that will keep you in tight with your offspring even when they’re spreading their wings. These games range in price from $10 for Rory’s Story Cubes up to about $35 for Settlers of Catan. We expand our library by three or four games a year to keep things fresh, try new games and appeal to everyone’s interests.

Monopoly

The board game classic comes in both junior and big kid/adult versions as well as a wide array of interesting custom versions including Disney, Marvel Comics and Dot Com (properties are famous websites). We prefer the classic good-old Atlantic city version for our game nights. Monopoly is a fun way to reinforce counting and math skills, strategy and patience.

You may remember as a child that a multi-player Monopoly game could monopolize your whole day so when we break this one out, we decide ahead of time how long we’ll play and set a timer. The person with the highest net worth at the designated stopping point takes the win. And because this game comes with so many little pieces, we established a “winner cleans up” rule to make sure parts don’t get lost.

One version of Monopoly I don’t recommend is the Electronic Banking iteration. This one doesn’t use cash and instead has a credit card type device where you swipe your card to pay bills and collect rent. This is a lazy version that strips away the educational value of handling the faux currency and teaches kids that swiping plastic is the way to pay for everything.

Are your kids into board games? Camps like The Game Academy, Active Learning, and It’s Your Move Games allow campers the chance to do what they love all summer long!

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Super Activities for Super Kids

10 Board Games for the Family

Board games for the family is a classic past time. They a perfect for bringing the family together during a game night or entertaining the children on a rainy day.

There’s no shortage of games out there but when playing with children, it can be difficult to decide on a game the whole family will enjoy. After all, the adults may enjoy a long game of Monopoly but your two-year-old won’t.

Below are 10 games (plus a bonus one at the bottom!) guaranteed to provide fun for the family. They are listed by age but consider this a guideline – chances are even the older kids will enjoy playing a game like Trouble and if your three-year-old has enough patience and concentration to play Jenga (or they at least enjoy stacking blocks), definitely give it a go.

Just a quick warning, however – be sure to supervise small children during these games as some of them do include small play pieces.

Ages 4 and under

Memory. Memory is a great first game for kids as it is basic but encourages important skills like memory and taking turns. Somehow the simple concept of finding matching cards can keep a child entertained for hours. While the Original Memory is great for everyone, almost every character or TV show has their own version of Memory, which offers children an extra incentive to play.

Connect 4. Connect 4 is yet another simple game that manages to keep young children entertained for hours. The concept, similar to tic-tac-toe, is to “connect” 4 dots of the same color in a row. The youngest children have a blast putting the dots in the slots while the older children are able to think strategically about the best place to play and keep the other team from winning.

Boggle Jr. The original Boggle is a fantastic game for older children, especially when teaching them to write and spell. However, the new Boggle Jr is probably one of the best games on the market for younger children. Boggle Junior aids in teaching children letters and basic words in a game that the whole family can enjoy. The kids won’t even realize that they’re learning.

Ages 4-6

Trouble. Trouble is yet another game that can be bought as the original game or featuring any number of characters, such as the Teenange Mutant Ninja Turtles. The concept is simple- take all of your game pieces around the board and back to your home spaces. However, the possibility of getting sent back to the beginning aids a level of intensity to the game. Math skills are encouraged to decide which piece to is the most appropriate to move at any given turn – either so you hit your home space or get to send someone else back to the start.

Candyland. Candyland is perhaps the go-to board game for young children. Who didn’t play this game growing up? I’ve never met a child who didn’t love playing Candyland. It helps children learn their colors but, most importantly, it teaches that just because you’re winning now that does not mean you will be in a few minutes.

Ages 6-8

Jenga. Who knew that stacking blocks could be so fun and competitive? Jenga tests your concentration, patience, and hand-eye coordination as players attempt to remove blocks, using only one hand, without sending the rest of the tower crumbling down.

Simon Says. A spin off the common playground game, the hand-held Simon Says game flashes colors in a specific pattern which the player is then asked to repeat back. The sequences get faster and more difficult as the game progresses, encouraging hand-eye coordination and memorization. The game has settings for use as a single-player or multi-player game.

Ages 8+

Scrabble. The traditional board game is great for teaching spelling and building vocabulary as players build words crossword puzzle style. Additionally, it encourages strategic thinking to plan each move based on the points value of the letters and what made stop an opponent from scoring.

Clue. Clue encourages critical thinking and memory as players attempt to solve the mystery of who murdered the host through asking a variety of questions. Players use deductive reasoning to figure out where the murder took place and which weapon was used.

Telestration. Telestration is a combination of Pictionary and the old “telephone” game. Each player is given a whiteboard and a word to draw. The boards are passed around the room where each person guesses what the original word was and adds to the drawing before finally learning what the original word was. The results can be hilarious as the final drawing is often completely unrelated to the original word.

Chess. Chess is incredibly challenging game that helps older children think strategically. It’s so popular that there are even camps dedicated to doing nothing other than strengthening your child’s chess skills. Here’s a few in the Bay Area:

The Chess Club in San Jose, CA
Academic Chess in San Francisco, CA
Chess Wizards in Menlo Park, CA
Yes for Chess in Stanford, CA
Firecracker Math in Berkeley, CA
Success Chess in Fremont, CA

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Guest Posts Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged

Learning Games for Kids: Turn Off the TV and Turn on the Brain

Amidst the quickening pace of daily living and the ever-expanding influence of technology in our children’s lives, it’s easy to see how “family time” could become a thing of the past.

Where we once spent time with our siblings and parents, in today’s rapid society we are often so focused on what’s happening next (or trying to tune out in front of a box) that we often forget to take in the moment and enjoy each other’s company.

With President’s Day and February break on the horizon, now is the perfect time to plan ahead easy and inexpensive ways your family can enjoy each others’ company together at home – namely learning games for kids. Try these fun yet educational kids’ activities to keep you all entertained, bring you closer and help improve your children’s growth and development.

Family Game #1: Silly Stories on the Spot

learning games for kids silly stories
Photo by Flickr user woodleywonderworks

For many, specified “family time” with activities and learning games may be too much of a change to the normal routine. But this simple game is a great way to get started. Finish a meal together with this fun yet creative game.

Each family member contributes to an ever-evolving story. It’s easiest if an adult member of the family starts with either a sentence or a few paragraphs, introducing a potential story line. Then, one by one, go around the table each adding just one sentence to the ongoing plot.

The story can go for as long or as short as you like, but by having each person contribute, all members of the family feel involved. The learning game also promotes creativity, listening and speaking skills.

Family Game #2: DIY Scavenger Hunt

learning games for kids scavenger hunt
Photo by Flickr user Jonahhonahhandmade

If your family likes to get out and about, a great way to build up excitement about and interest in family time is to create a scavenger hunt.

Build a list of things that must be found and hid them in your house or yard (or make note of where they are). Ask your children to create their own basic map for the hunt that they can then track their findings on, and let your children start collecting.

A great way to build further upon this activity is to encourage the children to write a story about their findings and share it with the rest of the family over dinner.

Family Game #3: So, How Was Your Day? (With a Twist)

Learning games for kids alphabet
Photo by Flickr user Laineys Pepertoire

Write the letters A – Z on individual pieces of paper and throw them into a bag. Have each member of the family pull one letter from the bag. Now, any and all words starting with that letter are off limits for that family member.

Then, go around the table and each making one statement about your day. At no point can a word begin with the letter chosen from the bag. For example, if you choose the letter ‘W’, you cannot say anything in your sentence that starts with ‘W.’ (i.e. “Today I went . . . ” would have to become “Today I travelled.”)

Each round, you can increase the stakes by taking more letters out of the bag each round. Or cut family members from the circle if they accidentally use their letter until you’re left with one winner.

Family Game #4: Make-Your-Own Bingo

learning games for kids bingo
Photo by Flickr user Nikkorz

Bingo is a great learning game for kids for even the smallest of family members as they angle to have the winning grid. Create your own home bingo for a family night of fun.

Outline a grid on paper and choose numbers from a bag to keep things simple. Learning to match numbers to their spoken names is a good challenge for early learners.

To increase the stakes for slightly older children, add an additional challenge to be the first person to reach a certain score (thus encouraging addition skills).

Family Game #5: Jumbo Hangman

learning games for kids hangman
Photo by Flickr user rightee

A popular game through the decades, the classic “Hangman” remains a fun and engaging learning game for kids that encourages word use, spelling, and patience!

Create a large-scale game on butchers’ paper and pin up on the wall. Let each family member pick a topic and their own word for guessing. To boost morale or balance out different age groups, you can also play in teams.

You can also couple up with a drawing game like and have team members guess what the artist is drawing through the hangman framework. By combining the two games, you can create ‘rounds’ and add more of a game-show feel to the evening.

Ngaire Stirling leads one of Australia’s largest parenting communities and is among the most respected names in fun and educational kids activities in Brisbane, Australia. Her community, Brisbane Kids, has over 30,000 members. Ngaire believes in everything in moderation (especially screen time), except quality time with kids; she has as much as she can, as often as she can.

Learning Games for Kids