When I was a teenager, we had a family game night every few weeks. My sister and I would attempt to beat our parents at Trivial Pursuit and if we were successful, they ordered up pizza.
Since Game Night at my own house has devolved into my young sons playing hand-held devices, I plan to dust off the original concept this summer. By setting aside a specific time each week for playing board games, we’ll enjoy some quality family time and hopefully keep the boys’ school skills sharp. Choose games that hone reading, spelling, counting, spatial reasoning, and geography knowledge, and your family can have fun, too.
Spell and Tell.
Board games you enjoyed as a kid, like Monopoly and Scrabble, now come in junior versions. Scrabble Junior introduces young children ages 5 to 7 to the word-forming game by allowing players to match letters to words already printed on the board.
Serious Scrabble fans may not like the construction of the junior version since it uses cardboard pieces rather than tiles. If you have a traditional Scrabble board, try making up some “house rules” so it’s more inviting to younger children. Focus on learning rather than winning, allow bonus squares to count more than once, and encourage dictionary use between turns.
Bananagrams is sort of like Scrabble, but the object is to make as many words, like a crossword puzzle, as you can with the letter tiles. Everyone plays at once rather than taking turns. Packaged in a cloth banana, the 144 tiles allow one to six people to play at once. There are several different ways to play and the pouch’s portability makes it a good bet for road trips and restaurant waits.
The makers of Bananagrams have several other award-winning games including Appletters and Pairs in Pears. Appletters is a domino-like game for ages 6 and up where players connect letters in lieu of dots. Pairs in Pears focuses on word pairs, in which each word must share a letter with the other. All three games are a fun way for children to develop memory and cognitive skills while learning alphabetical order, word construction, consonants and vowels, vocabulary, rhyming, etc.
Rounding out the fruit-themed games is Apples to Apples Junior which encourages table talk and develops logical thought in players ages 9 and up. The game is simple — there is one judge and unlimited players. The judge (which changes each turn) holds a green apple card featuring one-word characteristics such as chewy, amazing, or scary; the players hold seven red apple cards. The players must examine the red apple cards in their hands and select the one that is best described by the judge’s card. Each player tries to convince the judge theirs is the best match. With over 500 cards, each round is filled with surprising comparisons from a wide range of people, places, things, and events. The best part of the game, by far, is learning how your child’s mind works.
To boost the whole family’s knowledge of geography, try the Scrambled States of America game for ages 8 and up. Players learn the names, capitals, nicknames, shapes, and positions of the states through a myriad of visual teasers, language riddles, and geography challenges (i.e. find a state that ends with the letter A, find one that borders Tennessee, etc.).
Another popular geography game is 10 Days in Europe, for children 10 and up. (There are also versions featuring Asia, the U.S., etc.) Players map out a tour of Europe by plane, ship, or on foot using country and transportation cards. The board is a map of the continent and you collect your cards and put them in order throughout your turns in the game. It takes strategy and luck to win, and you learn geography in the process.
Last, but not least, is Blokus, which is a strategy board game that challenges spatial thinking. (If you ever played Tetris, you will love Blokus.) Bright colors and simple rules make it ideal for ages 5 and up, and adults are sometimes more challenged than kids. It’s a favorite at our holiday gatherings, and my 6-year-old is often the winner, much to his grandmother’s chagrin.
Blokus has received a Mensa award for promoting healthy brain activity. The goal is for players to fit all of their pieces onto the board. When placing a piece it may not lie adjacent to the player’s other pieces, but must be placed touching at least one corner of their pieces already on the board. The player who gets rid of all of their tiles first is the winner and strategic thinking helps as you block moves from your opponent.
Educationally, it helps younger students develop a better understanding of spatial relations and planning ahead. For older students (and adults) it helps to develop strategy skills. The game doesn’t run out of possibilities, either; every game is different, even if you play with the same people over and over. It’s best with four players, but there are versions for one to three players as well.