I’ve asked a fellow mum to write a bit about games that are great for young children, and it just so happens that this mum reviews games with her children and has a website and podcast dedicated to these reviews! I’ll let her do all of the talking, and hopefully she can suggest some great games for your children that not only provoke imagination and learning AND don’t push you to the brink of insanity or boredom!
Anitra Smith has been a stay-at-home mom since 2008, but she used to be a software engineer and a giant nerd. Now she is raising her kids to be nerds, too. She writes game reviews and co-hosts a podcast with her husband Andrew at TheFamilyGamers.com. (Find out more about them by clicking through to the links below and following their social media!)
Mummy Confession: I hate playing boring board games. But I know games build important skills.
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Your kid is finally old enough that they want to play games more complicated than peek-a-boo. This is great news! But where do you start?
Playing games helps children develop important life skills; all games are educational. Taking turns, looking ahead, how to avoid being a sore loser, and how to be a gracious winner are all learned through play. Of course, playing games will also help with more academic skills such as color matching, counting, and number recognition. Rolling dice, stacking pieces, and shuffling cards all develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Playing games is a way to bring your whole family together. Spending time together as a family is very important for children’s mental and emotional health, and can improve a child’s vocabulary and motivation.
I am here to tell you that there are better options than Candyland. If you already play board games, your child will want to play with you. Start there – let them climb up on your lap and give them a few extra pieces that they can play with. Explain what you are doing on your turn, and ask them to “help” you make decisions about what to do next.
Soon, your little one will be ready to try a game on their own. There are three important features of a good game for very young children:
* short, simple turns
* immediate action (not needing to plan out a turn or wait for something to happen)
* limited counting (no more than 3)
Many games aimed at this age range are 100% luck or 100% predictable. Great for teaching skills, but annoying to the parents who have to play them over and over. So let’s examine a few that break from that mold.
Dexterity games are inherently unpredictable. You can tell when a structure is getting unsteady, but not exactly when it’s going to fall. While you are likely to be more skilled at these games than your child, they will still naturally win once in a while. Popular games in this category include Jenga and Don’t Break the Ice. Our family’s favorites are more obscure: Zitternix, in which you roll a die and remove the corresponding color stick from inside a wooden ring; and Animal upon Animal, in which you place wooden animals onto an ever-growing pyramid.
Games that teach matching and memory are also fun for young children. It’s a necessary skill, and when you add the memory component, most kids are better at it than adults (probably because their minds aren’t full of other information yet). You can find the basic MEMORY game in any theme your child desires, or make your own with a deck of cards. In Take the Cake, you shake “sprinkles” out of a special shaker, then match them to the cupcake cards in front of you. Chicken Cha Cha combines matching & memory with a race game – every time you make the correct match, your chicken moves ahead. Mmm! is a cooperative game that involves rolling dice and matching them to the symbols on the board; it has enough strategy to stay interesting for an adult, but the kids don’t need to be good at strategizing, since everyone is working together.
Tell a story with Story Cubes. Roll as many dice as you’d like, then use the pictures to help guide a story. This is a great activity for children and adults alike. You may find it stretches your own creative muscles even more than your children’s! There are several generic sets (Voyages, Actions, etc.), but our favorite is the Batman set.
A Little of Everything:
A fairly new entry in the “boardgames for kids” world finds a new way to have fun while learning. Silly Street is a game designed to get whole families playing together. Draw a card, have an adult read it, and do what it says. Then move the indicated spaces on the board. Wonderfully simple, but the actions on the cards are a mix of educational concepts (matching, counting, letters, animal habitats), physical skills (stand on one foot, wink at someone else), social skill-builders (give a high-five, pick someone to share the card with), and downright ridiculous (howl like a wolf, use something in the room as a mask). We always have fun playing this one, and now that our kids are getting older, they sometimes play it without us, as well!
Playing games with your child will open up a whole new world. Board games are a safe place to practice difficult skills, whether those are fine motor actions, verbal communication, or taking turns. Start a family game night when your child is young, and cherish the time you will spend watching them grow and learn while they are having fun with you.
Do you play board games as a family? Which are some of your favourite games that don’t drive you completely crazy?