Board Games That Increase Brain Power
By Linda Rodgers
January 27, 2012 | 3:53pm EST
Experts say board games can boost a slew of skill 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 a rare occurrence) and for luring grade-schoolers away from the Wii. 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").
So should you set up regular times to play or let your child set the agenda?
"Both," says Pizzolongo. "Let your child come to you, but setting aside a special evening or afternoon gives her a ritual-and predictability and routines are important for kids." For ideas on what to play, read on for the games that get the highest marks from experts.
This card game for two or more players 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.
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.
This 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.
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.
Where is Sock Monkey?
A cross between Twenty Questions and Clue, this game gives wiggly preschoolers and young grade-schoolers a lesson in deductive reasoning and a chance to race around the house, says Sherry Artemenko, a speech therapist and creator ofPLAYONWORDS.COM, an award-winning speech therapy site.
What it teaches kids: Your preschooler or kindergartner won't be able to read the questions, but she can figure them out from the illustration-a decoding strategy that will come in handy when she learns to read. The game also gives her practice in asking questions, listening for the answers, following directions, and putting clues together-all crucial skills for the classroom.
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, who's also a contributor to TIME TO PLAY.
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.
Richard Scarry's Busytown Eye Found It
This 6-foot-long board game gets kudos from Artemenko and scores of Amazon users, who've made this preschool-friendly game based on cooperation (and the brilliant Busytown books by Richard Scarry) a bestseller.
What it teaches kids: Teamwork pays off, and that's a great lesson for a preschooler or kindergartner who's learning how to work with classmates. The game also reinforces your child's ability to recognize objects and match them on the board, hones her powers of observation, and gives her practice in associating categories with people and actions-for example, learning you'll find shovels and hammers at a construction site.
I Spy Ready to Read
Based on the I Spy books, this board game is actually five games in one, and is geared to kids ages 4 to 6. You may have to help your pre-reader with the riddles at first, says Eis.
What it teaches kids: This is another matching game that helps kids practice their visual skills and letter recognition. But even better, this game is based on rhymes, which help your child become more aware of language structure by hearing the syllables in each word and sentence.
Connect Four/Connect 4 Launchers
Connect Four and Connect 4 Launchers (an updated version of the classic) provide the right type of challenge for your grade-schooler, who's developmentally ready to become a better strategist, Eis explains. Yes, she's still a sore loser (especially when she plays with you), but she's also learning what she'll need to do to win the game next time around.
What it teaches kids: To win the game, your child has to plan out her moves, so both versions sharpen her abilities to think critically and logically. Plus, she not only has to focus on what she's doing, but on what her opponent is too-a skill known as divided attention.
If your child is too young or too impatient for Scrabble, get her started on this take-and-play-anywhere word game that's great for kids 5 and up.
What it teaches kids: Like Scrabble, this fast-paced game is a reading, writing, spelling, and vocabulary booster.
Animal Mastermind Towers
Making and breaking codes appeal to your grade-schooler's more advanced thinking skills, says Eis. Animal Mastermind Towers is a little-kid-friendlier version of the classic for children 5 to 7.
What it teaches kids: Because your child must remember her opponent's answers, Animal Mastermind Towers helps boost memory as well as deductive skills ("If the penguin isn't below the hippo but above the giraffe, maybe the order is giraffe, penguin, hippo, lion!"). Making up a code teaches strategy, a useful skill for helping your child decide how to tackle any situation, in the classroom or on the playground.
Angry Birds Knock on Wood
The smartphone version has been downloaded 350 million times, and if your 5- to 8-year-old is a fan, you might want to lure her offline for this hands-on, cooperative version.
What it teaches kids: Building the structures requires teamwork, which is great for kids learning to work together in small groups. Copying the structure from the cards means your child get practice following directions, recognizing patterns, and perfecting her fine-motor skills.
By the time your child is in third grade, she's mastered the basics, so what she needs now are games that teach her patience, persistence, and flexibility, says Eis.
What it teaches kids: Besides giving kids practice in making change, Monopoly is a fun way to teach such grown-up concepts as saving, budgeting, and financial planning. Plus the random element ("Go directly to jail!") teaches your child how to adapt to sudden changes.
Rory's Story Cubes
Sometimes it's good to play open-ended games that don't involve winning. This game has the added benefit of getting your child ready to write more complex stories, says Artemenko. It's recommended for kids 8 and up, but younger ones can play too.
What it teaches kids: The sketches are abstract enough that your child can interpret them any way she wants, which is great for spurring her imagination. She'll also learn to create stories with beginning, middles, and endings, turn something abstract into something more concrete, and how to spin an entertaining story.
This game, unlike any other, helps a child visualize a grid as she figures out how to sink her opponent's ships, explains Eis. You can even play the game with pencil, paper, and graph paper. A two-person game, it's best for kids 8 and older.
What it teaches kids: It takes a certain amount of cunning to hide all five ships in such a way that make them difficult to find, so logic, planning, and reasoning all come into play here, as do deductive powers, problem-solving, and memory.
Teachers and child education experts love Scrabble, which is why you'll find it in every classroom, especially once your child hits third and fourth grades.
What it teaches kids: Not only does Scrabble help your child with reading, vocabulary, and spelling, but it teaches math (she has to keep adding up her points), problem-solving and strategy (she has to plot how to get the biggest bang from a word), and is great for boosting her attention span and long-term memory, which help her test-taking and study skills.