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My husband and I are big board game collectors; we started playing games with friends over 15 years ago and have always thought the expense of the games is well worth their longevity. We now have a closet full that are played all the time. They're our social activity–much less expensive than dinner, movies, etc.–and we've been encouraging our children to join us.
We feel strongly that so many important skills are taught through playing board games. By playing good kids' games as a family, we are modeling and teaching:
- how to take turns and share; how to be patient
- how to win and lose fairly and how to “be a good sport” about either
- focus and concentration
- all kinds of educational skills: color recognition, counting, spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, long-term thinking, etc. depending on the specific game
- that learning can be fun
Here is our list of top 4 Recommended Kids' Games:
Chicken Cha Cha Cha: This game takes the memory-type game and adds a fun layer of chase and competition. Players move their chunky wooden chicks around the board of eggs by matching the hidden tiles in the center. Suggested age is 4 and up, but we started when the girls were just under 3. We like this game so much that for the holidays this year, we're purchasing the expansion, Duckling Dancin' (with poop!), in the hopes that it will keep our 3yo from beating us every time.
Gulo Gulo: This truly is a family game in that everyone from toddlers to grandparents can play together. While it balances strategy with dexterity, it favors tiny fingers and evens the playing field between kids and adults. Each player moves their Wolverine (gulo gulo) around the spaces and collects colored wooden eggs from the bowl in the center–without knocking over the alarm stick. This is absolutely one of our favorite games and we play it all the time.
aMAZE-ing Labyrinth: Players continually shift the path tiles to create a maze and search for treasures. It's simple to learn, but difficult to master, which is why it's still fun after the umpteenth play. There are ways to adjust the difficulty level for your child, so while the suggested age is 8 and up, we'd recommend 5 and up. It really depends on your spatial skills; this is one where our son can beat us easily.
Flea Circus: In this card game, players lay out Flea Cards to claim cats and dogs (manipulatives) worth points. Players are allowed to steal from each other, which teaches kids how to deal with setbacks without taking it personally. This taught our son how to count by twos. Suggested age is 6 and up, but with an adult playing it may work for kids as young as 4.
These aren't the “mainstream” games you see in regular stores. We prefer the more complex, usually European board games because of:
- Length: With a shorter game play, kids have a better chance of staying focused and attentive from beginning to end (so will the parents). If they lose a game, they can play again relatively quickly.
- Even playing field: Many of these games use skills that kids have as much as adults. As a parent, you won't have to hold back to give your kid a fighting chance; in fact, you may be beaten quite often. As hard as he tries, my husband can't win Gulo Gulo versus our 3-year-olds. With this being the case, the games are a lot more fun for the adults playing (you're actually competing).
- Meaningful choices: These games require simple strategies and skills even from 2-3 year olds as opposed to the rote mechanics of flipping a card and moving. Each turn requires a choice and a skill.
- Good quality parts: We love the chunky wooden pieces in many of our European games; the sturdy, substantial pieces add a tactile experience to game play and will hold up to years of use. In fact, once the games are truly outgrown, they have resale value.
Where can you find these non-mainstream games? If you want to shop locally, you can find them at independent toy stores or your local game store. Online, they're available at game sites like ThoughtHammer and FunagainGames, and more recently at mainstream outlets like Amazon.*
*Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate.