Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Educational Board Games

We no longer hit the books on Fridays in our home. Instead we head for the games shelves. I once read ( and have spent forever trying to find the link) that there were the top three family activities to help children succeed academically were :

Books - reading to your children, reading with them, and providing varied material for them to read themselves.

Days Out - The obvious museums and zoos and such, but also simple days out such as parks, the seaside or wooded areas.

Board Games: This one took me by surprise but it makes sense. There are so many skills children can learn from board games. You need to read and follow instructions - at least to get started - we often make our own rules or variations later. Even the simplest games encourage conversation, teach children to take turns, and of course how to cope with both winning and losing. Younger children's games often include matching, colour recognition, counting and fine motor skills. Older children's games are apt to include a few more math's concept like counting money and change,  strategy and more. There are a wealth of board games designed specifically for educational purposes each with their own goal in mind. I'll be trying to include as many of the games we use and enjoy as possible for now - so if my ratings look a bit one sided - it is because I am only including favourites for now. Age recommendations are my own. I consider the children's interest levels, difficulty of problems etc when estimating age, but assume some parental help is available for very young players.


Candyland by Hasbro
A perfect first board game. Teaches colours, taking turns and a wonderful game for Christmas time.
Ages: recommended 3+ but both of my boys played this from age 2. Still gets used at Christmas time but really best for children under age 6
Players : 2 - 4
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  **** 1/2   Educational Value ****


What's The Point by Greenboard Games
Teaches, fractions, percentages and decimals
Ages Technically 8+, but my five year old enjoys playing this as a team with me.
Players: Technically  2 or more - you could go up to 6, but it would grow tedious with too many players. This could be played alone as well.
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  ** 1/2   Educational Value *****

Sum Swamp  - Learning Resources
Very basic addition and subtraction - fun but only for younger children.
Ages 4 - 6
Players 2 - 4
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  ****   Educational Value ****

Magic Cauldron Maths - Orchard Toys
Simple addition subtraction, a couple of very easy multiplication questions.
Fill a cauldron by collecting cards that equate to the correct number for each spell. Uses heat sensitive cards, but these can be hard to work on a cold day. I resorted to keeping a cup of tea handy and holding the cards against the cup, but children playing alone could use a heated bean bag ( not included).
Ages 4 - 7
Players - 2 + but could be used alone if you really needed to.
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  ****   Educational Value ****

Run, Run, as Fast as you Can!  by Orchard Toys
An all time favourite in our house. Teach simple fractions and counting as well as adding abit of rhyming and literature if you wish. My youngest has played this since age 2, my oldest still enjoys this at age 8, and I'm quite certain I will never outgrow it.
Recommended ages 4+ but I would recommend from age 2 with suprevsion if you child has outgrown eating small parts.
Players 2-4
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  *****+   Educational Value *****


It doesn't really matter which version you choose, we have a lovely set by Galt with animal pictures and a ludo game with different habitats on the back, but any Snakes and Ladders game will work.
When playing the game as you are meant to, children learn to count up to 100 and simple addition.

Adding a few sets of flash cards and some coloured markers creates a whole new game. You can use a ready made set of flashcards or make your own. Just be sure you will have answers that equal up to 100. We use coloured glass pebbles like you would have in a fish tank as markers, but anything will work : Hot Wheels cars ( although they roll about terribly) toy dinosaurs, zoo animals etc...  The object of this game is to get four of your markers in a row, while clocking other players from doing the same. Any time you correctly answer a flash card, you place your marker on that square. If it is already occupied - we allow the child to choose another square, but if you want to make it more cut throat you can bump the player off. Other options would be to draw another card, or just miss the turn. In all honesty this doesn't teach any more than flash cards alone - but it is a lot more fun.

For more variations see my review @


Scrabble by Mattel

The ultimate in spelling fun, this also teaches vocabulary, especially if played with a dictionary, and quite a lot of maths adding up scores, especially with triple or double and letter scores. This is an all time family favourite and one every home educating family should have.
Players 2 - 4
Reading Required? Yes
Entertainment Value  *****+   Educational Value *****

Fish N Spell Game
What's In The Box?
  • cloth pond
  • wooden fishing poles with magnets.
  • 80 magnetic fish with letters.
  • cards which have common words in four languages. You can choose to spell them in English, French Italian or Spanish.
  • two cards with eight fish shapes to spell your words on.
The idea of the game is to turn all the fish upside down and see who can find the all the letters to the given word first. It is meant  for only two players, but more can play by sharing the fishing rods and having the older players play without the card. The card is just a bit of paper anyway. I do wish it had been magnetic as it would have kept the letters together better. You are not meant to take turns which can make this  mad race, but we do take turns.

We also often use our own cards, either Kipper's Word Games cards from ORT, or home made cards using words from my son's phonics books. With my oldest we have played using a spelling list as well - so he doesn't get a card to guide him them.

There are a few flaws with this game. The fish stick together easily, the card for making your words is a bit flimsy, and the words on the cards are all easy in English. I don't really feel you can learn a foreign language with this as you wouldn't know the pronunciation, but it would be handy if you were already studying one of the three extra languages. But this still earns five stars because it is so flexible.  You can leave the fish right side up for younger players and use this to teach alphabet recognition  as well as simple spellings. By adding your own cards, you can focus on any subject you wish. You can even try spelling dinosaur names  or latin names of plants - there are enough tiles for most words.

Highly recommended for ages  3 - 10 but be aware that this does contain magnets. These are very weak, but the game is still not recommended for under 3's.

Hangman by Milton Bradley:

This is played very much like the original paper and pencil game. Each player chooses a word and places the letters in a rack at the front of their case. Players take it turns to guess a letter. If it is correct - the letter is placed facing out in the appropriate position in the rack at the top of their case, making this visible to person guessing, If it is incorrect their opponent turns the wheel one click revealing a part of a gallows - or the gallows with part of a body swinging from the hangman's noose ( although the noose itself isn't shown. When a whole body is displayed that player has lost - or in our house died - complete with gasping and choking with hands clutched to throat before collapsing in a very melodramatic death.

As an alternate you can place all the tiles on top of the case to begin with facing the person who has made that word. As their opponent guesses letters correctly - these are turned over, but my son did find it difficult to spell his words in reverse when he was younger.

Traditionally, each player should just make up their own words and must be able to spell any word they will be using. This is the way we play now as my oldest is 8 and can spell a reasonable number of words. When my son was very young ( ages 5 -6) I often gave him a book we were reading at the time and we would each choose a word from the book. This makes this game easy and fun for very young players. I feel this also helped my son learn to read and spell the words he was using in his every day school work as well. As he has grown older we tried using spelling lists for awhile, and it does help him to learn the words, but it also made guessing the words quite easy. Now we just choose whatever words we like - although as an adult I do refrain from using words I know he will not be familiar with - where if I were playing with another adult I would choose the most obscure words possible.

The biggest drawback to the plastic version of the game is that your are limited to only 8 letters. This leaves many dinosaur names out of the game. I also find the cases very hard to open, but my son can open them easily enough so I suspect that is just me. There are plenty of tiles and we have never come across a word that needed more of any letter than we have.

Stop back soon I hope to be adding more games daily.

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