Candy Land to the rescue!
Expert: Games help kids perform different thinking than they would in school and in a "pro-social way."
Flashcards are a tough sell when sprinklers, squirt guns and swimming pools beckon.
Classic board games, on the other hand, go down like ice cream and — Psst! Don't tell! — your kids learn everything from basic math skills to strategy and spatial reasoning.
"Games are a great way for kids to extend their thinking and do different kinds of thinking than they would in school in a very positive, pro-social way," says Janine Remillard, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. "This is a great thing to encourage."
We asked Remillard to match classic games with age-appropriate skills. Here are some of her picks:
Ages 3 to 5: Candy Land is a tad slow for adults, but preschoolers can't get enough of this rainbow-bright board game. No numbers required so even very young children can tackle ideas about sequences (one thing comes after another) and work on matching colors and pictures.
Ages 5 to 12: Counting is one of the most important skills your kids can learn, and Trouble is here to help. Five-year-olds (and precocious younger siblings) love the retro dice-popper and the mad race to the finish. Sorry!, with similar thrills but a tad more strategy, is a hit with ages 6 and up. (Chutes and Ladders is another top pick in this category.) These games help kids learn that numbers correspond with values (1 equals one space, 2 equals two spaces) and do some basic addition.
Ages 5 and up: Many kids can enjoy the higher pleasures of checkers and chess by kindergarten or first grade. Both games are more complex than counting games and great for teaching pattern recognition, thinking ahead and cause-and-effect ("If he does this, I'll do that and then he'll have to do this.") Another big favorite is Clue Jr., which encourages kids (ages 5 to 8) to use their powers of deduction to solve a mystery. Kids graduate to Clue, which is recommended for ages 9 and up.
Ages 2 and up: Very simple puzzles help toddlers with basic geometric concepts. Connect Four is a fun, fast-moving introduction to graphing points on a grid for kids age 4 or 5 and up. (Caution: This game may be addictive for adults as well as children.) At about age 7, many kids are ready for Battleship, which encourages them to visualize shapes they can't actually see and imagine possible patterns on a grid. Another great pick in this category is Blokus (recommended for ages 7 and up).
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