Shopping at a toy store can be a bit overwhelming, especially for a parent who is looking to buy a toy that is both fun and educational. Walking down the aisles, so many toys and games boast some sort of educational seal of approval.
Have you ever wondered whether those claims are just marketing gimmicks?
A truly educational “brain game” requires one or more of the following skills:
- Language development
Here are a few suggested games, grouped by target age. Because children develop at different rates, the age categories are an estimate.
Ages 3-5: At this age, games that emphasize focus, self-control and social relationships are key. Of course, consider it a bonus if numbers, patterns and letters are included, too.
- Set: The Family Game of Visual Perception
This game is fun for people of all ages, even those who aren’t reading quite yet. The goal is to group cards into sets of like colors, numbers, shapes and shades. It can be played solo, too!
The objective is to use seven tiles of various shapes to create abstract figures and objects. Players of any age can find an appropriate set: Junior, Classic, Travel and Brainiac.
The classic game of memory can be played with as few tiles as eight, slowly adding more as the child’s memory capacity grows. For those not quite ready for the memory concept, turn the game into one of matching by having the child organize the illustrations into like pairs.
- Building blocks
Although not a “game” per se, blocks are incredibly versatile. Build freely, create patterns, practice counting, recognize shapes or copy one another in your creations. Anything that promotes imaginative play is a plus.
The object of the game is simple enough for a 4 or 5 year old to understand, but leaves lots of room for increased strategy as the children get older.
Ages 6-8: As children are learning to read, write and solve more complex problems, look for games that focus on problem-solving, language development and critical-thinking.
Perhaps the quintessential brain game, chess improves memory, concentration, problem-solving and creativity. Chessboards these days come in various themes to increase interest, from Star Wars to the Super Mario Brothers.
Game play seems simple and straightforward – to score, match tiles according to shape or color. Players quickly will learn, however, that it takes more strategy than what they first thought.
Players compete or cooperate to build crossword grids using letter tiles. The tiles are kept in a little banana-shaped pouch, which is easy to take along on a trip or to a friend’s house.
Different types of animals need to cross a river. To get them safely to the other side, the player must draw upon logic and critical-thinking to assess in what order the animals should cross so they don’t eat each other in the process! This game provides various levels of difficulty that will challenge kids and parents alike.
Ages 9+: As children get older, they can take on games that are more challenging for them – and you!
- Rush Hour
Gridlock isn’t fun for anyone … except when it is turned into a game. Taking on the role of a traffic cop, the player puts his or her problem-solving skills to the test to get the red car out of the traffic jam in as few turns as possible.
This is a fast-paced game requiring players to use memory, quick thinking and visual dexterity to replicate patterns using their set of 16 cubes.
Think: Bananagrams + Numbers for this game that is easy to play, but challenging and fun to master.
- Rubik’s Cube
One of the best-selling brainteasers of all time, this classic is sure to push any brain to the max.
These games might be targeted at children, but experts say that it’s a double bonus if parents play with their children. Family interaction is important for building solid relationships that are critical for a child to feel loved and connected with others. When a child feels safe and accepted, they are then more easily able to engage in higher-level thinking. Not to mention, YOU might learn a thing or two, and have fun doing it! So what are you waiting for? Grab a game, fix a favorite snack and get playing until your brain is content!