By TMoM Team Member Laura Simon
True story: I don’t love board games. In fact, I’ve been known to refer to them as “bored” games while retreating to the introvert corner with a book. So why am I writing about board games for the family?
Frankly, my kids love games. And board games are better for their brains than video games. They promote family togetherness – or perhaps war, if your people are as competitive as my people are. A good board game can be used over and over, until no one can remember how to get all the moving parts back into that confounding box. Board games teach skills that apply to real, actual life, including – but not limited to – how to cry so loudly and persistently that everyone around you just gives in and lets you win. Or does that only happen at my house?
The key to a successful family board game night is a game that engages the kids at an age-appropriate level without requiring loads of teaching on your end. Apparently Cards Against Humanity isn’t a good choice for families. But what is?
When my kids were little, they went hard for some of the staples I played as a kid – and promptly forgot about. Candyland was a huge hit with my crew, starting in preschool. Another big hit – and a more recent addition to the board game arsenal – is The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel. This one develops fine-motor skills, as they use squirrel-shaped tongues to pick up the acorns and put them in their tree. It isn’t complex, but it’s a high-quality game that’s perfect for littler kids.
Of course, sometimes you don’t want anything other than fun. For that, we turn to the Stinky Pig game. This updated version of Hot Potato features a pig who abruptly ends the hot potato song with a loud fart. The goal is to avoid holding the pig when he releases his gas. This game is even popular with middle and high school kids because who doesn’t like a farting pig?
If you’re into toilet humor (and we are), Flushin’ Frenzy involves plunging a toy toilet and launching a fake (but very realistic, should someone leave it on the table) turd into the air. Participants have to scramble to grab the turd before their opponents. If this sounds like off-color chaos, it absolutely is.
Finally, Exploding Kittens is a riot for elementary age and up. Don’t worry, no actual kittens explode (my daughter was concerned). But laughter probably will, as you choose from cleverly illustrated cards that enable you to defuse the situation.
I’m never opposed to using board games to reinforce what my kids cover in school. One of my favorite teaching games is Ticket to Ride. There are multiple versions of this, including one that’s designed for young kids. I recommend starting with that one if you have players in the lower elementary grades. All the Ticket to Ride games reinforce geography skills while providing a fun element of competition.
My boys absolutely loved Battleship starting around age 5. At 9 and 10, they still love Battleship, but they’ve managed to lose almost all of the tiny pieces, so frankly it’s a little hard to play. They also stumbled upon Stratego a few years ago, which includes a lot of strategic thinking. On especially hard parenting days, I’m content to call a game of Stratego our math lesson and move on with life.
Card games make great options as well, and they’re easy to store and easily portable, making them perfect for family trips. Emoji Uno – which is really just Uno with emojis on the cards, makes an appearance almost nightly at my house. It’s simple but still engaging, and every once in a while, we make it through a whole game without my six-year-old dissolving into tears because she has to draw four. The struggle is real, friends. I regularly have to remind myself that I am teaching them to be good competitors so that I can enjoy board games with them when they’re older. I don’t always enjoy it now.
More Challenging Games (and for older kids)
If you’re looking to help your kids engage in more challenging, complex games, look for a traditional game like Monopoly with a pop-culture update. My kids love to play Fortnite Monopoly. It’s the closest I’ll let them get to actual Fortnite, and the branding makes the game feel relevant to them.
Other favorites include Rummikub, Catan, Doodle Dice (this is great for younger kids too!), Sequence, any kind of trivia game (Wolf Trivia is a lot of fun), Pictionary, and of course any kind of card game including poker (and you can gamble for things like candy instead of money)!
Whatever you decide to play, my wish for you is plenty of family memories, and maybe even a few games without tears. I’m told it can happen.
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