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Last week I wrote about why you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t enjoy playing with your kids because there are other ways to get quality time in with them.
Family game nights are a great way to spend time together!
Game nights are big in my household. My husband and I both grew up playing lots of board and card games with our respective families from a young age, so it was fun to come together and teach each other the games we knew. Now we love to schedule game nights with friends!
Playing games together as a family can have a lot of extended benefits, some of which I didn’t even think about until I started researching for this post.
Games are cooperative, even competitive ones, meaning that each player has to follow the agreed-upon rules in order to succeed. They have to learn turn taking, communication, and reading facial cues. They also have to learn how to win or lose graciously, taking others feelings into account when they react.
Playing games, especially with older family members, helps them practice these skills and get better at them over time.
This is one I totally didn’t think of, but it’s true! Games present a moral dilemma, namely in the way of choosing whether or not to cheat at them. Most games have some pretty easy ways to cheat without being easily detected.
Playing games as a family can lead to some hairy situations if someone cheats and gets caught (especially by a sibling). It provides an opportunity to talk about honesty and integrity and what makes them so important.
Math and Language
Playing these games gives children a chance to flex and build their muscles in these areas in a way that’s more fun than school! Chances are, they won’t even realize they’re using these skills. 😉
Strategy is an important aspect of many games. Chess, Clue, Sequence and other similar games require players to make a plan and carry through with it, adjusting as they go for a higher chance of success.
Thinking two steps ahead is a life skill that children don’t always get a chance to practice until they go out into the real world. It’s definitely to their advantage to learn how to think critically about a situation or dilemma and come up with a solution.
Here are some further benefits of board games for kids as presented by Dr. Corriel on her blog.
An important note just before we get to the games list:
How would you feel if you were playing a game with someone you know is better than you and they kept purposefully letting you win?
Would you feel proud? Would you feel accomplished?
No. You’d feel a little silly because you knew they were letting you win.
You might get away with fooling a 3-year-old, but as kids get a little older, they can tell when an adult is purposefully letting themselves be beaten. That sends them the message “You can’t do it by yourself. I have to help you or you’ll never win.”
It doesn’t boost confidence, it doesn’t improve skill, and it doesn’t teach graciousness in losing.
When I was a kid, Christmas time was games time. My relatives would gather together from all over the country, and we would play board games. Not kids board games. Adult board games.
And guess what? I think I lost every single game until high school. But it didn’t really matter. I was just excited that the adults let me play with them. And each year, I challenged myself to get better.
I did get better. Now when we play most games together, the field is even.
Give you kids the chance to improve, to feel the need to practice and work hard. That way, when they do win, that sense of accomplishment will be genuine and well-earned.
Alright! Without further ado, here is my (lengthy) list of the best board and card games to play as a family. In order of recommended age.
This was my very first board game. I couldn’t not put it on the list. 🙂
If (like my husband) you didn’t grow up playing Candy Land, here’s a quick explanation:
The deck of cards color coordinates with the squares on the path of the board. Players take turns drawing a card, looking at the color, and moving their piece accordingly. First one to the Candy Palace wins.
Super simple. I would recommend it for 2 and up to help kids start recognizing their colours and working on board game social skills.
In a similar vein to Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders involves spinning a number wheel and moving pieces according to the number you get. There are some spaces you land on that will cause you to go several spaces forwards (ladders) or backwards (chutes).
The board also typically depicts moral dilemmas kids might face in everyday life, and positive or negative ways to react to them. You can talk about those situations as a family while you play.
If your child can count to 6, they can play Chutes and Ladders.
The deck contains pairs of cards. After the cards are dealt out, players take turns asking each other if they have X card. Player with the most pairs wins.
This is a very easy game for young children, as they just need to be able to match pictures with each other. It works on memory and communication. You can also get a version with numbers or letters to increase familiarity with those.
Using animal cards instead of a traditional deck of cards as in adult Sequence, Sequence for Kids is a simpler introduction to the game. It involves practicing critical thinking, pattern recognition, and counting.
I would recommend starting at 4-5. Once they start getting really good, move on to adult Sequence for a new challenge.
The easiest card game for kids, War is simply played with a regular deck of cards that is fully divided up between all players.
Each player takes the top card from their deck and places it face-up where other players can see it. Highest card wins and takes the rest to be added to the bottom of their deck. Should a tie occur (two cards of equal value), the two players who tied each place three cards face-down, then a 4th card face-up. Higher value card wins and takes all the laid down cards.
Play continues like this until one person has all the cards in the deck. They win.
War is a good introduction to other games played with a traditional deck of cards as it helps familiarize them. It also relies on counting and basic math skills to determine greater than/lesser than.
This is a two-player game along the same vein as tic-tac-toe. The goal is to get four pieces of your colour in a row by dropping them into the grid.
It involves strategy as players plan out how to get their pieces lined up (and how to stop the other person from lining up theirs!), and basic counting.
The box says it’s suitable for ages 6 and up, but a mature 4-5 year old could easily play as well.
As checkers and chess can both be played on the same board, I would suggest getting a combination set to save space and money.
While both games rely on strategy and critical thinking, checkers is the simpler of the two as all the pieces act the same.
Checkers can be played by children around age 5-6, provided they have the patience to sit and learn.
Similar to but more complex than checkers, the ancient game of chess requires a greater amount of patience and significantly more planning and strategy. It will take a little while for kids to grasp the rules of each piece, but it will be rewarding once they do.
Start teaching chess after they’ve mastered checkers.
Or before. Or during. It’s your kids and your family. Who am I to dictate when you teach them chess?
What a classic. Two players arrange their ships on their grid and take turns trying to “blow each other out of the water” so to speak.
Guesses are made by calling out a grid coordinate, such as C-10, or G-4. Red pegs stand for hits, white pegs for misses. The first player to locate all of their opponent’s ships wins.
This game involves a good deal of strategy, deduction, and both number and letter recognition. I’ve played with a five-year-old before, but if your child doesn’t like to sit still for long periods of time, it might be better to wait until they’re 6 or 7.
Another strategy game, this one requiring geometry and spatial reasoning.
Each player (up to 4) begins with the same set of shapes in their respective color. Taking turns, players must place as many of their shapes as possible on the board before it fills up. All shapes of the same color must be touching, but only at the corner.
Players forfeit when they can no longer put pieces on the board. The player with the most pieces on the board wins.
If your family tends to be hot-blooded, you should probably remove the draw-four cards before playing Uno together.
Just kidding. Draw-four is what makes Uno fun. 😉
After being dealt 7 cards, players take turns putting a card down that matches the previous card played in either color or number. Players who cannot put a card down must pick up from the deck.
When a player gets down to only one card in their hand, they must yell “Uno!”. If they forget, they pick up two cards from the deck.
The first player to put down all their cards wins the game.
Uno focuses on color and number recognition and emotional control. No joke.
Suitable for 6/7-year-olds.
Qwirkle and Qwirkle Cubes
Similar to scrabble, Qwirkle uses colors and shapes instead of letter tiles. Each player draws 6 tiles from and upside-down pile and on their turn, place tiles down to form patterns using either the shapes or colors.
Requires basic geometry and color recognition, but also strategy and pattern identification.
Qwirkle Cubes is different from the original version in that each tile is instead a die and can be rolled on the player’s turn to get a different shape.
The game can be rather complicated, so although the premise is simple, I would recommend it for 8+.
Yahtzee is more math intensive than all of the other games so far, as it requires personal score keeping.
Each player receives a standard list of goals to meet, then rolls five dice to try and meet those goals. The closer they get, the more points they receive.
The game also requires critical thinking to determine which goals to try for and which ones to let go. Suitable for ages 8+.
My personal favourite, though it’s really more of a speed game than a thinking game.
Four players engage in a highspeed solitaire-esque race to get rid of their cards first. Cards are played communally in the middle of the table and must go in ascending order according to color.
Dutch Blitz definitely relies on player integrity, as players are not able to keep an eye on each other (there’s where that moral reasoning kicks in). It requires some math, but mostly dexterity and fine motor skills.
Colonel Mustard with the rope? Or Professor Plum in the library?
In this classic game of deduction, players must use clues to try and solve the mystery before anyone else does.
Children should be able to count squares, read cards, and keep a (relatively) straight face in order to play this game.
This is a creative thinking game in which the rules can be bent if a player is convincing enough.
Players receive cards with nouns on them, and four cards are placed in the middle of the table. Going in turns, players must place cards on a pile based on the size of the noun.
For instance, if an airplane is bigger than a hippo, so the hippo card could be placed “inside” the airplane card. Simple.
BUT, when a pile gets to four cards, a pickle round begins in which each player tries to play a larger card than the last one. The player with the biggest card wins, with the final chance going to the player who put down the 4th card.
To complicate matters further, some cards can be debated. In example, does a spaceship fit in a letter? Physically, no; but someone could write about a spaceship in a letter.
In a Pickle requires lots of communication and persuasion, critical thinking, and some spatial reasoning.
It also requires reading, which is the only thing that puts it this far down the list. Suitable as soon as your child is reading well independently.
Cards Against Humanity’s tamer cousin, Apples to Apples is a great family game that even comes in a kids’ version!
Green cards containing adjectives are read aloud by the “judge” (players take turns judging), and a red noun card is played anonymously by each person. Red noun cards should fit the adjective being read (or not, depending on how you want to play) and the judge picks the card which most appeals to them.
Apples to Apples requires independent reading, social perception, and a good sense of humour.
A great get-to-know-you game, Imagine If involves trivia cards about players personalities. A sample card might read:
“The type of party ______ is most likely to throw would be:
A) A disco
B) A teapart
C) A ball
D) A country square dance
Players then vote on what they think ________ is most likely to choose. The majority wins, and the players that picked that choice advance on the board.
Independent reading, social reasoning, and creative thinking are needed to play this game.
The game of Boggle is all about word recognition. I would suggest familiarizing kids with Boggle before starting them on Scrabble or Upwords (featured next), as word recognition is easier than word creation.
Boggle is like a word search that can be scrambled up and rearranged each time. A timer is set for 3 minutes. Players find words within the letter capsule that connect horizontally, vertically, or diagonally and write them down.
Points are awarded depending on length of word. The player with the most points wins the round.
Kids should have a good grasp of spelling, vocabulary, and writing in order to play. I would suggest 10+.
The next step up from Boggle, these games focus on word creation and thus require more thinking and planning.
Both games involve letter tiles being played on a board to spell out words that must connect to each other. Points are awarded based on the length of word, letters used, and (Scrabble only) location played.
I personally prefer Upwords, as it adds a fun element of stacking letters to create new words.
Just like Boggle, once kids can spell well and have a decent vocabulary, Upwords or Scrabble are fun ways to practice their language skills.
Strategy is the key component to this game.
Ticket to Ride is a geography game where players create railways to get from city to city. There are several versions available, including North America, Europe, and Nordic Countries, as well as multiple expansion packs including Africa and Asia.
Each player chooses a colour and begins the game with a set of train cars in their chosen colour. They also have a corresponding piece on the board to mark their progress. As they create railways, they gain points based on the length of their train.
Players pick up routes which direct them where to build. While these routes are kept secret, other players may block them either accidentally or on purpose, causing a reroute.
When one player uses up all of their train cars, the game ends. The person with the most points – as indicated by their marked progress on the board – wins the game.
Careful planning, counting, and map reading are all required for this game. I would suggest it for ages 10+.
Another high intensity strategy game, in Carcassonne players connect matching pieces to a communal puzzle to form their own castles. The bigger the castle, the more points it’s worth.
Other players may impede castle creation, costing the player points.
Scorekeeping, critical thinking, and spatial reasoning are the necessary tools to play. Suitable for children 10 and older.
One of the best trivia games I’ve ever played to date, Terra is a geography game where the closest guess wins the point.
The board consists of a map with bars on the edges to measure different things. Players are read trivia cards about world geography, history, and culture. They must then place bets on answers such as location, distance, time, and size related to each trivia question. Points are given to the closest guesses.
It does require familiarity with several different units of measurement as well as world geography, so if your child isn’t there yet, this won’t be a fun game for them.
The trivia questions tend to be quite difficult, so I would suggest saving this game for older kids. 12+. You’ll probably find it to be a challenge yourself, but it’s a great source of new knowledge for kids and adults alike!
If you notice Monopoly isn’t on this list, I’ll tell you why.
When I was in 6th grade, I played a 3-day game of Monopoly with my cousin which neither of us won. On day 3, his dog got into the room and ran excitedly right through our Monopoly game. I haven’t played Monopoly since.
So by all means, teach your kids Monopoly. Don’t let my personal prejudice stop you. Just be sure to play it where the dog can’t get it.