Play it Up! The Best Games for Grade School

Play it Up! The Best Games for Grade School

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based on 31 ratings
Updated on Sep 5, 2008

When it comes to finding the perfect educational board games for the elementary school crowd (1st to 5th grade) parents can find themselves in quite a pickle. Younger children may not have the patience for games that tax their little minds too extensively, while older children might find themselves unequivocally lured by the siren song of those blinking, blipping, blatting video games. The trick is to find games that are the perfect marriage of educational value and fun.

A game that promises to teach your seven year old calculus does little more than incubate dust bunnies in the back of the closet if it’s too boring for any child in his right mind to endure. Your best bet for children in the elementary age range are games that involve logic, word play, basic arithmetic reinforcements, and challenging scenarios that allow them to develop their critical reasoning skills.

Luckily, many toy manufacturers have developed lots of fun toys that support key elementary skills-- whether kids realize it or not. For kinders and first graders, for instance, any game with letters, phonics, and simple word recognition will support reading development. For older elementary school kids, longer word play activities continue to build vocabulary and comprehension. And in math, kids can benefit enormously from any activity that requires them to solve puzzles, fit objects together, or add, subtract, multiply, or divide. Nowadays, you can even find games that build science and social studies knowledge as well.

So veto Indoor Tackle Basketball and Freeform Foot-Elbow-Kneeboxing Tournaments. Get a good game and make downtime a treat... and preserve your furniture in the process. Wondering where to start? We took a look at a range of toys which are easily found in stores or online. Five stars—our top award—went to toys that:

  • Clearly supported skills that are taught in elementary school
  • Included user-friendly directions and manageable doo-dads
  • Provided plenty of just plain fun

Here are some of our top picks for elementary age kids:


What’s Gnu?( 2-6 players; ages 5-8)

What’s Gnu? is a terrific way to teach young children new three-letter words, and to build confidence in spelling and reading the ones they already know. Designed with easily distracted kids in mind, What’s Gnu? involves a lot of shouting, giggling, and a clever contraption called the “Letter Getter.” Visit the game’s website and you can download an extensive list of common three-letter words in the English language. The game takes about 20 minutes to play. It' s fun for older siblings as well, but if you’re playing with a 1st grader and a child past the recommended age range, you may want to give the younger player a 30-60 second head start on each turn. **** (Thinkfun; $15.00)

Connect Four (Ages 7 and up, 2 players)

This classic game is much like a cross between checkers and tick-tack-toe, except that it's played on a vertical grid which makes gameplay that much more exciting! Players drop their checkers into the rows to try and “connect four,” whether it's vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. But watch out! Your opponent will try and block your every move, so take the time to think ahead. This game never seems to get old, and though it may look like nothing much on the surface, its simple yet unlimited structure fosters light strategy, sequencing, and calculation skills. **** (Milton Bradley, $12.99)

Guess Who? (Ages 6 and up, 2 players)

In this one-on-one guessing game, players have a crowd of faces before them. Faced with the challenge of guessing which person is the other player's “mystery face,” players must ask a series of “yes”or “no” questions to narrow it down. “Is it a boy?” “Does he wear glasses?” “Is he bald?” As the possibilities are eliminated, kids learn to ask the right questions to make the correct guess. Although the appeal of this game may be lost on adults, kids often find hours of enjoyment out of the fairly simple gameplay. However, the laborious process of assembling the game out of its zillions of small plastic pieces may prove too much for weary parents and the game, though fun for youngsters, has limited educational value. ** (Milton Bradley, $17.99)

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