Play it Up! The Best Games for Grade School (page 2)

Play it Up! The Best Games for Grade School

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based on 31 ratings
Updated on Sep 5, 2008


Rat-a-Tat Cat Deluxe 10 Anniversary Edition( 2-6 players; ages 6 and up)

The best of the bunch! Rat-a-Tat Cat is a fun, fast-paced game that manages to be simple enough for a first grader to enjoy while boasting enough versatility to keep parents laughing and engaged right along with the kids. This is a card game that relies on rudimentary strategy, basic math, memory skills, and a lot of luck, but the addition of “power cards” that allow you to peek at what other players are holding and the special “Rat Scanner” adds an irresistible level of silliness that will have the whole family fighting to shout “Rat-a-Tat Cat!” ***** (Gamewright; $11.99)

Password & Password Junior (Age 7 to Adult; 4-6 players)

Remember that “Password” TV show when you were a kid? Well, bring that up to date with cool “decoder cases” and “password cards”, but keep the old fashioned word play, and you’ve got a great game that clearly supports elementary reading skills as well. This game, which takes at least twenty minutes, is best played in two teams of two each—and it’s best when the opponents are equally matched in skills. Each team gets a set of “password cards”; one team member sees the words using the “decoder,” and must give clues until a partner guesses the word. “Password” builds reading, vocabulary, and teamwork skills, and it kept our fifth grade testers happily engaged for a full hour. Two cautions: 1. It’s worth reading the “rules for clues” on the direction sheet—at least two of these situations threatened to disrupt our game, and the rule sheet helped! 2. This game is quite challenging for its youngest players. Make sure you check out the extra directions for “Password Junior”—an adaptation that still uses regular cool stuff in the box. ***** (Endless Games; $11.99)

Thing-a-ma-Bots ( 2-6 players; ages 6 and up)

Thing-a-ma-Bots is a fantastic game that works precisely because its “educational” qualities blend seamlessly with its innate goofiness. A simple matching game that blends memory skills with creative thinking, Thing-a-ma-Bots is as fun for the parents as it is for the kids. Plus, you can knock out a game in a cool twelve minutes, and it's easy to stash the cards in your suitcase for some vacation rounds. We had a great time with kooky characters like “Bolty,” “Crazymetal,” and “Weirdbot” – just to name a few. What robot friends will your family discover? **** ( Gamewright; 12 minutes, $5.99)

Twister (Ages 6 and up, 2 or more players)

This game has been around for awhile, but that doesn't mean it's gotten old! To put a retro spin on body awareness and motor skills, pull out this tried and true favorite, and get your stretch on. Just spin the wheel, and you'll be putting “right foot on green!” in no time. Plus, you'll be reinforcing body part and color recognition. Twister gets bodies, old and young, in motion. It's the perfect pick for a party or just a family evening of fun. **** (Milton Bradley, $13.99)


Smart Mouth (Ages 8 to Adult; 2 or more players)

This game got top grades from our elementary school kid testers, and from a teacher mom as well. Using an appealing push-release mechanism, players get two letters. One must be the first letter in a word, and the second must be the last. First one to shout out a word gets the two letter tiles; the one with the most tiles at the end wins. The game clearly supports spelling and word work, and will definitely challenge third through fifth graders. We even tried it with a teenager and got raves. One cautionary note: this game should be played with evenly matched teams. If one kid’s way behind another, or one is much shyer than the other, adult supervision will be required, to put it mildly. With evenly matched teams, however, the possibilities are endless. “Smart Mouth” is also beautifully supported by a well-written direction brochure which includes extra adaptations at levels which will fit your kid’s skills. Set aside at least thirty minutes, to really do the game justice. ***** (Thinkfun, $17.00)

JamPack Jam( Ages 6 and up; 2-4 players)

With its bright van and goofy pieces, this toy caught our eye straight off. It’s also a top scorer for pure, silly fun. Players put a toy SUV in the middle of the table, push a talking timer, and must try to pack in the largest collection of objects possible—ranging from a spare tire to an armchair to a bathtub—before time runs out and the car pops everything out in a hilarious shower. For six and seven year olds, the game supports spacial reasoning skills as well as those eternal favorites: turn-taking and good sportsmanship. But our ten year old tester adored the challenge as well. Biggest fan of all was his dad, who could not stop laughing about the real-life relevance of this toy: any parent who has ever tried to pack for a family trip will know what he means. Our one reservation: the basic concept and task are fairly simple and straightforward. After less than fifteen minutes our testers were ready to move on, though they were happy for another round the next day. **** (Cranium Toys, $19.95)

Pictureka! (Ages 6 and up; 2 or more players)

In this visually stimulating find-it-first game, players face a constantly moving and shifting game board bursting with hip and wacky illustrations. Draw a green “mission” card, and you have thirty seconds to find as many items, such as beards, musical instruments, or things found in the jungle, as you've rolled with your dice. Draw a blue card, and all players compete to get a glimpse of the right picture first. This game fosters visual memory, reflexes, and creative thinking, and, with every “mission” card in both English and Spanish, kids can get a taste of foreign-language vocab into the bargain. **** (Parker Brothers, $19.99)

Zeus on the Loose (Ages 8 to Adult; 2 or more players)

Before you play this game, plan to take a few minutes to review the Greek gods. That way, you reinforce the Social Studies connections, and give yourself a chance to deepen your child’s intellectual experience. From there, the game is mainly a math challenge for your third to fifth grader: cards count toward an overall score goal of 100, and players round numbers up and down on specific turns as they calculate their totals. Like the Gods themselves, each card has a “power,” whether that means raising or lowering points. In the case of the Zeus card, it means that a player can grab a Zeus figurine that comes with the card game. With these complex rules, our testers were put off by dense and somewhat confusing directions. The math challenges in themselves were interesting; but the Greek god connections often didn’t seem like a clear or helpful match. ** (Gamewright, 20 minutes and up, $7.99)

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