Play it Up! The Best Games for Grade School (page 3)

Play it Up! The Best Games for Grade School

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based on 31 ratings
Updated on Sep 5, 2008


Cadoo (Ages 7 and up; 2 or more players)

It’s hard to think of anything this well-established, award-winning game does not offer. Think tic tac toe, bingo, charades, Play-doh AND Trivial Pursuits (for kids), and you’ll be part way there. Kids take turns pulling cards which give them quick, goofy tasks to complete, sometimes alone and sometimes with another player. When they have succeeded, they get to put a token on the board (that’s the tic tac toe part). This game is zany, hands-on, fast paced and gripping. Seven year olds can do it, but may require extra adult support; nine, ten, and eleven year olds will be able to do it more independently—and hilariously, too. As for academic content: unlike an activity such as “Smart Mouth,” this game is too broad ranging to qualify as systematic academic practice. But the tasks involve logic, sequencing, word puzzling, art, and “fun facts,” and as such are related to school in a fun, fast-paced way. It's thirty minutes or more well spent. Our kid testers gave it a happy thumbs-up. ***** (Cranium, $19.95)

Rush Hour Deluxe (single player; ages 8 and up)

Kids will absolutely love this tough three-dimensional puzzle, if they can manage to wrestle it away from Mom and Dad. A unique and addictive take-off on those little sliding square puzzles from the days of yore, Rush Hour challenges kids and adults alike to give those deductive reasoning, logic, and creative thinking skills a thorough workout. If your little ones are finding the challenges to be too, well, challenging, simply gather the whole family around and find the solution as a team! ***** (Thinkfun; $20.00)

Three of a Crime ( 2-6 players; ages 8 and up)

Three of a Crime is a fun, brisk game that turns a basic logic conundrum into a mystery involving shady characters like “Loose-Eye Lenny” and “Pencil Top” (represented by colorfully illustrated cards that players take turns flipping over to eliminate potential “suspects”) While most children in the recommended age range will likely enjoy the game, parents may become frustrated by the fact that it is often more fun for the kids to make random guesses and flip the character cards than to actually attempt to solve the crime using deductive reasoning. In short: the game is fun for kids, a little tedious for parents, and misses the mark a bit on enforcing deduction and logic skills. I think even “No Neck Nick” would agree … *** (Gamewright; 15 minutes; $9.99)

The Scrambled States of America Game (2-4 players; ages 8 and up)

Based on Laurie Keller’s book of the same title, The Scrambled States of America Game is a creative and very witty method of teaching children geography. Quick moving and wacky enough to keep parents and older kids entertained, this game reinforces U.S. geography and visual discrimination skills in a fresh, unique way. Younger children may become frustrated with some of the challenges and riddles, but simply slowing the pace of the game or playing in parent/kid teams should keep everyone happy and able to participate in the fun. *** (Gamewright; 20 minutes; $13.99)


River Crossing (Ages 8 to Adult; 1 or more players)


A hiker wants to cross a scary river. You put down logs he can step on so he doesn’t get chomped by gators. No problem, right? Wrong! This marvelous game of logic and spatial relations consists of a magnetized guy, a bunch of toy planks and tree stumps, and 40 “challenge cards” from Beginner to Expert level. Our six year old tester was riveted, despite being told he was too young; he made it through the first few cards. Our ten year old moved faster—but slowed down significantly as routes got trickier. Our forty-six-year-old Mom? No comment. From an educational standpoint, we give this toy top marks: it directly addresses the problem-solving, spatial relations, and logic skills that run through math and science curriculum in every elementary and middle school grade. Plus, it can take as little as five minutes to play, so it's a great way to take a quick break in the middle of a homework session. ***** (Thinkfun, 5 minutes and up, $15.99)

Shape By Shape (single player; ages 8 to adult)

An addictive take on the ancient Chinese game of Tangram, Shape by Shape provides an obstacle course for the mind. The puzzles can be worked out alone or as a team, either with or without the use of the solutions on the back of the cards. Children (and adults!) will build their logic and deductive reasoning skills, and when played as a team, Shape By Shape is an excellent means of reinforcing cooperative teamwork. **** (Thinkfun; $10.00)

Block By Block (single player; ages 8 to adult)

Similar to Shape By Shape (but significantly more difficult) from the same manufacturer, Block By Block is a three-dimensional puzzle game that requires patience, dexterity, and deductive reasoning skills. Younger children (and easily frustrated grown-ups) may find these puzzles more enjoyable when worked out as a team. Answers are provided on the back of the puzzle cards, and many of the problems are difficult enough to pose a fun challenge even when constructing a particular shape with the aid of the solution. Like Shape By Shape, this game can be used to teach teamwork skills to all children in the elementary school age range. **** (Thinkfun; $10.00)

Ready for play? A word to the wise: before cracking open one of these games in front of a kid, crack it open when they're not around. Read the directions, assemble all necessary pieces, and familiarize yourself with the rules, prior to breaking it out for some family fun. Even the simplest games can have detailed, sometimes confusing instructions, and watching Mom or Dad quietly labor over them can quickly drain a kid's interest and patience.

That said, there's a lot of fun to be had in this pile of boxes. And none will really break the bank. So get playing, already!

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