Holiday Gift Guide 2018

Looking for a gift for your kids that's fun, but perhaps a little more intellectually stimulating than the Nerf MurderGun 5000 or Princess Daenerys's Glitter-Shedding Dragon? Don't worry, Games for Young Minds has got you covered.

Below, I've shared two games for each age level: One game that I've profiled previously, and a new game that I haven't gotten the chance to write about. No matter what age your child or what games they've played before, you should be able to find something useful below. Enjoy!

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Qwirkle - Play Scrabble before you can read!

Have you ever played one of those people in Scrabble who knows all the two-letter words?

I'm not talking about "it" and "he." I mean someone who confidently plays "qi" and then dares you to Google it. 

My friend Robin is one of those people. I have played her in Scrabble since high school, and I have no idea how many times I've lost to her. But I definitely remember how many times I've won: zero.

Don't get me wrong, Scrabble is a fantastic game. Someday I'll probably write a newsletter (or three) about it. But it does pose a problem, especially for parents: How do you play a word-based game with a kid (or friend) with a much lower vocabulary than you? What if your kid can't even read or spell yet?

Fortunately, I have found the perfect introductory game to the fun and strategy of Scrabble: Qwirkle. If you play Qwirkle with your five-, six-, and seven-year-olds, they'll be totally ready to dive into Scrabble as older kids.

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Prime Climb - Make your way to 101!

I'll admit it: this week's game is for older kids. 

I've been holding onto this game, Prime Climb, for over a year, just waiting to see when my kids would be old enough to play. I even tried a modified version with my 6-year-old son, but it just didn't work. To get to the heart of this game, you really need to know the ideas of multiplication and division. I'd recommend this game for kids who are at least in 3rd grade.

The good news is, the game is just as fun with older kids and with adults. I was able to buy a class set of Prime Climb games for my math games elective, and my 8th graders absolutely loved the game. They got to use math creatively in a way that they rarely have, and I had just as much fun as they did. 

In school, math often feels like a set of procedures that you must perfectly mimic. But in Prime Climb, you are free to be as mathematically creative as you want.

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Map Wars - Can you color in the entire map?

I love a game where a child's intuition can lead them down a path toward a mathematical discovery. The easier the on-ramp into a mathematical game, the likelier a child is to find their own patterns and make their own discoveries.

Last week, I shared a puzzle game called Don't Connect the Dots! that provided a kid-friendly introduction to the rich mathematical world of graph theory. This week I'll be sharing another game, Map Wars, that is more deeply related to Don't Connect the Dots! than you might expect at first. 

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Don't Connect the Dots!

In the past I've mentioned that I am teaching an elective at my middle school that is all about math games and mathematical artwork. My students have gotten to make origami, fractals like the Sierpinski Triangle and the Koch Snowflake (pictured), and stellated icosahedrons.

Since I have 29 kids in my room, I am always looking for cost-effective games that contain math ideas. So I was elated to come upon this wonderful post by Joel David Hamkins about teaching graph theory to seven-year-olds. I adapted some of his materials and turned them into a game I call Don't Connect the Dots!

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Is This Game Too Tough For My Child?

A few weeks back, I did a celebratory Q&A for my first 1000 subscribers. I had such a fun time writing my answers that I kept an eye out for other questions about games, math, and parenting.

Well, last weekend I was talking with another parent about birthday presents when they hit me with a question I just had to answer in the newsletter. So here we go!

Alison asks:

I've noticed that you always seem to recommend games to kids who are on the younger side: the box recommends players 8 and older, but you'll recommend it for 5 or 6 year olds. Why is that? Won't the kids get frustrated by a game that's too hard for them?

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Rummikub - A Classic Rummy-Based Tile Game

Often, when I teach my kids a game, we play a couple of "face up" rounds, where everyone can see each other's cards or pieces. During the game, we talk freely about every player's options, as well as strategies that might pay off in the future.

As I've begun playing games with more and more kids, I've come to realize that face-up variations of games are just as fun! Instead of patiently waiting my turn, I am able to engage my kids in a conversation about what their possible goals might be, and how they can reach those goals. 

I'd like to illustrate this idea by discussing the game Rummikub, a classic tile-based game that I was introduced to on a family beach trip this past summer.

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Attribute Train - Turn Your Junk Drawer into a Math Game

One of my favorite parts of writing this newsletter is that I get great game recommendations all the time. A friend will text me a picture of a game they found at Target and, before you know it, I'm inventing a toilet paper shortage so I can run down to the store.

This is why free games are my (and my wife's) favorite game recommendations. And boy, do I have a great one this week.

I learned about Attribute Train from Meredith Wilkes, who shares a bunch of great moments of early math on Twitter. I immediately played the game with my older two kids, both of whom absolutely loved the game. It's now a mainstay at the Haines household.

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Sequence for Kids - An Excellent Introduction to Board Games

I played a lot of classic board games as a kid, but I got sick of them eventually. It seemed like a dead hobby: once you got sick of Monopoly, Scrabble, and Risk, what else was there?

Then my uncle brought Sequence to a family gathering and I fell in love with games again. I particularly enjoyed playing in teams, trying to work together with my partner without any direct communication.

My kids are a little too young for Sequence, especially my 3-year-old. Fortunately, the makers of Sequence have come out with Sequence for Kids, a game that keeps the spirit of the original game while making the rules accessible for kids as young as three.

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Lowest Number Wins - How Low Can You Go?

This week my family celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, by having 32 folks over for dinner on Sunday night. It was a glorious, crazy mess, as indicated by this picture of my brain afterward (artist's rendition).

At one point I found myself in a room with kids of all ages who were starting to get very vocal with their predictions about when, if ever, the dessert was going to be served. I realized that I was in a place I've been many times as a teacher: stuck in a room with a bunch of bored, hungry kids with nothing to do.

It struck me in that moment that sometimes parents need a quick, easy multi-age game just as much as I do in my classroom! I've shared a few options in the past, such as the 100 Game or Ultimate Tic Tac Toe. But what if you need something really quick, really easy, and really fun?

Lowest Number Wins is that game.

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Press Here - A Book You Can Play!

Have your kids ever tried to "play" a book the way that they play a game?

My son has this little game with an alphabet book where he will deliberately tell me the wrong letter to make a funny word. So on the "H is for Horse" page, I ask him which letter he sees, and he'll respond "Z," which forces me to say "Z is for Zorse," at which point he falls out of the bed laughing every. Single. Time.

On other nights, my two older kids work together to recite the entirety of The Book with No Pictures by heart. Which is tough to do when you're too young to read and the book, as it advertises, has no pictures! (By the way, this book was written by Ryan from The Office, and it is hilarious. Check it out.)

And of course I've shared in the past about how my kids turned How Many?, the greatest math book of all time, into a guessing game.

These little games make bedtime into a special part of the day for me. I can get as worn down as any parent, repeating the same book word-for-word over and over. But when my kids find a little game in the middle of a book, they bring a spark of novelty that livens up the whole room.

So I'd love to share the most playable book I've ever read: Press Here.

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1000 Subscriber Q&A!

t's a big week here at Games for Young Minds!

When I started this newsletter back in October of last year, my only goal was to write something helpful every week. I had lots of friends who were confused about how to help their children learn math, and I wanted to create some simple methods for fostering mathematical conversations. Games seemed like the perfect avenue.

Clearly, many of you shared this newsletter with friends and family members, and for that I can't thank you enough. It means a lot to me that you like the newsletter enough to share it and build the audience for these ideas.

So to celebrate you, my readers, I've devoted this week's newsletter to some reader questions! Honestly, I had so much fun writing this newsletter that I'd love to make Q&A a semi-regular feature of the newsletter. So if this newsletter sparks any questions in your mind, feel free to send them my way!

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Product Dice - The Sequel to Sum Dice

So last week, I wrote about Sum Dice, a simple and quick game that can be quite a fun introduction into the concept of fairness.

What makes a game fair? Essentially, a fair game should be one where both players have an equal chance of winning. Sometimes people like playing an unfair game, such as blackjack, because they can "beat the odds" and get the adrenaline rush of winning when they should have lost.

But mostly, people like to play fair games, and they definitely hate playing a game that seems fair but is actually rigged in one way of another.

So that's why Product Dice is such a fun and devilish game to play, once your child has played and thought about Sum Dice.

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Sum Dice

Y'all.

Last week my principal approved my dream course: a semester-long elective on math games and art at the middle school where I teach.

I am ecstatic! For the next nine weeks, I get to spend one period each day just playing games with 8th graders and investigating the math that they contain. After that, we'll be creating math art inspired by some of my favorite artists, such as Regolo Bizzi (pictured). I can't imagine a more fun class to teach.

I was wondering how to start the course. What math topic should I introduce first? And I settled on one of the most fundamental questions that a kid can ask: Is this game fair?

So I used the simplest game I could think of to investigate that concept: Sum Dice

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Guess Who?

Do you still remember the faces from the original Guess Who game? I do. The big noses, the rosy cheeks. The...interesting skull shapes.

I mean, just look at Bill. Poor Bill. The guy looks like a pink raindrop with facial hair. I mean, he's a happy pink raindrop with facial hair, but still...

The game has gone through several much-needed printings since the 80s, adding more women and people of color to the mix. But you can still find the classic version if you so choose.

And I do recommend that you find a version you like, because your kid will definitely want to play Guess Who? a bunch! There's a reason the game was such a smash hit when it came out 30 years ago: the rules are simple, the play is quick, and the competition is fierce!

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Tenzi - A Fast-Paced Dice Game

You know Tenzi; it's that tube of multicolored dice that suddenly appeared in every toy store in America a few years ago.

I bought the game and played it with my kids a year or so ago, but I wasn't sure how mathematical the game was at its core. Other than learning how to recognize, or subitize, the number on each side of the dice, where could I find the math?

Then I bought the companion piece, 77 Ways to Play Tenzi. Some of the games are ridiculous and silly, while others are really interesting mathematical games. Best of all, they all incorporate the most fun and addictive aspect of Tenzi: frantically rolling a ton of multi-colored dice.

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Nim - A Devilishly Difficult Game

Years ago, a teacher friend sent me an online version of the game Nim. "Try it out!" they said innocently enough, "See if you can figure out the strategy!"

The game seemed simple enough, basically just a set of three rows of objects. So I gave it a shot, and I lost. And then I lost again, and again. I finally walked away from my computer, a broken man. 

In the years since then, I've moved cities and schools, had three kids, and STILL CANNOT BEAT THIS GAME.

In preparation for this newsletter, I finally gave in and looked up the solution. And having seen a lovely explanation from one of my favorite mathematicians, James Tanton, I think I can provide a way to turn this maddening little game into a meaningful mathematical exploration for you and your child.

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Connect 4 - Add to 10 Variation

Do you have a Sharpie handy? I hope so, because today we are going to be defacing a classic game, Connect 4!

Connect 4 doesn't need any improvement, honestly. The game is great for young kids developing their fine motor skills and their spatial reasoning. But I found a lovely little variation from Catherine Reed at Brown Bag Teacher and I just had to try it with my son.

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