Pattern Play Blocks - An All-Ages Math Toy

Some of the games I recommend are definitely for older kids. 

But at the heart of Games for Young Minds is the idea that kids should be having mathematically rich experiences from an early age.

Which is why I'm so happy to discuss this week's recommendation. Pattern Play is a game that a two-year-old can enjoy playing with, yet the math ideas are rich enough to keep much older kids happily occupied as well. It's the first game that I've seen my 1 year old baby drawn to at the same time as my kindergartner.

Let's check it out!

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How Many Ways Can You Add to 10?

My son has been working with addends a ton this year in school. Every so often, he brings home a math packet that is full of these things called number bonds, which help young learners break a larger number into two smaller pieces.

He's gotten pretty good at addends (probably all that dice rolling and score keeping), so I decided to give him a little puzzle to keep him occupied when his math packet feels simplistic.

I call it How Many Ways Can You Add to 10?

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Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is a phenomenon for a reason: The game is just plain fun.

I remember when I first realized how enjoyable and versatile the game was: I brought it over to my dad's on Thanksgiving, and we played a nice, friendly face-up version of the game with my son and a couple of his cousins. Then I left the game over there that night, in case anyone wanted to play later.

The next day, my dad told me about the brutal, conniving, back-stabbing game of Ticket to Ride that the adults had played the night before. 

I figure that when a game is just as fun played face-up or face-down, it's a keeper. Ticket to Ride is definitely more expensive than the typical game that I recommend, so maybe it works best as a birthday present than an impulse purchase. But it's strategically deep enough to remain a big part of your board game rotation for years.

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How Close to 100?

It's not often that I find a game that I find a game that is easy to teach, free, and beloved by both my 6-year-old son and my 8th grade students. 

This game is perfectly suited for a 2nd or 3rd grader who is beginning to learn about multiplication, but it's accessible for younger kids and strategically fun for older ones as well.

I found How Close to 100? through Jo Boaler's helpful site YouCubed, which has a lot of multi-age math tasks and games. 

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Trouble - A Fantastic Pre-school Counting Game

Say you have a four-year-old. She knows how to count to ten or even twenty, but you don't know what other math topics you should be helping her with. Should she learn to count to 100? To do basic addition? What's next?

The answer might be surprising: Your daughter knows how to count. Now she needs to know when to count.

Perhaps she knows the sequence of words "one, two, three" and so on, but does she know what counting is for? Why do we count? When is counting useful? 

Maybe she does! But you'll never know until you ask her.

This week's game provides so many great opportunities for counting, I think it should be a mainstay in any family's playroom. It's also my daughter's favorite game to play.

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Blokus - Cooperative Variation

If you've been reading Games for Young Minds since the beginning, you know one of my absolute favorite games is Blokus. The game is incredibly easy to learn, accessible to kids of almost all ages, and still fun for adults.

I've been wanting to share the game again, especially since my readership has grown so much since November 2017! Fortunately, I have just the excuse: Over the winter holiday, I came up with a fun, cooperative twist on the game that has been a big hit at home. 

So let's visit, or revisit, one of the greatest little games out there.

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Pig

Let's say I make you a wager. You roll this die a certain number of times. At the end, I'll give you $100, so long as you never roll a 1. If you do end up rolling a 1, then you have to pay me $100.

How many rolls of the dice would you risk? Surely, you'd roll once, right? After all, the odds of winning are 5 out of 6. But only a fool would roll that die 30 or 50 or 100 times in a row.

So when does some outcome change from "unlikely" to "likely"? And how can you help your kids build an intuition for that idea, before they start wasting all their money on lottery tickets?

Maybe a quick game of Pig might help.

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Monopoly (Part 2)

When you play Monopoly with your kids, let them be the banker. Yes, I know, this will make the game even longer. It's worth the wait.

Kids today need as much exposure to handling money as possible. Maybe you're unconvinced: with credit cards and Venmo, kids don't need to learn how to make change and count bills anymore, right?

I fully disagree. In fact, I think the opposite is true: In previous generations, parents and kids had numerous opportunities to talk about math while paying for groceries or settling up at the pharmacy. Kids naturally gravitate to these shiny coins and green slips of paper, and their questions gave parents a chance to talk about how pennies convert to nickels and how $1 bills compare to $20s. 

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Monopoly (Part 1)

As I type this, my son is playing Monopoly with his closest friend. I'm elated for two reasons. First, he's doing a ton of mathematical thinking right now. And more importantly, I don't have to play.

Maybe you've wondered why it's taken me over a year to write about the most famous board game of all time. Honestly, it's because Monopoly just isn't my favorite game. The first 20 minutes or so are fun, as you collect properties and try to negotiate trades with your opponents.

But after that, a sense of dread sets in as you realize that one player lucked into a much better set of properties than the others, and it's just a matter of time before they win. But when I say time, I mean time. Games can last two hours, and usually the person on the bad end of a bankruptcy feels pretty miserable for the last hour or so, as they barely pull their way out of poverty, only to slide back down due to a bad roll of the dice.

(It's almost like the creator of the game was making a point about capitalism!)

But my son loves the game, and his love of the game has made me re-evaluate Monopoly and think of ways to keep the fun and the math, while removing a bit of the grind. In next week's newsletter, I'll spend the whole time talking about the role of the banker. This week, I'll focus on the dice, the board, and the proper way to play Monopoly.

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LEGO Blindfold Build Challenge

I spent my entire childhood playing with LEGO sets. I hardly ever built the designs on the boxes. Instead, my friend Turner and I would try to invent our own space ships, robots, and bat caves, using whatever bricks we had handy.

My son, on the other hand, prefers to build exactly what is on the box and then set it on the shelf for months at a time. So when I cajole and encourage him to make something from his own imagination, I don't often get far.

Fortunately, my friend Joel Bezaire shared a perfect way to turn LEGO building into a game. It's called the LEGO Blindfold Build Challenge.

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Patchwork

Sometimes I am deeply grateful that my son is just as interested in board games as I am. Other times, I feel like I've created a monster.

The kid wakes up at 6am on the weekends and jumps on my bed, waking me up with "Chess?"

"You know, I'm probably going to need a second to wake up before we launch into any games."

"Ok, so then after you have coffee we can play?"

Clearly he understands the concept of checkmate.

All of that to say, my son's most recent obsession was the game Patchwork, which I got him for Hanukkah. It's a great game for us to play, since it's specifically designed for two players and has enough strategy to keep me guessing. We've probably played it between 15 and 20 times in the past month, and I'm still happy to play whenever he wants.

As long as I've had my coffee.

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Liar's Dice

If you are a reader of Games for Young Minds, then you are probably either:

a) A parent of kids who, after a long Winter Break, need something to keep them entertained so they will Stop. Screaming. At.  Each. Other.

b) A teacher who is trying to think of a fun activity for the first day of the new semester.

c) All of the above

I fall into that third category, so I thought I'd share a game that is always one of my biggest hits of the school year: Liar's Dice. This is also a perfect home-for-the-holidays game, since you can easily accommodate three, four, or more players. As long as you have enough dice for everyone, everyone in the family can join!

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Kingdomino

This week, I'm sharing one of the games from my Holiday Gift Guide. I hadn't intended to write about Kingdomino so soon, but my son just can't get enough of the game. As it happens, I was able to capture some great video of him thinking through some of the math in the game, and I couldn't resist sharing.

Kingdomino is a great game for two, three or four players, but my son and I both prefer the two-player version. The strategy gets harder, the scores go higher, and there seem to be more ways to win.

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Dots and Boxes

Sometimes I want a game that will take up an entire hour, the sort of game that can absorb me and my kids on a rainy afternoon. On those days, I reach for Qwirkle or Mastermind.

But other times, I just need a game that will keep my kids occupied for ten minutes while we wait for the dentist to call us back. In those moments, I am looking for a game that is quick, fun, and easy to learn.

Dots and Boxes is a perfect game for these situations. All you need is a pencil and paper (or a crayon and the back of a kid's menu). Of course, knowing me, I've found all sorts of deeper math in this simple game. But first let's just take a look at how the game is played.

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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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