Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Your kids are home for two weeks, running circles around the dinner table and driving each other crazy. You need something, anything to keep them occupied for half an hour. Well, not to worry! Games for Young Minds is here to help.

I've already written about SorryBlokus, and Shut the Box, all of which make great gifts. But there is a world of other games that help your kids encounter mathematical ideas that will keep their brains moving throughout winter break. Not only that, your children will be having so much fun, they won't even realize that they're learning!

Pre-School

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If you’re looking to buy someone their first-ever game, you can’t go wrong with Sequence for Kids. A kid-friendly version of the game Sequence, this game gets kids to practice the routine of drawing cards and placing tokens. Along the way, your child will work on looking for matches, and connecting four tokens in a row.

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If your pre-schooler can recognize the numbers from 1-6, then Chutes and Laddersand Trouble are both classic games that helps kids learn number recognition and the basics of counting. Although it may seem that counting to six is the same as counting six spaces along a path, those two skills are distinct. Give your kids a chance to practice counting with either of these great games.

Kindergarten/First Grade

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I am a middle school math teacher, so I spend much of my school year working with the coordinate plane. For that reason, I wholeheartedly recommend Battleship for early elementary kids. The process of firing a missile in Battleship is seemingly simple to adults, but it involves a new skill of reading coordinates on two axes. For your child to accurately fire her missile at B5, she needs to be able to find that location using two different pieces of information, just as we do in Algebra when graphing the point (0,1) on the line y = 2x+1. Also, as the game progresses, the remaining board gets smaller and smaller, and kids have to think hard about which spaces on the board could possibly contain that pesky destroyer.

Othello is another great spatial strategy game that keeps me scratching my head whenever I play my son. As the box says, the game takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Check out this gameplay video for instructions.

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Whenever I play Othello, I am constantly thinking about geometry and spatial arrangements on the board. I can tell my son is doing the same, as he is constantly pointing out "good moves" and "bad moves" on the board. The final stage of the game, where players count up their tokens to see who won, is a great way to motivate kids to count deliberately and accurately with a collection of 25 or 30 objects.

Second/Third Grade

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I had never played Rack-O until this year, but I fell in love with the game. Essentially, you draw ten cards and place them in random order in your tray. Then each person takes turns drawing a card and using it to replace one of their existing cards until all ten cards are in ascending order. Like all seemingly simple games, it contains some wonderful math involving probability, subtraction, and risk. Expect to hear more about this game soon.

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Yahtzee is a fun dice game that travels well and can be played by as many people as you want. As with many of these games, the rules are simple enough for a young child, but the strategy of the game is deep and worth exploring as your child plays over and over. Scorekeeping also involves a great chance to practice multi-digit addition. You'll never get your kid to spend winter break solving 30 addition problems on paper, unless that's what they have to do to figure out who won the game...

Fourth Grade and Older

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You might not think about Scrabble as a math game, but it definitely is! In fact, this game is a must-have for any family since it combines so many math and language skills into one game. As your child weighs her options, she is thinking both about which words she can spell and what her point total will be. More advanced Scrabble players will think strategically, analyzing how their opponents could benefit from a letter placed right next to a triple word space. And of course, the scorekeeping is another great chance to work on multi-digit addition.

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And I've saved the best for last: Prime Climbis an absolutely delightful game developed by a math educator named Dan Finkel. The opportunities for mathematical thinking are almost endless in this game, and the game board itself is a wonderful mathematical object to be explored. If your child needs to practice their multiplication tables (or even if they don't!), this is a great way to help them practice without feeling like a series of flashcards. Here's an instructional video on how to play.

Thanks for Reading!

Remember, no matter your child's age, the most important part of the learning comes from the conversations she has with you. Next week, I'll share a sample conversation I had with my son to deepen his understanding of numbers.