This is post three in my series Board Games with Kids. Previous posts in this series includes 5 Ways Board Games Turn Kids Into Geniuses and 10 Favorite Board Games to Get Your Younger Kids Gaming.
I am not a big fan of educational games. I mean, there are some that are fun and I will play them (and, better yet, the kids will play them), but generally speaking educational games just aren’t that fun. And if you’re not having fun, how often will you and your kids want to play the game?
Good board games, however, are educational in their own right. As I mentioned earlier, there are so many things we learn from playing board games. But sometimes you want something a little more. Maybe you know your child needs a little more help practicing addition, speaking in front of others, or visualizing the world. There are games that are perfect for all those things, and so much more.
I asked my kids and together we came up with my family’s 10 favorite non-educational board games that happen to be educational. I hope that it will not only offer you some choices for family gaming, but also inspire you to look at board games in a different way. You just might find educational value in the games you already have on your shelves.
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In Ticket to Ride you collect sets of train car cards to allow you build rail segments in order to complete routes between cities. It is simple to learn, is enjoyed by a wide range of people, and has a great deal of replayability, which means it is a family favorite in many homes. It also helps with geography. With playing either the US version, or branching out to a variant like Europe or adding an expansion like Asia, it will help those who play it become familiar with the location played.
Evolution is a game where you control the direction your species goes, which is usually in response to the development of your opponent’s species. You will be learning about adaptation and the interactions between species. Populations will grow, but then will you have enough food to feed them?
An article in Nature covered three different board games that covered evolution: Evolution, Terra Evolution: Tree of Life, and Evolution: Random Mutations for the purpose of teaching concepts of evolution via game play. Their favorite was Evolution.
The gameplay is simple to grasp, but can get very tactical. In particular, as with real evolution, the best strategy depends on what everyone else is doing. If there are a lot of herbivores, there is an advantage to being an efficient forager, with traits such as cooperation, but lots of herbivores also means a big advantage to becoming a carnivore. When carnivores appear, herbivores need defences, which carnivores try to get around — and so on, in a co-evolutionary dance.
Concept is a challenging party game. One person draws a card that shows what word, phrase, or title they must get the other players to guess. They do this by placing cubes and pawns on icons. With my children, the cards are too difficult, so we make up our own. Like many party games, it often involves a lot of laughing, despite how challenging it can be. It is an excellent way to work on communication skills and reading others. Although the person giving clues isn’t necessarily talking, they really need to think outside the box to get others to understand the message they are conveying.
This is one for the older kids (teens). Not a board game in the traditional sense, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is a box of clues. You will be drawn into the world of Sherlock Holmes, working on solving a series of murders. Playing in a group, this game is good practice with working with others, communication, as well as deduction skills. It also is like no other game out there.
One teacher wrote about his experience using Consulting Detective in a classroom, and there is a BoardGameGeek post about how another teacher used it. I bought this for my daughter a couple years ago and she loved it. I cannot wait to until my younger boys are old enough so I can incorporate it into a Sherlock Holmes unit.
I have dyslexic learners in my home. Spelling is always a challenge, and games are a way to take the stress off practicing. Games like Paperback are also great for the ones who are good at spelling, because it pushes them to come up with more complex words. Paperback is a deck building game where your deck is letters that you must build words out of. It is a fun game that word-lovers will delight in, while allowing those who struggle a fun way to play with words. Allow access to a dictionary or smartphone to look up words in order to help teach spelling while playing, and to ease frustration.
Pandemic is my 8-year-old’s newest favorite game. We’ve played it twice in a row on more than one occasion, and I love it. It is a cooperative game that will push your problem solving skills to the limit. In Pandemic you are a team of people attempting to cure 4 diseases, while limiting their spread to prevent outbreaks. And, it isn’t easy. It is a satisfying puzzle of a game that depends entirely on teamwork. It is a game used that can be used classrooms, like this teacher who used it in a leadership program. The board is also a map of the world (with a few areas missing), so it doubles as a geography lesson.
In Happy Pigs you are raising pigs over the course of a year in order to sell them off for a profit at the market. This economic game uses basic resource management mechanics in a way that is fun for both kids and adults. You will need to make decisions on how to spend your money in order to turn the best profit. Children learn about managing resources in a way to be a successful business while getting basic math practice in. The pigs are adorable, but they are being sold to market to be slaughtered. Though it isn’t put that way, we know what the purpose of the raising the pigs is. Therefore, this might not be a good game for more sensitive people.
Do you have a storyteller in your family? If so, Once Upon a Time is for you. In this game, one person starts off as a storyteller, trying to steer the story towards their ending card. But others interrupt the story in order to try to get their own cards played. What ends up happening is everyone is thinking on their feet, broadening their thinking in order to find ways to incorporate different ideas into a story. It is a great way to work on processing speed, creative thinking, communication skills, and problem solving. If you have a child that has a hard time being put on the spot or speaking in front of others, this may be a good way to encourage practice.
7 Wonders is a great family game. There is simultaneous play which makes for minimal downtime, it plays up to 7 players, and it only lasts around 30-45 minutes once people understand the rules. It is also a good, solid, card drafting game that is fun to play. The theme is the 7 wonders of the ancient world, so you get a bit of a history lesson built in, with a basic understanding of progress in ancient civilizations. Or, at the very least, some western cultural literacy.
Last, but not least, is the 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner, Kingdomino. Even if this game had no educational value, it is worth playing for the fun of it. It is a clever little tile-placing game where you are building up your kingdom, trying to match like terrains until you’ve built yourself a 5×5 grid. Problem solving is definitely a skill that is practiced while playing this game, but so is multiplication. In order to score you will be multiplying the size of your matching terrains with the number of crowns in that region. This makes a perfect opportunity to learn the concept of multiplication for younger children, or to practice it for the older ones.
So there you have 10 great non-educational board games that will teach your kids (and possibly you!) a thing or two. What board games have your family played that also ended up educational? Please let me know in the comments below!