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More than Fun and Games: Nancy’s Picks

December 5, 2013

gamesphotoYou might not know that Mindprint founder Nancy Weinstein is really into games, but I’m here to tell you that she is.


I’m talking about board games, the kind you played as a kid, and the kind many parents forego as they search the app store for electronic equivalents.

And while Nancy and the Mindprint reviewers are creating a database of educational product reviews tailored to cognitive strengths and weaknesses that includes many apps, board games hold a special status.

Consider, as Nancy says, the game Monopoly you find in a box.

“There’s probably no better way to teach a child addition and subtraction than having them play Monopoly and be the banker. Compare that to the Monopoly app where the computer rolls the dice, moves your piece and then does all your addition and subtraction for you. What does that teach a kid?”

Want a new way to work on reading comprehension?

“Have your child read the instructions to a new game and explain to everyone what they need to do.”

Board games, Nancy believes, give families time to have fun together and take a break from the fast and often independent nature of their busy schedules. They can also improve social, academic and cognitive skills. But, it’s crucial, she says, that the games are fun.

“If you pick a game that is too mentally challenging for your children they can get frustrated quite easily. And if you pick one that is too easy they can get bored. As a parent, keep this in mind and know when not to push. Just keep reminding yourself that the experience is intended to be enjoyable for everyone, and when it stops being fun it’s time to either take a break or to find a new game.”

Nancy and her family have been playing board games since her children were little, but it was only after her then eight-year-old asked for Apples to Apples Junior that the passion was rekindled.

“My oldest begged me to buy it. At first, I said, “No, wait until an occasion.” But then I thought about it and decided it wasn’t that much less educational than a book, and I’d never say no to a book, so I bought it. I’ve got to tell you that some of our greatest family memories over the last three years have come from playing that game. And it has improved my girls’ vocabularies and general knowledge of the things they would have never discussed otherwise. Not to mention their ability to persuasively argue their points of view.”

Lately, Nancy’s collection and familiarity with games has grown.

“I’ve been helped along by manufacturers who have sent me their products and asked me to review them and be included in the Mindprint launch early next year,” she added.

While no special occasion is needed to bring a game home to your family, we imagine a few of you are looking for some gifts this time of year. Here is a low-down on some of Nancy’s favorites. Most are ideal for children 8 and older.

GAME ONE: Apples to Apples Junior
This game will develop language and flexible thinking skills in children of all ages. The appointed “judge” selects from one of approximately 200 word cards (crunchy, gorgeous, trustworthy, for example) and each player must select from one of the five cards in his or her hand that best associates with that word. The thinking and the fun arise when players must make creative associations to prove that their answers are the best match to the judge’s card. Every card has a bold-faced word and a concise definition, giving younger readers the opportunity to practice reading comprehension, vocabulary and general knowledge.

GAME TWO: Telestrations
Telestrations is a combination of charades and “telephone” with some art thrown in. Each player must draw a picture of the word on his or her card on an erasable sketchpad, but no letters or numbers can be used. When time runs out, players pass their pads to the player on the left who must then guess what the drawing is. Pads are passed to the left again, with each player drawing what the 2nd player wrote. Play continues until players have their original pads and then share how the original word evolved. Younger students will learn new words and figures of speech. But be sure to allow them to skip words or phrases they are not familiar with (you can explain them aloud later). Families may also find it valuable to skip the use of the timer with younger and/or anxious children. I love that this game teaches great verbal reasoning skills but kids only notice the fun of making drawings.

Gobblet is conceptually simple so kids will embrace it, but it develops important visual memory and strategic thinking skills. It’s a twist on the classic game of tic-tac-toe. However, the players’ pieces come in four different sizes so a player can put a new piece on an empty space OR cover a piece already on the board with a larger piece. Players need to keep track of the pieces that were used while considering their opponents’ potential moves and their own. The games are quick, and students should find this fun yet challenging and want to play even more as they improve. My only caution would be that students with weaker visual perception skills could have difficulty differentiating between the different sized pieces. Those with fine motor weaknesses, who could accidentally knock pieces over, may do better with the Junior version of the game.

Visual processing speed is one of the most underrated skills. Essentially, it’s the ability to quickly scan information to focus on the important items to find what you need. It’s also related to reading speed. Spot It! is a fun and easy game that will develop these skills and it requires no reading whatsoever. Each player must “spot” one of the 8 pictures on the center card with one of the 8 objects on his or her own card. Any two cards share only one matching symbol. There is really no limit to the number of simultaneous players and even the youngest child can easily compete after a few practice rounds. Parents should know that the game is fast-paced and can tire out young children after a while. If a child begins to fidget, my advice would be to end the game and just count who has the most cards without trying to finish the stack.

Game Five: The Presidential
This is a unique game that effectively teaches the election process and US geography in a totally engaging way. Two teams, Democrats and Republicans, square off using a US map as a game board battle to win control of the Electoral College and the Presidency. The teams take turns rolling dice and choosing either campaigning or fundraising cards to earn chips. Players strategically choose the states to place their chips. The team with the most chips on any given state wins control of the state. This game is superb in helping children understand the confusing election process. Teams must do strategic calculations to work toward the 270 votes needed to win the Electoral College so players discover the practical value of math. The game also teaches the value of winning states with more electoral votes, relevant vocabulary and political terms, as well as the importance of strategy and teamwork. With fairly balanced, cooperative teams, this game can be a wonderfully engaging and educational experience.


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