Themed Gift Guide: Games!

ApplestoApplesJrWe kicked off our themed Gift Guides discussing STEM toys on Friday. Today we’re going to talk about games we’ve featured in our on-going Game Night series. Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up with books and music. All of these posts include links to lengthier articles we’ve written previously about a topic, so if you need more information or ideas, check those out as well (linked throughout).

As you know from previous posts on this topic, we firmly believe in the value of group games for a lot of reasons, spanning cognitive, social, and emotional development. We also believe that nearly any game can be modified to make it age-appropriate for the littlest of players. First, Taboo

Taboo is hands down my family’s favorite game. The purpose of Taboo is to get your team to guess a word on a card you’ve selected, without saying a bunch of other closely related words. My family’s favorite child-friendly modification to the rules involves Taboo’s penalty on skipping cards. Normally, if you skip a card, the other team gets a point. This is to discourage fishing for the easy words which tend to rack up points more quickly. Instead, allow children to skip without penalty either words they don’t know or can’t read, and historical and/or popular figures they haven’t heard of. Set these cards aside for a quick vocabulary or history lesson during a break in the game. The best way for children to feel in over their heads with Taboo is to get stuck trying to convey something they’ve never, ever heard of. But, with some modifications tailored to your child’s age and abilities, the whole family can play.

Similar to Taboo, Apples to Apples is a potentially rowdy team game. Apples to Apples (the regular, grown-up version) is an extremely simple game of word play. A rotating “judge” plays a card with an adjective, and the other players select a card with a noun to fit the adjective. The judge decides which player best matched the adjective, and the players defend their selections. This is a terrific vocabulary lesson, as well as an exercise in creativity. Matches can be a sort of traditionally “best fit” or something absurd or clever. This is an opportunity to teach about all sorts of literary terms like oxymoron, synonym/antonym, simile, and so on. My favorite thing about Apples to Apples is the flexibility of game play – you can play an intensive, discussion-rich version focused on the words at play, or you can play a casual, tangent-sparking version good for large settings or parties.

I also recommend Apples to Apples Jr because it is the same game as the grown-up version, with fewer proper noun references to pop culture. Often I steer away from the Junior versions of classic games because often the child version is a dumbed down game that differs fundamentally from the regular version. Not so with Apples to Apples Jr. Although both regular Apples to Apples and Apples to Apples Jr have extensive decks of words, if you prefer not to have to skip cards with young children, Apples to Apples Jr may be a better selection.

Taboo can be rowdy. Scattergories is well-suited to the quieter, thinking types (or make it rowdy, really it’s up to you).

Like TabooScattergories is rated by the manufacturer as being geared toward adults. And, like Taboo, I say: not so! Although your child will need to read categories and write responses, even young children can be included. Here are a few family-friendly changes you can make to the game to increase its accessibility for all ages:

  1. Increase the time allowed to generate answers. If your youngest players are running out of time to come up with answers, set a longer kitchen timer or run the game’s timer twice.
  2. Read the categories out loud before starting the timer. Any questions young children have can be addressed before play starts. As I suggested with Taboo, a certain number of passes for children when they do not know a category or cannot read it might be helpful in keeping young children engaged alongside their better-reading older siblings.
  3. Decide as a family how flexible you will be with answers. Because the group accepts or denies answers, be clear about what is acceptable and what is not. In our family, we’ve moved to an increasingly literal interpretation of the categories. Your family might find this is easiest for young children to understand, or perhaps a more flexible/creative interpretation works better (and is more fun!). Whatever you decide, be sure to discuss answers children may not understand, for instance unfamiliar words which arise in answering.
  4.  Very young children can make teams with adults who can do the writing for them. Everyone is so busy answering, a little whispering won’t put that team at a disadvantage.

If card games are more your style, check out Five Crowns. We’ve written about a number of modifications for children that will serve you well in Five Crowns and in other card games (Namely: card holders). UNO is also a fun (and easy) card game well-suited to young children.

Gift Guide is a series in which we respond to YOUR requests for reviews for books, toys, movies, or anything else you can think of, for gift-giving or otherwise. In the remaining days until Christmas 2013, we’ll be posting similar thematic posts that round up various gift options. As always, you can find most of our recommendations in our Amazon Storefront. Looking for something in particular? Leave us a note on our Facebook page or on our website at Request a Review and we’ll write you a post in response!

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