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When my son was about 2 and a half, it was clear we needed to add something to his bedtime routine. There was a window of time between dinner and bath time in which he needed to wind down, but I didn’t want to turn on the TV, which always ballooned into a battle when it came time to turn it off and head to upstairs to bed.
Most play got my son too riled up for bedtime. And when I tried introducing a 24-piece jigsaw puzzle, it was just a little too advanced.
It was time to introduce my child to board games.
I came from the kind of family that never played board games or card games together, but I always envied those people. I’ve been dreaming of the day I could be the mom who clears the dinner table just enough to make room for a rousing game of Scrabble or Uno.
Besides, games are good for kids.
“For years, they've been known to help children with social interaction, taking turns and learning to follow rules and to win and lose gracefully,” according to this Washington Post article about how board games help reinforce lessons from the classroom.
My child isn’t quite ready for Monopoly yet, but that doesn’t mean he’s too young to play. I quizzed the parents and experts I know, whittled down their list of suggestions, and came up with 10 board games that are accessible, beneficial, and most importantly, fun. (Plus a bonus for older kids too!)
This game is a classic for a reason. Kids love it, and – shhh! – they even learn important concepts, like sequencing, matching, counting, and color recognition.
Recommended ages: 3-6
Left Center Right
A dice game easy enough for a toddler? Yes! As with most dice games, there’s no strategy here, only luck. Also the game chips can be replaced with coins, candy, or almost anything to up the ante.
Recommended ages: 3 and up
Yeti in My Spaghetti
This is a silly but incredibly fun variation of the classic pick-up sticks game. Take turns removing plastic noodles from a bowl without letting the yeti drop – it can be harder than it looks! I like this game because it’s quick, so a couple of rounds won’t last for hours, and almost all ages can play.
Recommended ages: 4 to 15 years
This whimsical twist on Uno draws upon the same concept as the card game but with farm animals instead. Not only will kids learn about colors and matching, the game can also help older kids understand strategy.
Recommended ages: 3-7 years
There are so many versions of Memory and matching games, it’s easy to find something that will resonate with your child. (I picked up a set of dinosaur matching cards in the dollar bin at Target, which has been a huge hit. Prior to that, we used felt matching squares with shapes printed on one side.) What I like most about playing Memory with my child is that while he’s playing, it gives my brain a valuable workout too.
Recommended ages: 3 and up
Ravensburger Snails Pace Race
Players move six colorful snail game pieces along the game board, each starting from a matching colored leaf. This is a cooperative game, so there’s no winner or loser – perfect for days when my son just wants to roll the dice and take turns.
Recommended ages: 3 to 15 years.
Animal Upon Animal
Everything Haba creates is high quality, and this animal stacking game made of chunky, durable wood pieces is no different. A bonus is that this game ages well – for kids, it’s about building and stacking, but adults can easily turn it into a cutthroat game focused on creating impossible situations for an opponent. There’s also a pocket-sized version for 1-2 players that is the perfect size for taking on vacation.
Recommended age: 3 and up
The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game
This is the first game we ever purchased, and it was a perfect gateway into the bard game world. I created a very simple variation, stripping away most of the rules, just to introduce my son to the idea of taking turns and remaining patient while others play. As he got older, we added the rules back in. Now, at age 3.5, we play the game as intended.
Recommended ages: 3 to 7
The Little Orchard
Combining elements of Memory and dice, children must team up to harvest ripe cherries from the orchard before the fruit is eaten by a crow. This game is charming and teaches elements of strategy without being too challenging.
Recommended ages: 3 and up.
Race to the Treasure
What I like most about about this game is that it requires a cooperative effort to beat the ogre to the treasure, so all the players must work together to win – or everyone loses.
Recommended ages: 1 to 8 years
Do you have older kids too? Try this one:
This game is definitely made for older kids, but it’s possible to modify it to suit younger players. This is a dexterity game in which players must pluck oblong wood pieces from a cup while trying not to jostle them and knock the "alarm" over. Kids tend to have a natural advantage with their tiny fingers, which will make it extra challenging for older players.
Recommended ages: 7 and up
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.