“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering fear while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children.”
– The American Academy of Pediatrics, 2007
Contributed by Christine Dickson
There’s a certain amount of fear when it comes to letting children play, and most often that fear is rooted to the idea that playing is a waste of time. Students nowadays have so much they need to learn, accomplish, and achieve in order to be viewed as successful that they simply don’t have time to waste on playing games. But to believe this would be doing students a great disservice.
All forms of games, from role-playing games that fill elementary school playgrounds to intricately designed video games, have something to offer kids but it’s challenging to identify the beneficial ones. Some games are inappropriate for children, some are too complicated, and some are just downright boring.
We are saving you the trouble of searching through the veritable sea of games out there by compiling a list of board and video games that can be used educationally or that cultivate valuable life skills in kids. From teaching history to classroom management, these games transcend negative stereotypes, and instead enrich the lives and minds of the students that play them.
Sushi Go! (card game): Easy to learn and cute to look at, Sushi Go! is a card game that asks players to get the most amount of points possible by strategically collecting cards with adorable sushi pieces on them. Along with the math skills required to tally up points, the game requires strategic thinking and planning. Some sushi combinations can yield tons of points, but get you nothing if you don’t complete the set by the time each round is over. Learning to evaluate the cards already in play and what that means for your chances at winning is a big part of Sushi Go!
Mobi (card game): Think Bananagrams but for math. Mobi challenges players to create a cohesive web of math equations using the tiles they have been given. Along with number tiles, Mobi has operational tiles as well, which means you can change the difficulty of the math given the age of the kids playing. Keep things simple with just addition and subtraction, or add a layer of difficulty by including the multiplication and division symbols.
24 Game (card game): Here’s another game to get students practicing their math skills. Players are given a card with four numbers on it. The goal is to manipulate those four numbers, in any order and using any operations, to equal 24. The game makes it easy to differentiate by difficulty, and even has teacher resources on their website knowing that it’s a fun and easy way for students to practice math in the classroom.
OrganATTACK! (card game) Introduce your kids to the weird complexities of the human body by playing a game about organs. The goal of this card game is to keep your organs alive while attempting to shut down everyone else’s using a variety of different diseases and medical afflictions. Fortunately, your organs aren’t defenseless. Players can fight illness with antibiotics and other treatments, so long as you’re lucky enough to find them. This goofy game is great for students interested in biology, and has the added bonus of inspiring them to take better care of their real body.
iota (card game): Put kids’ categorization and math skills to the test with this easy card game. With collecting points the goal, players take turns putting down a line of two, three, or four cards. For a line to be valid, all the cards must have some commonality (same number of dots, same shape, same color) or must be completely different from one another. Each new line of cards is added to a collective grid that everyone is contributing to, and points are calculated based on all the lines the newest line touches or extends. Students will practice math while calculating where on the grid they’ll earn the most points, and will have to evaluate each card’s attributes in order to make sure their play is valid.
Nintendo Labo (video game): Nintendo has combined their signature whimsicality with the spirit of maker education with their newest product. Nintendo Labo is a collection of cardboard kits that turn into fun game accessories for the Nintendo Switch when constructed, allowing children to experience the wonder of building something out of simple materials. From pieces of cardboard, kids can create a wearable robot, a fishing pole, a steering wheel and gas pedal, and tons of other inventive objects that they then use to play games on the Switch. Nintendo even has local Labo workshops that kids can participate, and a creator contest that gives kids a chance to submit their own original inventions made with Nintendo’s Toy-Con Garage.
Assassin’s Creed Origins: Discovery Tour (video game): Assassin’s Creed is probably the last game you’d think of when considering educational games, but a new feature in one of their newest games may have you think otherwise. Assassin’s Creed Origins is set in ancient Egypt, and the game has beautifully recreated what all of Egypt’s prominent cities would have looked like in the time of Cleopatra. The game’s Discovery Tour is a mode that completely takes out combat and focuses only on history. Students can explore the detailed world of ancient Egypt, walk into the Royal Library of Alexandria, and even surf down the pyramids. Discovery Tour also offers tons of scripted tours that cover everything from the rise and fall of Cleopatra’s reign to daily life of an ancient Egyptian. The tours guide students down a preordained path in the game, narrating content at each stopping point, showing primary documents, and recreating pivotal historical moments. Discovery Tour can serve as a superb supplement to what’s discussed in the classroom. Assassin’s Creed just released a new game in October set in ancient Greece, and the game developers plan on releasing a similar Discovery Tour mode for this game as well in the future.
CODE: On The Brink (board game): Coding has become the key word when people starting talking about modernizing education, but not all schools have the resources needed to teach coding or host coding programs. This board game is a great way for students to start thinking like a coder without needing a computer or a screen. The game presents 40 different challenges where students have to get a robot from point A to point B. The robot has only a certain amount of “pre-programmed” moves available, so students have to use trial-and-error to successfully complete each challenge.
Forbidden Island (board game): Instead of playing against each other, this board game challenges kids to work together to achieve a common goal. The premise puts players on an island that will eventually start to sink. As portions of the game board become unavailable, players have to rely on strategic thinking and each other to keep the island from sinking while also collecting treasure. The best part about this game is how dynamic it is. The island made from different card pieces, which means it can be structured differently each time the game is played. There are also several different characters for players to choose from, each with their own special ability, which gives kids incentive to play Forbidden Island again and again. In fact, the game has become so popular that it’s been turned into an app that can be played on tablets.
Classcraft (classroom management): Gamification has become a popular way for people to build positive habits into their lives, and it can do the same for students in the classroom. Classcraft has taken classroom management and gamified it, turning school into an engaging world of exploration. Teachers are quest givers, projects are boss battles, and students can level up when they meet their goals. Classcraft also includes other tools common to classroom management software, like parent communication and behavior tracking.