If I were to be stranded on a desert island, I would want to have chocolate and a few critical thinking games in my luggage. Because chocolate. And to stay mentally sharp so I could engineer my way home.
Oh – and of course I’d bring my family – who wants to play checkers against a coconut?
If you receive Lightly Frayed emails, you know I love helping families stay connected by having fun. And playing games leads to conversations like this one, when I challenged our five-year-old son to Othello.
Me: Hey buddy – do you want to play Othello with me?
Me: Which colour do you want to be – black or white?
Landon: I want to be the colour that wins.
Wonder where he gets his cheekiness from?
Bonus tip: Leave a board game out on the table. Children gravitate towards a game if it is in plain sight and not tucked away.
And while Candyland had its place, it is refreshing to move onto deeper games that encourage critical thinking (sorry, not sorry, Candyland).
What is the value of critical thinking games?
As a Math teacher, I am always looking for resources that can engage kids deeply. So they need to be fun and challenging. The games I’m listing here score high on both criteria.
Games help develop critical thinking skills in the following ways:
- Children plan and strategize, rather than focusing only on the current situation
- Children need to rely on logic and reason to succeed
- They practise higher order math skills while keeping score
In other words, critical thinking games are like pushups for our brains.
Authors from Parenting Science agree board games are:
“…a more powerful learning tool [by teaching] kids that problem-solving ability is like a muscle: it can be strengthened with practice and learning. And kids might make [even] more improvements if we encourage them to explain their tactics or the tactics they see others use.”
So gather mind-stimulating games, and encourage discussion on strategy while your child is playing.
These critical thinking games come with our stamp of approval.
Here is a list of some of our favourite critical thinking games to get you started.
There are many versions of the Rush Hour game. Rush Hour Jr. asks kids to free the ice cream truck from a traffic jam. What child doesn’t want to be an ice cream truck hero?
Each version of Rush Hour comes with 40 activity cards with various levels of difficulty. To make this game more competitive, create a family chart to see who can solve the most challenges within a certain time frame (say, a week).
Purchase Rush Hour here.
I love the three-dimensional aspect of this game. Kids place the blue, green and yellow blocks according to the challenge cards. Even setting up these blocks is an excellent spatial challenge for young ones.
Players then need to tip over the crates and get the figure to safety on the red crate.
Purchase Tipover here.
We love playing Gobblet. The object of the game is to line up four of your pieces in a row before your opponent does, making it similar to Connect Four.
The twist is that your pieces can “gobble” other pieces, as long as your piece bigger. So a larger piece can cover a medium or small-sized piece and so on.
The trick is to remember which pieces are covered, and to strategize to complete the task. Purchase Gobblet here.
I always like to have a few solitaire games on hand for the times when only one child is feeling game-ish. Hoppers solitaire is fun.
Frogs are placed to match the challenge cards. Like peg solitaire, frogs jump over one another (onto lily pads) until only one frog is left.
Purchase Hoppers Solitaire here
Codenames is the newest game to me this year and we are slightly addicted. Each player gives a single word clue and the field operatives have to guess which cards the clue relates to. Play with young children who can operate at an abstract level. Our youngest gave me the clue “sparkly” to refer to cards containing diamond, water and teeth.
Creating and receiving clues is excellent exercise for critical thinking skills.
Purchase Codenames here.
This game is highly recommended for critical thinking skills. It takes about an hour to play and is perfect for 2-6 players.
The aim of Power Grid is to supply power to the most cities. You need to mark preexisting routes between cities for connection, and then bid against each other to purchase the power plants. Players need raw materials to power these plants. Watch out for the problems that come from expanding too quickly.
Expansion pack cards are also available, which add to the longevity of this game.
Purchase Power Grid here.
My son will be unwrapping this game soon. Since Thinkfun produces some of our favourite, award-winning games, this version was an obvious gift choice.
Kids need to figure out how to make the “laser beam” ricochet correctly to light up the target. They can use mirrored pieces, beam splitters and logic. Perfect game for improving STEM skills. Purchase Laser Maze here.
In an era of hustle and bustle, games are one of the best ways to slow down the pace. Whether your child plays something on their own, or gathers a few siblings, there are countless benefits including developing critical thinking skills.
Especially if they find themselves stranded on an island one day.
Any favourites I missed here? Add to the comments and I’ll keep updating the list. In the meantime, enjoy these too: