Inside: Here are the best critical thinking games for kids. Screen-free fun to build problem solving skills.
If my family was stranded on a desert island, with only these thinking games, I suspect we could engineer our way home faster than Gilligan did.
A key way to stay connected as a family is to play games together. Plus, games lead to fabulous conversations like this one, when I challenged our five-year-old son to play 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.
And while Snakes & Ladders had its place, it is refreshing to move onto deeper games that encourage logic and problem solving. Games that even adults will enjoy.
What is the value of critical thinking games?
Logic games are like pushups for our brains – minus the sweaty brow, aching muscles and awkward face plants.
Parenting Science agrees games are “a powerful learning tool…and problem-solving ability is like a muscle: it can be strengthened with practice and learning.”
See? Brain pushups.
Games help develop abstract skills in a fun way. Children learn to:
- strategize, rather than focusing only on their next move
- rely on logic to succeed
- persevere as challenges become more complex
Standing in the toy aisle or scrolling through 18 pages of options on Amazon is overwhelming. Plus you don’t want to waste money on a game that will disappoint.
These critical thinking games get two thumbs-up from our family.
So I’ve done the work for you. As a Math teacher, former homeschooling mom and a parent of kids from 6-16, I’ve have had years of experience sifting through mediocre games to find true gold.
Here are our favorites. The ones kids will keep reaching for. The ones you’ll pull out when you hear, “I’m bored…”
Pro Parenting Tip: Always keep a game in plain sight. Casually place it on a table and walk away. Suddenly one child will ask another one if they want to play (especially if it’s during chore time).
There are many versions of the Rush Hour game. In Rush Hour Jr., kids have 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 week.
Purchase Rush Hour here.
This game is irresistibly three-dimensional. Kids place blue, green and yellow crates according to the layout of each challenge card. I love how setting up the challenges increases spatial awareness for little ones.
Players need to tip over the crates and get the figure to safety on the red crate.
Purchase Tipover here.
The object of Gobblet is to line up four of your pieces in a row, before your opponent does, making it similar to Connect Four.
The clever twist is that a larger piece can “gobble” smaller pieces. So a medium-sized piece can cover a small-sized piece and so on. The trick is to remember which pieces are covered, and to strategize to complete the task. Bonus points that the game pieces are quirky little characters.
Purchase Gobblet here.
Keep a few solitaire games on hand for when only one child is feeling game-ish. Hoppers solitaire works well.
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. And the cards tuck nicely into the game board.
Purchase Hoppers Solitaire here
We just acquired Codenames 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.
Your child will learn how to make connections between many different items. My son gave me the clue “sparkly” to refer to cards containing diamond, water and teeth.
Purchase Codenames here.
This game is highly recommended for critical thinking skills. Unlike many of the other games listed, the whole family can jump in. It takes about an hour to play with 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. Real life applications abound – watch out for problems that come from expanding too quickly.
Expansion pack cards are also available, which adds to the longevity of this game.
Purchase Power Grid here.
Thinkfun produces many of our favourite, award-winning games. And this game is brilliant.
Kids need to figure out how to make the “laser beam” ricochet correctly to light up the target. They use mirrored pieces, beam splitters and logic. Perfect game for improving STEM skills. Purchase Laser Maze here.
When you are rushing between appointments and activities, family games are one of the best ways to slow down and reconnect. 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 favorites I missed here? Add to the comments and I’ll keep updating the list. In the meantime, enjoy these too: