As I have mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of passive parenting. I like to occupy my child without making much effort. At the moment, she is too young for me to put my feet up, and the most relaxing it ever gets is when she is in front of an Ipad.
When she’s older, I am looking forward to her sitting quietly in a corner reading a book (ha!), or joining her for a board game. Now I know board games require active parenting on my behalf, but they are fun. Furthermore, board games can teach kids a lot about math, and I like the idea of educating my daughter – passively.
So here are some games that aren’t technically educational but provide plenty of learning opportunities.
Monopoly (ages 8+)
I’m pretty sure the only activity that has ended more marriages than Monopoly is a Saturday trip to IKEA. However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid playing the game with your child. In fact, it may teach them some valuable life skills including conflict management.
The bright wad of cash that they are handed at the beginning of the game introduces children to the concept of budgeting. Buying properties and paying tax on them teaches them about investment. And while a roll of the dice is a great example of luck, calculating which properties are the most lucrative because your opponents are likely to land on them, is down to strategy.
Rush Hour (ages 8+)
Rush Hour has been described in The New York Times as “a board game about search algorithms.” This makes it sounds a bit like Google, but it’s not that complex.
The game is compact, and you do not need another player (passive parenting!!!). There is a grid of six by six and cards with various combinations of traffic jams that your child is invited to replicate. Your child’s goal is to move the red car towards the exit with minimal interference to the other cars.
I tried the online version for research purposes and found myself thoroughly addicted.
The game encourages problem solving, sequential thinking and forward-planning.
Mastermind (ages 8+)
This game has been around for longer than me. I remember playing Mastermind at a friend’s house, and a substantial amount of the pegs were already missing from the box, which made winning even harder.
Mastermind consists of a grid: four holes hidden behind a barrier, 12 rows and eight colors of pegs. It involves two players: a codebreaker and a codemaker.
The codemaker makes a combination of the four pins, and the codebreaker must guess what the combination is by inputting various possibilities.
This game teaches logical reasoning, as your child will have to use clues to come to a solution. It also allows kids to test their hypotheses and deduce which ones yield the best results.
Battleship (ages 7+)
Battleship is a spatial strategy game with similar implications to Mastermind. Each child has a hidden grid with letters on one side and numbers on the other. The players place ships on their grid and then invite each other to call out coordinates. If the opponents coordinate lands on a ship then it’s a hit and if it doesn’t it’s a miss.
Each ship takes up more than one grid, and the goal of the game is to sink the opponent’s entire fleet.
There are a number of reasons why this game is great for maths. First of all this introduces your child to coordinates, which can initially be an intimidating concept. This helps them with spatial awareness and their understanding of graphs and maps. Secondly it sharpens a child’s deduction skills, as well as memory – each player has to keep track of the targets that they have hit. If they do strike a ship, they need to work out which adjoining coordinate to aim for next in order to sink it.
Guess Who? (ages 6+)
If budgeting, algorithms, codebreaking and military tactics all sound a bit too complicated there is always good old Guess Who?
Guess Who? functions on a similar principle to Battleship, but instead of ship coordinates children need to ask yes-no questions to deduce who the opponent’s selected character is.
The game does not rely heavily on memory like Battleship because you can physically pull down the tabs to eliminate the non-contenders.
Guess Who? teaches younger kids logic. In particular, the game forces them to use strategy to find the right answer.
As I was researching these games, I realized that most of them are now available online. This is good if you want to avoid the pain of stepping on a Monopoly dog barefoot but not so good if you want your kids to have a small break from screens.
Are there any games that I have missed, which are particularly good for teaching children math?
Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one. She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.