If I think back to my childhood, one thing that really sticks out is playing board games with my family, particularly my parents. I have vivid memories of playing Memory (see what I did there? Hehe) on the floor in Mum and Dad’s room, as well as playing Trouble, Headache and UNO together. I can also remember playing Monopoly when I was a bit older – I got the Australian version for either Christmas or my birthday one year, and I can still remember that whoever used the koala game piece never won #TheThingsYouRemember
In the last few years, I’ve made the conscious effort to champion board games and card games with Paige and Samuel, in the hopes that they have the same fond memories of their childhood as I do. I am always on the lookout for family friendly games that we can play together, and I wanted to share some of our favourites!
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But before I do that, did you know that playing board games offer a range of learning experiences for our little ones? Board games can support the development of social skills, such as turn taking, communicating, problem solving and resilience when things don’t go our way. Most games also have a mathematical element too, whether that’s number recognition, counting, subitising or matching. Plus, as I said earlier, in this day of age where we seem to be on the go all the time, board games are just a great way to connect (distraction free) with our little ones!
Pengoloo was – hands down! – our favourite game to play as a family for a solid six months after we got it! It involves no counting or number recognition, just colour recognition, a bit of memory and a bit of chance, which made it a great game for Samuel (3 years old at the time) to be introduced to playing board games.
Each penguin ‘sits’ on a coloured egg, so that the eggs are completely hidden. Each player then takes it in turns to roll two dice and lift two penguins to try and find the corresponding coloured egg that matches either of the dice. If you match the egg, you get to put the penguin on your piece of ice, and once all the penguins have been matched, the person with the most penguins is the winner.
The quality of this game is also next level – all the pieces are wooden and the bright colours make it very appealing!
The Shopping List game was one of the first games we started playing as a family, and it’s a great game for toddler and preschooler aged little ones. Each player gets a shopping list and an empty trolley, then take it in turns to flip a picture card. If that picture shows a food on their shopping list, they get to put it in their trolley – the winner is the first player to fill their trolley with all their items on their list!
The beauty of this game is that there are quite a few expansion packs that can be added to the original game which means more players can play at once. It’s also simple enough that once Samuel understood the concept and had the skills to take turns, he was able to play with Paige with minimal adult support.
The company that makes this game, Orchard Toys, also make a huge range of other games suitable for children from 18 months of age, so they’re a great place to start your game collection!
Spot It! is a game that I came across by accident on Instagram, but I’m so glad I did because it’s a great game for all ages – even Nick and I enjoy having a few rounds without the kids! The aim of the game is to collect cards by finding a matching pair on your card and the pile in the middle – and there is only one matching pair between any two cards in the pack, so it can be tricky sometimes!
Samuel was a bit too young to have the speed to keep up with Paige when we first got the game (he was 3 years old at the time) but he still enjoyed finding the matching pictures between the cards. Now though, you can’t stop him! He’s actually really quick and gives Nick and I a run for our money!
Frozen Frantic Forest
Frozen Frantic Forest was a lucky find at our local Kmart store before Christmas last year, and again, it’s such a great game for us all to play together. Players take it in turns to place snowflakes on the tree, matching the colour of the snowflake they land on as they move around the board. Once the snowflakes get too heavy, the tree falls open and an Olaf figurine pops out of the middle! The person to place the snowflake that opens up the tree is the winner.
Paige and Samuel love this game mainly because of the anticipation of when Olaf will jump out! Samuel still needs some help to move around the board the correct number of spaces, so it’s not one that he can play independently with Paige just yet, but it is a fun family game for us all!
Guess Who is an old favourite (although it was one game that we never actually had growing up!) and definitely suited for school aged children or above, as it requires a lot of critical thinking! At the moment, it is far too difficult for Samuel (4 years old) to play without adult support and still manages to confuse Paige at times too!
The basis of the game is quite simple – each player picks a card with a character on it, then takes it in turns asking questions to narrow down who their opponent’s character is and putting down the corresponding characters until there is one character left (in theory, that character is the same as their opponent’s card). But what gets confusing is if the answer to any of the questions is ‘yes’, then you need to put down all the characters that do NOT have that trait, which can be really confusing for little ones (and sometimes adults too!!).
Guess Who does require a bit of thinking outside the box sometimes, and it really supports listening and responding skills, but as I said, it might be one to keep for when your little ones are a bit older!
Trouble was the very first board game we bought for Paige when she was just 3 years old! I have fond memories of playing Trouble when I was younger, so I was pretty keen to start playing with Paige as soon as I thought she was old enough! It usually takes around fifteen minutes to play, so we haven’t started playing it with Samuel because he doesn’t have the concentration span to last that long just yet!
UNO is a game really suited to all ages, from about 4 or 5 years old (depending on your little one) all the way to adults! We played it a LOT when we travelled last year – Paige loved playing with us (Samuel would sit on one of our laps and put the cards down for us) and Nick and I would play a few games once the kids were in bed. It does require the ability to recognise numbers, and a touch of strategy doesn’t go astray, but a simple enough game for little ones around school age.
Tiny Polka Dot
Tiny Polka Dot is number game that is more of a matching game, rather than a card game as such, but it’s a good game to have on hand for preschoolers who are learning to count! There are different sets of cards, each showing the numbers 0-10 in a variety of ways, such as in a ten frame, numerals, and dot patterns like you would see on a dice.
We usually choose two sets and play them like memory, trying to match two cards that show the same number. Paige has also enjoyed using it independently, matching the numbers in each set together.
Shadowlands is a game for all Bluey lovers (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you NEEEED to watch the Aussie TV show ‘Bluey’), and although it requires minimal counting and moving around the board is based on colours rather than numbers which makes it good for younger children, it does have the potential to drag on for a while – which is not always great for younger children.
The aim of the game is to get from the start to the picnic at the end, collecting at least five cupcakes on the way. Players take it in turns to spin the spinner and either move to the next corresponding colour space or turn the tree in the middle to change the shadows on the path, which determine which direction the players can move. Some games are really quick and are finished in less than 10 minutes, but if players are blocked by the shadows, they can be stuck on the same spot for a while, which can lead to the game taking up to 20 minutes for someone to get to the end!
More often than not, Samuel just doesn’t have the concentration to last the whole game, so I’ve found it more suited to older children.
Operation was another game that I remember was really popular growing up, but also one that we never had! To play, players take it in turns to use tweezers to pick out tiny plastic pieces from the patient on the operating table – but you have to be careful not to touch the sides otherwise the patient buzzes and it’s the next player’s turn!
We bought this for a friend’s 5th birthday earlier in the year and Samuel was so keen to play it before we wrapped it that I ended up getting it for his 4th birthday a couple of months later. It’s actually quite a difficult game to play as I underestimated just how tiny some of those pieces are and it requires really refined fine motor skills and coordination to get them out! At the moment, it’s still quite difficult for Samuel so he uses it as an independent activity rather than a family game, although I’m sure as the kids get older and more capable it’s one we will enjoy playing together!
As I said earlier, I’m always on the lookout for new games for birthdays and Christmas! So tell me, are there any games you would add to this list?