Learning Games

Whether you’re thinking about your classroom wish list, your own holiday shopping for friends and family, or how to liven up (or live through) the last few weeks of school this semester, learning games are your friend.

Games are fun, for one thing. This may be an obvious good thing for presents, but in the classroom it has the additional advantage of helping kids stay focused longer than they normally could. The student who needs more practice with a skill and the student who is completely competent with it can both enjoy playing the game, where the first might be discouraged or frustrated by being given more practice and the second would be bored.

Nearly all games provide practice with taking turns, following directions, and strategic thinking. Subject area games like multiplication bingo give practice with specific knowledge areas. Herewith, some games for a variety of skills.

Visual Spatial Skills

Chess, checkers, and Chinese Checkers are classics for increasing visual-spatial skills.

DaVinci’s Challenge is a particularly beautiful game, which makes it especially nice for gifts. It’s based on patterns, so younger kids can enjoy playing, but there’s plenty of chance to use strategic thinking. It can also be used individually in a center just to create patterns.


Blokus is one of those rare games that really can be played by everyone from small children to the very old. We’ve seen this game used with great success with Alzheimer’s patients and in large age-diverse family groupings, and we love it for geometry in the classroom. It’s a fine strategy game which can be played very competitively, but it is also fun for noncompetitive types who will enjoy making pretty designs in a cooperative fashion. The Trigon variation is more challenging.

Critical Thinking Skills

Mastermind game

Mastermind involves hypothesis formation and testing, and remains one of the simplest and best critical thinking games. It’s quiet, requires only two players, and needs no reading or English skills, so it makes a great center.

Were you wanting a loud, lively group game instead? Apples to Apples is a game for lateral thinking and analogies which also offers you opportunities to practice parts of speech and comparisons. Apples to Apples Junior is played in the same way, but the cards have less abstract words and no historical or pop culture references.

Mancala for kids

Mancala is another classic, with an African provenance that makes it nice for introducing greater cultural diversity into the games cupboard.

Monkey Dominoes

Dominoes is one of the first critical thinking games kids can play, and this particular version (Monkey Dominoes) is magnetic, which helps with little kids who have trouble keeping their dominoes in place. Take advantage of the math connection, too.

Carcassonne economics game

Carcassonne is a game which requires players to think about the consequences of their choices out into the future, with many different factors in play, including relationships with other players and a number of different math and economics elements. It’s a fun and involving game, the kind kids get absorbed in and continue playing as adults.

Coordination Games

Toppl game

Topple is a game focusing on hand-eye coordination, but it also has some physical science lessons to teach. Plan Toys Balancing Cactus works on the same principle, with fewer choices for younger kids, and it’s visually appealing.

balance game

Ring toss, beanbags, Simon Says, and Mother May I are classic games for large motor skills that you can play in the classroom or the gym with little preparation or equipment. Some days, you just need to get the kids up and moving.

charades for kids

Charades for Kids is a whole-body movement game that can be played indoors without getting out of hand. Charades is a well-known parlor game that you can play with paper and pencil, but this version makes it easier for little kids.


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