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Building Academic Skills with Family Game Night

By Upper School Director Jordan Andes

When my family gathers for dinner, it is not long after the dishes are cleared that we find ourselves crammed around the dining room table, fifteen strong, ready to play games. We pick our seats, hoping that we’ll end up on grandma’s team. Among a myriad of remarkable qualities, my grandmother is joyful, nurturing, and humble. She is also very bright. It is often the case that no one realizes grandma is winning until she puts her cards on the table, tallies up her endless points and wins by a landslide. Her grandchildren, of course, have caught on to the subtle talents of our dear mahjong-playing, crossword aficionado. 

I grew up on Yahtzee, Battleship, and Guess Who––games that I recognize to have strengthened my flexibility with numbers, deductive reasoning, and memory, respectively. Over the years, I have found that I particularly enjoy games built on words and language. My favorite part of playing Codenames or Catchphrase is culling through shared experiences, thinking about each other’s interests, and trying to get on the same wavelength as a teammate with a great clue. The delight of a “Me too!” or “You read my mind!” keeps the games going for hours. 

In a previous blog, Ms. Duvall explored the many benefits of playing games, holistically capturing the opportunity for building character and relationships in addition to the many cognitive benefits. As a lover of games myself, I wanted to share a few recommendations that I have recently come to enjoy playing with upper school students, centered around a few specific skills.

Verbal reasoning is a broad term that in part consists of inferencing, analogical thinking (identifying relationships between words), and categorical thinking (organizing words into thematic or conceptual groupings). To practice verbal reasoning skills, consider enjoying the following games:

  • Think ‘N Sync - How would you finish the phrase “open _____” or what is “something you use to cook…” The goal of the game is to shout the same word as your partner simultaneously and “think in sync.”

  • Codenames - The spymaster for each team knows the identities of secret agents, each pictured on a card with a word. The objective is to give one word clues to help your team correctly identify which spy cards are yours before the other team. For example, based on the clue “discover,” what secret agents have words on their cards that could be related? Create and crack your own code!

  • Fishbowl - A free game that requires nothing more than strips of paper and a bowl! This group game combines elements of Taboo, Password, and Charades for a multi round experience.

  • Scattergories - Roll a die to select a letter. Challenge your vocabulary by thinking of words that begin with the letter and satisfy a series of categories. Win points by coming up with an associated word that no one else has, pushing the depth and breadth of your categorical thinking!

In addition to language games for verbal reasoning, games like Skyjo and Genius Square have become recent favorites that support math and quantitative skills.

  • Skyjo - A strategy game that fosters math fluency with frequent addition and subtraction of single, double digit, and even negative numbers. By the end of all rounds, the goal is to have a set of cards with the lowest sum.

  • Genius Square - Race a partner to determine how to fit all of the wooden shapes into your grid. Reminiscent of Tetris, the Genius Square board constantly changes based on the die rolled and which coordinates are blocked. No matter the pattern of blocked coordinates, the wooden geometric shapes will always fit on the board in some configuration. Practice spatial reasoning and geometric transformations as you find a winning combination.

Is your child practicing a specific skill? Ask your teachers for game recommendations to deepen their engagement and provide fun for the whole family! What games would you add to the list?