#TeachingTuesday – #Boardgames we use in early childhood education

AS A BOARDGAME FAMILY the hobby has influenced many parts of our life. One influence I often don’t recognize is the role boardgames play in the education of children. This goes far beyond the very simple “be patient and await your turn” and is more that just “that game taught me a bit of history/science, etc.” In the RockyMountainNavy house, boardgames have long played an important role in educating our children through “active learning.”

Mrs. RockyMountainNavy loves to teach young children. She has found a niche where we live by teaching English and Math to pre-school and early elementary-age children of Korean parents. Often these kids come from one language (Korean) or dual-language (Korean/English) households and the parents are struggling to keep up with the kids English. This is where Mrs. RMN steps in to assist the children.

As much as Mrs. RMN teaches English and math she also has come to realize, based on our experiences with our kids, that play is an important part of learning. That is why she always factors in some “play” time for kids when she teaches them. Sometimes it is physical play (like going to a nearby playground). Other times it is imaginative play (we still have lots of Playmobil figures and accessories about) but just as often it is “play” using boardgames.

We tend to shy away from “educational” games as they often come across as “work” not “play” to the little ones. Sure, we have plenty of puzzle games that we can use. Instead, Mrs. RMN looks to boardgames to compliment and support learning. In pre-school kids, this often means games are used to build fine motor skills, spatial awareness, foster social interactions, and introduce strategy thinking.

One of Mrs. RMN’s current students is Miss A. Little Miss A is getting ready to enter kindergarten but she has trouble holding a pencil. It’s a combination of weak fingers and fine motor skills. To help little Miss A build up her finger strength and fine motor skill, Mrs. RMN plays Animal Upon Animal or Rhino Hero (both from HABA) with her. The need to stack the animals or cards means she has to control her fingers and hands. Best of all, she sees this as a game not an exercise. Animal Upon Animal also builds spatial awareness. In the case of Miss A, she struggles to imagine how pieces can stack. It appears that she has trouble “rotating” pieces in her mind. We also use jigsaw puzzles but those are inherently a solo activity and she instead of doing it by herself she relies on others. Games like Animal Upon Animal give her the learning support she needs while doubling as social interaction.

Two other games Mrs. RMN often uses are Chicken Cha Cha Cha and Gulo Gulo. Chicken Cha Cha Cha is really a simple memory game, but it introduces the kids to early counting and taking turns (a much needed social skill). In the case of Miss A, she is an only child and often just pushes ahead with a game by repeating her turn over and over again. Whereas Chicken Cha Cha Cha emphasizes the social, Gulo Gulo adds in fine motor skills (manual dexterity getting the eggs out of the nest) as well as early strategic thinking (push ahead with the next tile or maybe go a bit easier and get that color on the tile already face up and ahead of you). Admittedly, this is much harder to teach but it never ceases to amaze us when we see that “ah ha” moment where the child sees the strategy. Additionally, over the years we have discovered that young kids really love the appearance and tactile feel of wooden games – often with chunky components – which encourages them to manipulate the pieces.

One of the more recent games that brings together many of the skills being built is ICECOOL. ICECOOL builds fine motor skills (flicking), spatial awareness (chose your path), social interaction (take your turn), and strategic thinking (I’m going this way to avoid the hall monitor AND get my next fish). It also is good for early elementary kids as it uses simple counting.

Courtesy Brain Games

There are plenty of more boardgames we use, along with many puzzle games. This is only a sampling of the ones we use the most often. The most important lesson is to be open-mined about what a boardgame can teach. An added side benefit is that we know we are grooming the next generation of boardgamers by showing these kids that entertainment comes from places other than a smartphone or tablet.


Feature image HABAusa. Chicken Cha Cha Cha and Gulo Gulo images courtesy BoardGameGeek.

Toys as Games? Or not? Commentary on the 2018 Toy of the Year – Game of the Year

Is a game a toy? Or can a toy be a game? Last night I finally realized the difference.

In the past few months, I started following The Toy Association on Twitter (@TheToy Assoc). As they identify themselves:

Founded in 1916, The Toy Association™, Inc. is the not-for-profit trade association representing all businesses that design, produce, license, and deliver toys and youth entertainment products for kids of all ages. Our 950+ members drive the annual $27 billion U.S. domestic toy market, and our organization has a long history of propelling the health and growth of the toy industry, which has an annual U.S. economic impact of $107.5 billion.

Of interest to me is their Toy of the Year Awards:

Known as the “Oscars” of the toy industry, the Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards are presented annually to the top toys, games, and properties of the year. Administered by The Toy Association, the awards program supports the philanthropic work of the Toy Industry Foundation, which delivers new toys to children in need.

The toy, game, and license finalists were unveiled Friday, November 3. One winner in each category, as well as the coveted “Toy of the Year” award winner and the “People’s Choice” winner (based solely on consumer votes), were announced at a dazzling TOTY Awards gala on February 16, 2018. The celebration kicked-off the 115th North American International Toy Fair, and included the induction of toy industry trailblazers into the esteemed Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

So last night was their Awards gala with winners announced. Of particular interest to me  was the category Game of the Year which covers, “Children’s board, card, electronic or other physical game formats and puzzles.” There were seven nominees in this category.

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Courtesy North Star Games

The ones that personally interest me are Happy Salmon by North Star Games and Roller Coaster Challenge by Thinkfun. Happy Salmon is rated a solid 7.0 on BoardGameGeek (with 1.8K ratings) and ranked the #53 Party Game. Roller Coaster Challenge is not currently on BoardGameGeek but, as a solo logic puzzle, these games don’t always appear there. Games like Roller Coaster Challenge are beloved by the RockyMountainNavy household because they are easy, yet challenging, thinking games. I cannot even start to count how many times the RMN family has given away Thinkfun games as presents. Personally, we use them as filler games, games for teaching kids, and even with adult family members with Alzheimers or the like.

Of the other five games, I kinda like Ultra Dash by PlayMonster because it’s at least a physical activity game that promotes a healthy, non-couch potato lifestyle. Beasts of Balance looks to me like an augmented reality version of Animal Upon Animal. At $99.99 retail I am sure that buying Animal Upon Animal or any of its variants is a much better bargain!

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Courtesy toyawards.org

The absolute last game I payed any attention to was the winner; Soggy Doggy from Spin Master, Inc. The game actually is on BGG with a provisional 5.3 rating (after 3 ratings). The publisher’s blurb sums it all up:

Players roll the die and move their playing pieces around the game board, taking turns washing Soggy Doggy. But watch out! You never know when he will shake to dry off… and you’ll get a little wet! First one around the board and back to the doggy basket wins.

To me, Soggy Doggy is not a game but a toy. This toy offers no useful gaming actions that will help kids (ok, maybe taking turns, roll a die, count spaces is helpful for very little kids). Learning value? Very minimal. Replay value? Meh.

I should not be surprised Soggy Doggy was the winner. Last year, the Toy Association Game of the Year was Yeti in My Spaghetti. Check out the Tom Vasel review; it won’t take long as its only 4:32.

Compare this to the list of the top Children’s Games on BoardGameGeek. A fairly new arrival at the RockyMountainNavy domicile is the current #1; Rhino Hero: Super Battle. Now, I don’t want to sound elitist or the like (I shake my head at the old Ameritrash vs Eurogame arguments) but there is just no comparison between Rhino Hero: Super Battle and Soggy Doggy. One is a game and the other a toy.

After this experience, I am going to unfollow @TheToyAssoc on Twitter because, as much as I admire their mission, their awards just don’t align with the interests of the RockyMountainNavy family. It’s not only in the Game of the Year category; in other categories I see a dominance of Star Wars (License of the Year) and Lego (winner in multiple categories like Construction Toy of the Year). I like Lego, but view the over abundance of Star Wars licensed toys as a negative. We should be nurturing creativity in our kids, not making them slavishly beholden to one form of entertainment (from Di$ney no less). Games area a category of toys, but this year’s Game of the Year shows me that not all toys are games.

Ice Outside – Hot Games Inside

Icy day in the neighborhood meant that school was out for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Mrs. RMN also had a job interview lined up so I decided to take the day off. This gave me some time for gaming!

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Courtesy Compass Games

The morning saw a quick game of Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017). Youngest RMN Boy and I played The Battle of Stono Ferry (June 20, 1779). I took the British who are a rear guard and set up in defensive positions (behind fieldworks and fences) with the impassable creek behind them. The Americans are a mixed lot composed mainly of Militia and Light Infantry. In C&C: Tricorne the real “killer” is not combat, but Retreat and Morale. If a unit is forced to Retreat, it must roll for Morale; if it fails the Morale roll the unit Routs and is eliminated.

Our game actually started out a bit slowly as I had not reread the rules in a little while and it took the first few turns to remember certain elements of the game. That said, the game played quickly. The Americans pushed forward their left flank and actually dislodged an Elite Infantry Highlander unit from their fieldworks and eliminated their supporting Light Artillery and a Provincial Infantry unit through Routs. Meanwhile, the American right aggressively moved out with two Light Cavalry charging directly into the British defensive position. In the ensuing Melee combat, the British were dislodged and forced to retreat…but with the creek at their back the retreat path was cut off. This quickly eliminated several more units. In the end, the Americans won 5-3. Total play time (including set up) was just over one hour.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

Later in the day, Mrs. RMN was teaching so having a bit more time to fill the RMN Boys and myself pulled Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) off the shelf. I have not played Queendomino in a while so I took a few moments to skim the rules. The game experience was more enjoyable from the start (unlike C&C: Tricorne in the morning) and we quickly found the turn rhythm (Place-Tax-Build-Burn-Pick). Even so, our game took the full 25 minutes it is rated not because we were struggling with the rules but because we all had a touch of analysis paralysis. I started the game using a city building strategy but in the later half the dominos didn’t fall my way. Even though I had the most Towers and the Queen I ended up losing…again.

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Courtesy HABA USA

Mrs. RMN’s student today was the kindergarten girl and once she finished studying she badgered the RMN Boys and myself to play games with her. She saw Rhino Hero: Super Battle (HABA, 2017) and Rhino Hero (HABA, 2011) on the stairsteps and was interested. Both these games are new in the RockyMountainNavy house this week. We played one game of Super Battle and two games of the original Rhino Hero. Super Battlewas just bit too overwhelming for her because she didn’t really grasp the strategy behind the game. Rhino Hero was fun (our tower got up to something like 10 levels or more each time) and she did not make it fall, but again her bouncy-bouncy nature did not mesh well with the fine motor skill game. In reality she was anxious to get back to Animal Upon Animal (HABA, 2005) that she played last week. A few games followed with fun had by all even though her bouncy-bouncy nature got the best of her and she repeatedly knocked the animal pile over.

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Animal Upon Animal (Courtesy HABA USA)

All in all a good family gaming day; a wargame for me, a family game for the Boys, and teaching good gaming to a young one.

Featured image courtesy @CapitalWeatherGang on Twitter.

January Gaming – Just Kidding!

January 2018 was a usual, and unusual, month of gaming in the RockyMountainNavy domicile. In total, I played 16 different games a total of 47 (!) times. That’s almost 4 plays of each game!

fullsizeoutput_57bOf course, that is not what happened. January was very usual in that I got my usual weekend family game night (1754: Conquest – The French and Indian War, 1812: The Invasion of Canada, 878 Vikings – Invasions of England, and The Expanse Board Game). I also got a few extra games in, usually solo, and I even started looking at a new rules set (Lock ‘n Load Tactical: Starter Kit). Together these accounted for 11 games and 16 plays.

The unusual part of the month was the many kids games. You see, Mrs. RockyMountainNavy is teaching/tutoring young kids and she incorporates gaming into her time with them. Actually, she incorporates gaming into MY time with them, as she is usually talking with the parents while the RMN Boys and myself play games with the kids. She has two students right now, a kindergarten and 4th grader. This is why games like Animal Upon Animal or Ice Cool and even Math Dice Jr. appear on the play list.  All told, there were 4 games I played with the kids for a total of 23 plays – that’s basically half of the plays this month. The kids gaming has also changed my buying habits; right now we are usually searching for the best deal on various games and buying them for the parents. Mrs. RMN also wants to take several to Korea when she visits family later this year and see’s her brother-in-law who is fading fast from Alzheimers. She figures the “kids” games will be good for him too.

I expect February to be pretty similar. Actually, I hope to get a bit more family gaming or some 2-player games in too.