By Tim Johnson
The days are warm and classrooms are empty — it’s every kid’s favourite time of year. But parents worry that all of those idle afternoons will turn their child’s brain to mush. “Summer lag is a reality,” says David Moon, a Peterborough, Ont., teacher and father of two. “When summer arrives, kids sometimes throw it into neutral, sit around and fall into a comfortable rut.” Moon taught Grades 7 and 8 for 15 years. He says that the first weeks of September can be a jarring experience for kids and encourages parents to keep their kids’ academic skills sharp and the social interaction flowing. Challenging board games are a great way to get those synapses firing and even build on the skills learned at school. So take advantage of rainy days at the cottage or stolen moments at the picnic table. Here’s a range of games that’ll keep your kids thinking — from strategy to trivia to time-tested classics for family game night.
The race is on! With everyone playing at once, be the first to use up your letter tiles by spelling intersecting words in your own individual crossword. Easily transported in a fun banana-shaped carrying case, this game turns any flat surface into a board — perfect for a weekend camping trip.
Ages seven and up, two to eight players, $20
Taking turns, strategize to lay down as many of your own pieces as possible while backing your opponents into a corner. You may just find that your mild-mannered child is a junior mastermind. And if you’re the one blocked out, don’t worry — games rarely last more than half an hour.
Ages seven and up, two to four players, $40
Brain Quest: Around the World Game (University Games)
Fasten your seat belts: This stimulating trivia game takes your kids on a voyage to all seven continents. Cards with questions for three grade levels (3 to 4, 5 to 6, and 7 and up) allow multiple ages to play together, and the cool topographical map on the board puts the world at your fingertips.
Ages eight and up, two or more players, $27
Professor Noggin’s card games (Outset Media)
These quiz cards cover a wide range of interesting topics, from Canadian history to outer space to life in the sea. Beautifully illustrated, each features both easy and hard question — great for levelling the playing field between big and little kids. Just a deck of cards and a die, take this on your summer road trip and watch the miles whiz by.
Ages seven and up, two to eight players, $15
Set (Set Enterprises)
Believe it or not, math can be fun. A compact card game that requires pattern recognition and other skills, Set can be played as a fast-paced group competition or a contemplative activity on a solitary Sunday afternoon. Rules can be adapted to accommodate all ages.
Ages six and up, one or more players, $20
Gobblet (Blue Orange)
Tic-tac-toe meets Connect Four meets chess. This strategy game adds a whole extra dimension — the opportunity to “gobble up” your opponent’s smaller pieces. Designed for two players, it’s perfect for head-to-head sibling showdowns. And with its solid wooden box, board and pieces, this is one that will last — your kids can pass it along to theirs.
Ages seven and up, two players, $40
Cranium: The Family Fun Game (Cranium, Inc.)
A classic in our own time, this game is tailor-made for family game night. Sketch, sculpt, build, act, flip frogs and laugh until it hurts. Even the shyest members of the clan will be drawn into the fun.
Ages eight and up, four or more players, $25
Monopoly: The Here & Now Canadian Edition (Hasbro)
The reigning king of board games, Monopoly has been played by more than 480 million people worldwide. This version has been updated for the 21st century and adapted to Canada, but it still provides the same great strategizing and math challenges. Stodgy old “Water Works” has been replaced by “Internet,” and even prices have been updated — the West Edmonton Mall will set you back $1.2 million, the Confederation Bridge $1 million and the CN Tower a whopping $4 million (Canadian dollars, of course).
Ages eight and up, two to six players, $30
Contributing editor Tim Johnson is a fan of both summer road trips and family game night.