Games: Brain Food

What is it that is deaf, dumb and blind and always tells the truth? *

file451294959608Mother’s Day afternoon found us wandering in and out of the inviting shops that line the street in Lincoln Square, a vibrant Chicago neighborhood. I definitely planned to make a stop at Café Selmarie, a wonderful bakery/restaurant which provides charming outdoor seating in the summer and The Book Cellar, an excellent independent bookstore, where you can even indulge in a glass of wine while mulling over your selections. The rest, I was leaving to whim.

Marbles:The Brain Store called out to me, and we happily joined in the fun going on inside. Kids of all ages were engaged in various forms of play and trying out all kinds of games. And it’s allowed—even encouraged. The salespeople couldn’t have been more helpful and were genuinely interested in our feedback. Although fun at any time, on the third Thursday of each month, a special game night is held where prizes are given, you can learn how to play specific games and the staffers target their presentation toward the interests and ages of those who attend. I came across some intriguing books on the shelves focusing on topics such as vocabulary improvement, mental math, memory-building and developing creativity. This is definitely a cool place to hang with your grandchild. Marbles has other stores in the Chicago area, as well as stores in eight other states.

This visit reminded me how much fun family game nights can be. We have always enjoyed various games since our kids were little. Scrabble, chess, backgammon, Bananagrams and bridge remain the most popular among the grown-ups in our family. Playing games on the computer and hand-held devices can be fun—I play bridge on-line and am a fan of scramble with friends—and also a way to engage with out-of-town family; I play scramble with my son in Boston and my great-niece in Houston. However, right now I’m thinking about how entertaining and enriching it is to play real games.

As much as I love to read with children, sometimes I want to move on to something different. Playing a game with your grands offers another way to spend time together pleasurably, bond and create memories. Perhaps you will be the one to introduce and teach them how to play their new favorite game. My son has been playing bridge with us since he was in middle school, and it’s special when he’s my partner at duplicate. You could even make a case for the presence of reading in some games; board games like Monopoly and Clue require you to read cards. Of course, many games involve forming words: Scrabble, Boggle, Bananagrams among them.

Playing games can stimulate and develop critical thinking, visual perception, word skills, attention and focus, creativity, and memory, in addition to other cognitive and motor skills; it makes a fine partner to reading.

All that’s needed to play these absorbing word games are pencils and paper: jotto, anagrams, or hangman. Games like these can easily be modified or tweaked to make them more or less challenging depending on the age and ability of the child.

Over the years, travel editions of various games have made their way into our suitcases and backpacks and accompanied us on family vacations. There’s no reason, though, why you couldn’t use a travel edition of your grand’s favorite game in other settings: Starbucks, a medical waiting room, a picnic or quiet time at the beach.

Before you decide that a particular game might be too complicated or time-consuming, check to see if it comes in a junior version—many of them do.

Here’s a list of classic games, which kids will still delight in playing. Perhaps you have a couple of these neatly stored away in a cabinet or on a closet shelf.

  • Chutes and Ladders is for the youngest players, helping them learn to take turns and count.
  • Candy Land also requires no reading and is great for pre-schoolers.
  • Guess Who? helps develop observational skills and was one of our all-time favorites (ages 6+).
  • Connect 4 is kind of like tic-tac-toe, but more challenging and very popular in our house (ages 7+).
  • Bingo – still fun, especially if there are prizes!
  • Clue revolves around an unsolved mystery with the usual suspects (ages 8+).
  • Rush Hour is a traffic jam logic game and has 4 levels of difficulty—my son loved this one (ages 8+).
  • Battleship is a game of strategy and logic (ages 7+).
  • Rummikub is a fast-moving tile-based game (ages 8+).
  • Monopoly is, of course, a good game, but opt for the junior version if you don’t have an afternoon to while away.
  • Yahtzee lets you shake the dice and roll to make certain combinations (ages 8+).
  • Scrabble is the premier word game (ages 8+).
  • Cribbage requires a deck of cards and a cribbage board with pegs to keep score; it’s fun once you get the hang of it (ages 8+).
  • Trivial Pursuit is probably one you love or hate. This q & a game tests your knowledge and comes in many different versions.
  • Bananagrams is a fun, fast-paced word game with relatively simple rules and best of all, comes in a cool, yellow banana-shaped pouch (ages 8+).
  • Chess is a game with many cognitive benefits for those who play; if you have an opportunity to teach a child who is receptive to learning, he or she will always be grateful.

Certainly, there are tons more games, but let me know if there’s absolutely another one I should mention.

*The answer to the riddle is ‘a mirror.’

You might also enjoy:

8 Responses to “Games: Brain Food”

  1. Linda Berkson

    Great blog Belinda! We love all these games too! Didn’t know about the stores and the cafe. Will definitely check them out! You are always full of great ideas!

    • belindambrock

      Thanks for your lovely comments, Linda. It’s funny, I have retained a fondness for those games, because they are so associated with my children. And the Lincoln Square area is definitely worth a trip.

  2. Grandma Kc

    Oh I do wish we had a store like that nearby. Amara loves board games and her 2 current favorites to play with us are Sorry! and Careers.

    I can remember playing Battleship with my Dad — on paper. We would make our own squares and draw in our own ships. Great fun and great memories!

  3. belindambrock

    Yes, it’s actually similar in strategy to jotto, which we play with a pencil and paper. Have you ever played that? It’s a fun word game that you can play anywhere.

    • Grandma Kc

      I’ve never even heard of Jotto — but just found it on Wiki and will have to read more about it — thanks!

      • belindambrock

        we play it with 5 letters, but can do with four with younger kids. it’s a great game to play anywhere, like on a plane or in a waiting room.

  4. Lisa_GrandmasBriefs

    Bananagrams has become a family favorite in the last couple years, ever since learning about it from Susan at I recently purchased a wood dominoes set. I’d forgotten the rules and was surprised at how strategic the game can be. I’m determined to play it often, with kids and adults. Games are such a joy with friends and family. Thank you for sharing this!