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Games for the Holidays

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By Jessica Bauman

With the winter holidays upon us, your head might be spinning from wondering what gifts to get for the loved ones in your life. If gift-giving is part of your winter tradition, games make great presents! Games offer a fun activity for the often-increased family time that comes with this season, and learning to play a new game is an excellent way to shake the winter doldrums. As a source of novelty, it can provide a mental energy boost, as well!

Games also provide chances to practice and reflect on executive functioning skills. There’s no shortage of recommendations available online, so you can find the best game tailored to you and your family’s interests, strengths, and ages. The most important thing to remember about these lists is that nearly any game can support executive functioning if intentional conversation points out the skill that the game is demanding and how it might relate to real-world situations. Does the game require players to set priorities? Think flexibly? Make a plan? Control impulses? Focus? Use knowledge of categories and associations? Nearly all games will use at least one of these skills and can, therefore, become a teaching tool!

That said, after an extensive review, I’d like to highlight the following two game ideas. I hope that these ideas, plus intentionally framing any game that your kiddos already love, help you and your family have a holiday full of both fun and skill-building!

For Older Elementary Students (and Perhaps Younger!)

  • Kid-friendly, updated takes on chess. The “Game of Kings” is a timeless classic that requires planning, perspective-taking, and problem-solving. You can’t advance far into the game without learning the meaning of the word “strategy,” so it makes sense to place “spin-offs” of it at the beginning of a list of executive functioning games! Several options exist for making the game more engaging and less intimidating for younger children (and older folks who are learning to play!). Storytime Chess and its expansions teach the basic rules and more advanced tactics through a series of characters and stories, for children as young as 3. No Stress Chess, for ages 7 and up, teaches the rules by dictating player moves via cards that players draw. As players gain experience, they increase their independence by selecting from draws of two or three cards.

For Tweens and/or Teens (and Older!)

  • Take Among Us off the screen, and make it wordy. If you missed the Among Us craze that took over teens’ phones in recent years – well, you may not know many teens with phones (haha!). The premise of that game is to identify, by careful observation and deduction, which of several players on a spaceship is the “impostor” – i.e., which player is sabotaging other players rather than completing assigned tasks. The Chameleon takes the “find the odd one out” premise and takes it low-tech. It’s recommended for ages 14 and up, but reviewers frequently note enjoying it with children aged as young as 10. In this game, all players but one (the “chameleon”) are privy to a shared word or phrase. Players must say a word that’s obvious enough to signal to other players that they know the secret information, but vague enough to make it challenging for the chameleon to say a word that fits the topic. This game is recommended for a group size no smaller than three people and works better with larger groups (up to 8 people).

Happy gaming this holiday season! What will your family be playing together?

Erica MechlinskiGames for the Holidays

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