I really like playing games with my kids, and we have quite a few of them. However, until recently, many games had to be kept out of Zoe’s reach because she would rip cards, destroy boards, and lose small pieces. Now she is much better at handling such things (although pieces still get thrown around and cards get bent) and it is very hard to keep something that she wants away from her. It is still the case though, that most games are too advanced for her and we can’t really play by the rules. However, I discovered that for many of the games I can come up with simplified or completely different rules that are accessible to and fun for Zoe.

Here are a few that she’s been enjoying:

Mastermind – I make a pattern on one end of the board and she has to make the identical one at the other end. Then the roles reverse (she absolutely insists on this part).

Swish – Every card has a circle and a dot. In the original game you put out some cards and you have to find combinations of overlaid cards so that every dot lands in a circle of the same color. With Zoe, we start with one card, and then she has to put on successive cards so that each new one either puts a dot into a circle or covers a dot with a circle (in both cases of the same color).

And then, at some point, all the dots end up covered by circles and all the circles have dots in them.

Blink – In this one I feel like we follow most of the rules of the original game, but we turn it from a competitive into a cooperative one (missing the spirit of the game, but still having fun 🙂 ). Cards in this game differ by shape, color, and number (of shapes). The goal is to grow two piles in the middle by placing cards on top of others that match in at least one of the three attributes. In the real game, you have to do this as quickly as possible, and whoever runs out of cards first wins. With Zoe, I make three initial piles and then give her cards from the deck one by one and she has to add it to a valid pile. (We usually do not make it through more than 10 or so cards.)

Day and Night – This is a single-player puzzle game, the beginning levels of which Zoe actually recently learned to “play” by the rules. The goal is to reproduce a picture by stacking blocks on three poles. Until a few months ago, Zoe would always stack the blocks however she wanted, and not according to any picture or rule. Now she still enjoys doing that once in a while 🙂 .

In Action

Finished Product (for a different picture)

Color Code – This is also a single person puzzle game, and it is one of my favorites. Katie also really likes it, and so naturally Zoe often takes it out as well. Unlike Day and Night, the puzzles for this one get quite hard, but a few days ago I discovered that Zoe can do the first few. The goal is to overlay transparent squares with colored shapes on them, so as to make a target picture (You also have to determine the relevant squares for a given picture).

With Zoe I give her the shapes (there are just 2 in the early levels) and show her the picture:

And she puts it together:

And then she overlays a bunch of squares randomly to make a Zoe original.

Architecto – Yet another (and last) single person puzzle game where you have to build something based on a picture. With this one, the levels get hard very quickly, even for adults. However, Zoe really like the blocks (as do I!) and she builds her own things with them. Today, after I helped her build an arch based on a picture, she challenged herself to build a very tall tower.

What games do you like to play with little kids or adapt for different age groups?

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With Color Code, one thing we did was to have the kids make puzzles to challenge me. In part, this was just an exercise in carefully observing the image and copying it faithfully. However, since my kids like to make life difficult for me, they started analyzing the shapes and trying to make sure there was only one unique

Whatever we play, I let our kids actively engage with the rules. Do they make sense? Can we change them? Is there a different version we can create? What is harder/easier to play? What is more fun? etc. Classic chess seems particularly conducive to this. Since the definition of the piece movements is arbitrary, they naturally feel invited to create their own versions.

Also, there is a big push into apps instead of physical games. That loses the opportunity to “misplay” the games, whether using simplified rules, making up entirely new rules, or making use of the components for some other purpose entirely (i.e., dominoes that double as building blocks).

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Have you showed them dice chess (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dice_chess)? It’s a variant of chess that can be more fun for kids because of the randomness element, and you can also vary the rules. As a bonus, it can lead to some nice probability discussions.

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Thanks for the tip, I’m sure they will enjoy that. I wonder how long it will take them to ask to play with dice other than hexahedrons?

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