With little kids, it’s easy to combine education and fun. But once they hit the advanced age of five or so, a lot of kids see the educational component a mile away and rebel. Fortunately, game designers have figured out many clever ways to slip in some (and in many cases, a lot of) serious business learning, without sacrificing the all-important fun factor. Here are some recent games that caught our attention.
Thrill Rides Clock Work (K’NEX)
In addition to being fun to ride on, roller coasters are gigantic examples of physics and engineering in action. There’s gravity, centrifugal force, various types of energy, friction, drag, acceleration, and more. This 300+ piece kit lets you teach (and learn) all those lessons right in your own home. It comes with a battery-powered motor (but batteries aren’t included) and an easy-to follow instruction manual that will lead you through building a coaster of your very own that’s more than two feet tall. Thrill Rides kits are also compatible with each other, so you can build even bigger models. K’NEX pieces are made in the USA in a landfill-free, zero-waste manufacturing facility. For ages 7+. $$34.95. https://www.knex.com
Ooze Labs Chemistry Station (Thames & Kosmos)
There’s nothing like chemistry to bring science to life, and this new kit from Thames & Kosmos includes beakers, test-tubes, droppers, chemicals (non-hazardous ones, of course), and everything else your child will need to conduct 20 fun, engaging, and, yes, educational experiments. You’ll make glowing slime, a self-inflating balloon, crystals, a rainbow, and more. Each experiment includes clear, concise instructions and, more importantly, an easy-to-understand explanation of what’s happening and why the concepts are important and where else you can see them. This kit is fully compatible with other Ooze Labs kits. For ages 6+. Under $35. https://thamesandkosmos.com
Hacker Cybersecurity Logic Game (Think Fun)
Unfortunately, hackers and cybercriminals are a real threat in our society. And one way to protect yourself, your family, and the world is to learn to think like they do. It all starts by joining a hacker collective called Oblivion. Then, you and your fellow players will have a chance to be a coder, a hacker, and a security engineer as you work your way through 40 separate challenges (actually, since each one has three levels of difficulty, there are 120). You’ll use logic, spatial reasoning, critical thinking, and planning and programming skills to navigate this well-designed board game. And you’ll learn important lessons about cybersecurity that you may be able to incorporate into your own life. Ages 10+. Under $28. https://www.thinkfun.com
Like Hacker, this game’s theme is a ripped-from-real-life danger. In this case, a gang of evil crooks has stolen your identity and locked it in a console that has layer after layer of security. Fortunately, you’ve recovered the console and now it’s up to you and your white-hat team to open it. Unfortunately, only one of you can see and work on the console at a time. But you can hear each other and help each other as you take turns following instructions on cards and working your way through eight challenges that, once solved, will allow you to retrieve your stolen identity. Hackathon is for 2-9 players, ages 8+. It takes about 20 minutes to play. $10. http://www.yulutoys.com