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
It’s less than a week into summer, but people are already talking about how this could be one of the hottest summers ever. That means that even though most of us would much rather be outside playing, we’ll have to spend a bit more time inside. Here are a few games (and one non-game product) that will help you chill on those days when it’s too hot to go outside.
Build a Bot (Basic Fun)
Another STEM-type toy for the younger set. Follow the easy instructions to create a basic unicorn by snapping and clicking together the pieces. Then you customize and personalize your one-horned wonder with stickers. Once you’re done, just clap your hands (or make some other loud noise) to bring your unicorn to life, walking across the floor and making unicorn-y sounds. Batteries required but not included. Ages 5+ (although kids under 7 might need some adult help with assembly). Prices vary. http://www.basicfun.com
Escape the Room-type games are all the rage, and for good reasons: They’re challenging, fun, often educational, usually require cooperation and teamwork, and are all-around wonderful activities to do with family and friends. This week we review several new entries into this growing segment. We’ve enjoyed them, and know that you will too.
We Detectives (Tactic Games)
This easy-to-learn board game is a great way to introduce younger kids to the idea of cooperative crime solving. Players draw WePhone cards (which look like mini text messages), which either send them around the board to gather evidence that will be used to keep the “bad guy” in jail, or report an obstacle that sidetracks the detective. Each piece of evidence has a corresponding tile, which is placed in the center of the board. The object is to gather all the evidence before the WePhone tiles run out. If you do, the crook stays behind bars, where he or she no doubt belongs. If you don’t, well, shuffle the WePhone cards and try again. You’ll need about 20 minutes to play. Under $15. 2-4 players, ages 7+. www.tactic.net
Just about everyone—young, old, and everything in between—is fascinated by magic, especially the kind that involves transforming objects from one thing into another. This week, we take a look at a number of terrific family activities that do exactly that, whether it’s changing a 10 of Clubs into a 10 of Heart, a bunch of powered ingredients into delicious cupcakes, or a locked safe into an unlocked one.
Magic: Silver Edition (Thames & Kosmos)
Long before Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts took over the world, kids and adults wished they could conjure things out of nowhere and make them vanish again, turn apples into oranges, and make objects float in midair. With this kit, you’ll be able to perform jaw-dropping feats of magic that will captivate and delight your audience (and probably amaze yourself in the process). It comes with props and instructions to do 100 tricks: knots in one rope jump to another, a wand levitates, coins pass through objects and disappear, a small pile of sugar turns into a sugar cube, and a lot more. The kit comes with a nicely illustrated 72-page instruction manual, but there are also 26 online video tutorials so your budding Houdini can see the tricks actually being performed. If you like this Silver Edition, there are several larger sets (150 and 200 tricks). For ages 8 and up. About $21 at many retailers. http://thamesandkosmos.com