Stealth Learning: Hiding Education amid the Fun

Some games are designed to educate, others are just plain fun. Some manage to do both. Here are five that are so entertaining to play with that you won’t even know you’re learning.


Balance Beans (ThinkFun)

balance beansWe love how ThinkFun takes a well-known concept—in this case, a see-saw balancing game—and adds a new twist to make something unique and engaging. You start by turning over one of the 40 challenge cards, each of which shows a different pattern of red beans arranged on one side of the see-saw. Lay out your red beans to match the card and then try to arrange your other beans so the two sides balance. Besides having fun, you’re learning some basic algebra skills (balancing equations) as well as physics (for example, two beans in the first row of one side of the see-saw are balanced by one bean in the second row). The cards range from really easy to really, really hard, and always include the solution. For single players, but it’s an especially fun parent-child activity. Ages 5 and up. Under $18.

Circuit Maze (Think Fun)

circuit mazeLike Balance Beans, Circuit Maze starts with a challenge card. But here, all you get is the start point, the end point, and a list of other pieces you’ll need to use to get from A to B. If you do it right, you’ll literally see the light (but you’ll need to provide your own batteries). The challenges come in four flavors (beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert) and regardless of what level you’re on, be prepared for a thorough workout of your logic and reasoning skills. If you’ve seen ThinkFun’s Laser Maze and Gravity Maze, the concept will be familiar (if you haven’t seen those mazes, you really should). Theoretically, for a single player, but more fun for a parent-child pair. Ages 8 and up. Under $30.


Family Alias (Tactic Games)

family aliasAll you have to do is explain a word to your partner (who’s a different person in every round), using clues, synonyms, opposites, and other hints—as long as you’re not using the actual word. Guess as many as you can within 60 seconds. The explainer and the guesser both move forward one space on the game board for every correct answer. Kid cards and adult cards help level the playing field. The real fun is in watching how hard it is for smart people to explain simple words. For 3-8 players, ages 8 and up. Under $23.


Monkey Beach (Ravensburger)

monkey beachImagine a treasure hunt where you can’t actually see what you’re digging for. Set up the game by pouring 12 treasure shapes into the top of a volcano, located in the middle of the unique, island-shaped cloth game “board.” Now, a player takes a blue card, which tells you the treasure you’re digging for, and a green card, that tells you whether you need to bring your treasure out through the jungle, the waterfall, or the beach. Now, without looking, feel around inside the island and hope for the best. A great way to encourage shape recognition and tactile, sensory learning. For 2-4 players, ages 3 and up. About $11.


Tak Tak (Twizmo Games)

tak takUsing a 6×7 board, players lay out their 12 tokens in the first two rows (safe zones), leaving three rows (the “war zone”) in between. The goal is to get all of your pieces into your opponent’s safe zone. Pieces have a numeric value and a color. Combining pieces with like numbers or colors into stacks lets you move more of them at a time. Plus, you can also absorb your opponent’s pieces. But watch out. Combining the easy rules of checkers with the infinite strategies of chess, you’ll never play the same game twice. For ages 8 and up. Under $15.