2019 Holiday Gift Guide-Game’s On!

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No matter how technologically advanced we get, there will always be a reason to have board games in your home. In my family, Rummikub and Boggle hold a special place during family game nights. To this day, countless hours are spent playing one of these games when a sister is in town to visit and the enjoyment I get from playing these games is hard to describe. In addition to the nice 1:1 time spend with my sister, I love how my brain is working and I feel 

There are a tremendous number of benefits of playing board games besides entertaining people. Here are just a few of the many benefits of board games:

1. Improving memory formation and cognitive skills- did you know that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of the brain are responsible for complex though and memory development? 

2. Stress Reducer-according to online research and surveys, there is a number of people who play games to unwind, relax and relieve stress. 

3. Encourage child development-board games help children develop their logic and reasoning skills, improve critical thinking and boost spatial reasoning. Increased focus and concentration are also linked to playing games. 

4. Improves developmental skills-playing board games help children develop a variety of fine motor and manipulation skills. Additionally, they can work on improving coordination, dexterity and grasp strength.

Below, I share a handful of games that I use at home and work, recommend to parents and think are just awesome. I have tried to share games that can be played as a family because I think it’s so important to schedule time together because everyone has such busy and hectic lives. 

Mr. Mouth-I found this classic game a few weeks ago at Barnes and Noble and it has quickly become a favorite of so many of my kids. The goal of the game is pretty straight forward: the first player to feel all their flies to Mr. Mouth wins. 
Great for working on executive functioning skills such as focus and attention, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on developing fine motor and manipulation skills and encourages executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, self-regulation, organization and self-monitoring.  

Morphy-this is one of my favorite games for the older kids on my caseload. The goal of the game is to collect the most number of discs by finding a disc with an attribute that is different. The game comes with 60 discs that have a color, pattern and a center circle hole that varies in size. Start with a green disc with stripes and a large center circle and you can move it to an orange disc with stripes and a large center circle or to a green disc with dots and a large center circle. Morphy is a fast-paced game that works on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, visual discrimination, visual tracking, pattern recognition, sequencing and improves executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and self-monitoring. 

Colorforms Silly Faces Game-this is a game recommendation for younger children (age 3 and up) who are learning about colors, shapes and parts of the face. It doesn’t require any reading which is perfect for the little members of your family. Silly Faces can be played with 2-6 players as they compete to build their silly face first. Kids spin the spinner and choose a Colorforms piece that goes with the category and stick it on their silly face card. There are some unexpected moments in the game which works on being flexible and resilient: if you land on the swap space, they must switch their card with another player who may move ahead in the game. Also, there is an un-stick space where you lose one of your face pieces and to replace it with another one. In addition to learning about shapes, colors and parts of the face, kids can work on developing fine motor and grasping skills, improve hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills all while encouraging kids to have fun, be silly and think outside of the box. 

Boom Blast Stix-I was introduced to this game by one of my occupational therapy colleagues a few Christmas’ ago on a Facebook post and I immediately bought it. Warning…this is not a game for those who are easily startled! The point of the game is to clip the triangle-shaped pieces together and carefully stack them on top of each other (the container you store the pieces in doubles as a game board) without making them become undone and causing all of the other pieces to explode. This simple game works on so many occupational therapy skills such as improving fine motor and manipulation skills, increases grasp strength, encourages executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and self-regulation. 

Head to Head Scramble Pop-one of my go-to favorite games from when I began practicing has been Perfection. I have to be honest with you all that I still get startled every time the timer runs out and the pieces pop out. One of the things I have always wanted to change about Perfection is that it could be more than a one person game. So when I saw that Fat Brain Toys had a two-person version of this shape matching game, I was hooked! Think fast, move fast and scramble like mad to match all the shapes into the board first and before time runs out. Whoever gets all of their pieces into the board first wins the game. This game is ideal for working on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor, visual perceptual and visual tracking skills, works on matching and identifying shapes and encourages executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, motor organizational skills and self-regulation.

Dirty Pig Card Game-I am a big fan of card games because they are portable and easy to take with you when you are on the go…like keeping kids entertained while at a restaurant or in a waiting room. This is an easy-to-lear game with the goal being to be the first player to dirty all your pigs. Each player begins with 3-5 clean pigs in front of them and three cards in their hands. Each turn a card is played. By playing a “Dirty Your Pig” card, one pig can be send into the mud. One of the pig cards is flipped over to show a dirty pig on the back. Rain cards clean all the pigs, even your own. Barn cards are used to protect your pigs from the rain and the lightening cards destroy the barns but lightening rod cards protect barns from lightening cards. Farmer cards are used to dirty someone else’s pigs….he likes a clean pig! Pigs in a barn that are protected with a barn door are safe from the farmer. A pig in a barn, with a door and a lightening rod is completely protected! Great game to work on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, working memory and organizational skills. 

Greedy Granny-this is a recommendation from my 11-year old niece who says . This non-battery operated game is a simple but hilarious game that will keep players engaged. The goal of the game is to swipe as many treats from Granny’s tray without waking her up. Kids take turns taking a piece of food from the tray and then press the button all while hoping Granny won’t wake up. The game is intended for kids as young as 4, but as my niece proves, fun enough to keep your older kids entertained as well. Great for working on social skills such as taking turns, being a good sport when winning and losing and can improve fine motor and manipulation skills. You can add a little challenge by having kids use tongs or kid’s chopsticks to remove the treat from Granny’s tray. 

What’s In Ned’s Head-this game has been around for ages and one of my all-time favorites to work on developing tactile recognition skills. Place the 16 silly objects in Ned’s head, give it a good shake and then pass out a card face down to each player. All turn their cards over at the same time to see what object they have to find and quickly race to be the first person to find the correct object. In addition to the cards for the objects that come with the game, it includes 12 blank cards so you can add your own objects which is awesome because it keeps the game interesting and novel each time. In addition to working on tactile recognition skills, What’s In Ned’s Head can work on improving grasping and manipulation skills and encourages executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organizational skills, improves frustration tolerance and works on self-regulation skills. 

Roller Coaster Challenge-this logic game is a huge hit with my older kids and great for working on developing executive functioning skills. Kids can build up to 40 different roller coasters ranging from beginner to super challenging. Kids pick a card and set up the posts and tracks according to each challenge. They then collect the remaining pieces (listed at the bottom of the card) and have to figure out where they all go in order to complete the roller coaster. Once the roller coaster is put together, they can test it out by running the car along the track. In addition to working on focus, attention, organizational skills, this game works on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves visual-spatial skills, logic, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. One of the greatest things I see when kids successfully create the roller coaster is that their confidence and self-esteem seam to soar and it encourages them to try the more difficult challenges. I also like to make this game a social opportunity for kids to work together and collaborate on the actual building of the roller coaster. 

Pop The Pig-this is not one of my favorite games but it is one that makes the kids at work SO happy and actually works on a variety of developmental skills so felt like it had to be included this year. While we play it at the gym with just one kid and match it with some kind of gross motor activity (obstacle coarse, climbing up the incline mat to collect the burgers, etc.) it is actually intended to be a multi-player game (a fan favorite with my kids at The Meeting House Juniors). Players take turns rolling the die, finding a burger of the same color, turning it over to see the number, feed the pig and then push down on his head the correct number of times. With each pump, his belly will grow bigger and bigger until he pops! Even though the point of the game is to not be the one to make his belly pop, the kids want to be the one to make it happen! Pop The Pig works on number and color recognition, counting skills, works on improving upper extremity strength, grasping and manipulation skills and encourages executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and self-regulation. 

Yeti Forgetti-one of my favorite games a couple years ago was another Yeti game, Yeti In My Spaghetti, so when this game arrived in my monthly Sensory TheraPlay Box (I will talk about this amazing subscription box in a later gift guide)  a couple of months ago, I was super excited. This newest game from PlayMonster is another hit with my kiddos at work. One of my favorite things is that it is small and doesn’t take up a lot of space which is great for on-the-go entertainment. Kids hide the yetis and snow crab under the igloos and move them around so nobody knows which is which. They then draw a card and what they say-guess where a certain yeti is, peek inside the igloo, reveal a location or mix them up again. Try and remember where the yetis are to collect cards but do all you can do not find the snow crab or else you will lose all the cards you have collected. The player who collects the most cards is the winner. This is a great game for working on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, sustained attention, working memory, flexibility and self/emotional regulation. 

Emojinks-I have been a big Spot It fan for years and years and now that I run a social skills group, I tend to try and find games that have some kind of social emotional learning component. So try and imagine how happy Emojinks makes me! Very similar to Spot It, Emojinks is a game of speed where you try and be the first to find the matching Emoji. The nice thing about this game is that there are two different levels, beginner and advanced, so you can use it will all members of your family. Another great thing, the game is compact and easy to take on-the-go for non-screen-time entertainment. Emojinks is perfect to help your children learn about feelings and emotions while also working on developing focus, attention, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills and visual tracking skills, improves fine motor and manipulation skills and works on social skills such as being a good winner/loser, taking turns and being flexible.

Friends and Neighbors: The Helping Game-Peaceable Kingdom has a variety of beautifully made games and are known for their cooperative games (meaning you need to work together and not strive for being the winner). Friends and Neighbors works on developing a better understanding of emotions and feelings in young children (recommended for children starting at 3 years of age) and encourages empathy. Kids will learn to read emotions and problem solve how to help a variety of people in different situations. Teaching our kids how to not only understand their own feelings and emotions but also recognize how others might feel is a truly important life lesson. In addition to being able to better understand feelings and emotions, Friends and Neighbors works on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination and encourages social emotional development. 

Heads Talk Tails Walk Card Game-this silly game of sounds and movement was recommended by NYC speech therapist, Jacki Barredo. Players try to match hidden head tiles to the correct body tiles. If they can’t make a match, they have to try walk and talk like the mismatched tiles. Great for kids 3 and up and works on developing critical skills such as visual perception skills, reasoning skills, bilateral coordination and while encouraging gross motor development. 

Cauldron Quest-another fabulous recommendation from Jacki Barredo. This cooperative game is geared towards older children. The object of the game is to get the three correct ingredients into the cauldron before all six of the paths are blocked. The evil wizard has cast a spell to destroy the kingdom and you have the power to create a potion to break the spell but the kids must work together. The quest is to find the three correct ingredients hidden under the potion bottles and move them up the paths and into the cauldron before the wizards blocks all of the paths. I love cooperative games because kids must work together to achieve a common goal and not compete against each other. Some other social-emotional skills that can be worked on are making decisions together and being open to other people’s ideas and recommendations. Also great for working on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, working memory and problem solving. 

Thumbs Up-I just recently pulled this game out of my closet and so excited to be using it again at work. Thumbs Up is a fast-paced game where kids try to be the first to stack colored rings in the right sequence on their thumb. The game comes with colored rings and challenge cards. Each card has 4-7 pictures with numbers and colors and all the players race to be the first to stack the rings in the correct order. Whoever is the first to stack their rings collects the card; the player with the most cards at the end is the winner. This is a great game for on-the-go play because it can be thrown right into a bag. Thumbs Up is great for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, finger isolation, improves hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages focus, attention, motor planning and organizational skills. 

Googly Eyes-this is another recommendation from my niece, Lila and one that I know is a favorite of so many people. This family game is one that involves drawing while wearing zany, vision-altering google eye glasses. Your team tries to guess what you are drawing which results in some hysterics from all players. There are three different sets of lenses for the glasses ranging from a mild to pretty crazy alteration in your vision. Googly Eyes is great for working on improving graphomotor skills and encourages focus and attentional skills. 

I tried to cover a variety of different games on this post for kids of all ages and ones that could be good for families to play together. In a day and age where kids are spending more and more time in front of some kind of electronic device, I love that there are so many game options out there that can keep kids entertained while also working on developing a variety of skills. If you would like any other recommendations for games to work on specific skills, I have plenty more out there to share with you. I would also love to hear from any of you if you have games that are a huge hit with your kids or at work. I am only a click away and love hearing from all of you. 

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