Playing games with your kids is a great way to spend family time and make great memories. But what if family game night could be even more powerful? We’re all familiar with how games can help teach turn taking, but there is more lurking in your game of Sorry than just that.

I recently read a piece that Jessica Lahey wrote for The Atlantic about how playing games can have neurocognitive benefits, particularly for the set of skills called executive functioning (see this post to learn more about executive functioning). These are skills that we want to start building in our children as young as possible. Yet, the games mentioned in the article are predominantly more appropriate for older children. Here is a series of games that can help you build executive functioning in younger children.

Mancala
This is a simple two-person game that requires planning and inhibition as you move your beads around the board. It has the added bonus of helping with counting.

Sorry
A classic board game that should be in every house can be played (with some support) even by non-readers. The gameplay requires players to use planning, emotional control (it is called Sorry!), and inhibition. Beyond executive functioning, the game can help young players understand how to develop a strategy for approaching a board game as well as build empathy when they take a turn that impacts another player.

Memory
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Memory works with working memory, but it also touches on planning and shift as you try to remember where each card was. There are so many variations on this classic (we like the Missing Sock version).

Rummikub
This is a tile-based game that blends mahjong and rummy. Players need to develop runs or sets of numbers and colors as they work to eliminate their tiles. Self-monitoring, inhibition, shift, planning, and organization all come into play as the game moves along.

Apples to Apples
Now available in a number of editions (I recommend the Junior version for younger kids), this game challenges players to pick a card from their hand (red apple cards that feature nouns) that is as similar as possible to a green apple card that features an adjective. Beyond helping kids understand two crucial components of language, this game encourages emotional control, working memory and planning.

The great thing about games is that almost all games can help build up your child’s thinking and social-emotional skills. Even Candyland, which at this point drives me nuts from sheer boredom, works on turn taking. And, of course, game night is a great time for family conversation as you huddle around a table or sit on the floor.

What games does your family love to play and what skills do you see them building in your kids?

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