If you're thinking of some new games for your children - or someone else's - here are some we particularly enjoy. All of these games are rated as an A by both my children and myself.
Games for Little People
this game, and we've been playing it for about a year now. As far as first board games goes, this one is tough to beat. This game features a very large (6 foot) and sturdy game board with a classic Richard Scarry Busytown scene. Just looking at the board is fun for kids, as they see downtown Busytown, the countryside, and even the shore, with all of Scarry's cute animal characters working and playing. The goal of the game is for each player to meet up at a certain spot so they can ride the ferry together and get to the picnic before Pig Will and Pig Won't eat all the food. Along the way, Goldbug may come along and ask players to find as many things (like balloons or fire hydrants) as they can. The more everyone finds, the more everyone can movie forward to the ferry.
Skills required: Simple counting of squares on a game board. I often helped my son with this when he was younger, but if your kids can count well and follow a path along a game board, they can play this game independently. Also, if you have young kids, you know that sometimes competitive games can be a challenge. Busytown is a good introduction to board games in part because players work together toward a common goal.
Age recommendation: 3 (with help) to 8.
Uncle Wiggly. This game was created around that same time, but doesn't require that your children know the original character or stories.* The game board is heavy and beautifully printed. It shows a winding path along lovely scenes - with some unhelpful creatures (like an alligator and a fox) along the way. Each player moves his piece along the board, following directions on a card he's just drawn. The goal is to be the first to make it to Dr. Possum's house for tea.
Skills required: Counting of squares on a board game. Reading isn't absolutely required, although the cards do offer cute little rhymes on them. If your child can read the numbers of the cards and count spaces on her own, she can play this game independantly.
Age recommendation: 4 to 7.
classic game every child should own. The goal is to travel along a winding path in Candyland (a place with such fun things as a rainbow bridge and a licorice forest) and be the first to make it to the candy castle. Players draw a card with either one or two board squares of a certain color and move to the nearest square of that color.
Skills required: Children must know their colors and be able to follow a game board path. Children must also be able to count to 2. For players who are new to board games, parental help is required. Otherwise, kids with these skills can easily play this game independantly.
Age recommendation: 3 to 7.
I don't think there's a better first card game than Go Fish. Each player begins with a small number of cards (which most kids can hold in one hand without much trouble). Each player then tries to find as many matches as she can, asking each player: "Do you have a [type of fish]?" Other players either answer "Yes" and give their opponent the appropriate card, or they say "Go fish," and the player asking the question must draw a card from the pile. The player who puts all her cards down as matches first wins.
Skills required: Being able to match alike cards. If children can't read the names of the fish, they can just describe the type of fish, or (when not playing the game) memorize their names. Kids can easily play this game on their own.
Age recommendation: 3 to 8.
Games for Slightly Older Kids (starting at about about age 6 or 7)
This is a card game everyone in our house enjoys. The goal is to be the first to get rid of all your cards. The game begins with one card facing up in the middle of the players. Each player must then try to remove one or more cards from their hand and put them on top of that card by matching color, number, or function. Things that make this game fun include cards that skip other players, reverse the direction of play, make players draw additional cards, or change the color to any the player desires. There are several variations on this game, so be sure you're just buying the classic card set, as seen above.
Skills required: Children should be able to hold a number of cards in their hands. (Although I have sometimes given my daughter a large egg carton to hold her cards in.) Players must also be able to recognize all colors and numbers. If they can do this, independant play is quite do-able.
Age recommendation: 7 to adult.
The goal of this two person game is simple: Be the first to get four of the same-colored discs in a row. Rows can run horizontally, vertically, or at an angle. Players take turns inserting discs into the plastic game piece to either create their own row or block their opponent's. This is a great game for teaching children to think about other players' strategies. And once your children master playing the game this way, there are directions for making the game different and more difficult.
Skills required: Children must be able to count to four and recognize rows going horizontally, vertically, and at an angle. (If they can play Tic-Tac-Toe, they can play Connect 4.) Once they master these skills, kids can play this game without parental help.
Age recommendation: 6 to adult.
game of jacks teaches kids motor skills and strategy. There are many ways to play this game, but the most basic is this: A player tosses the jacks on the floor. She bounces the small rubber ball once, catching it while simultaneously picking up one jack. The next time, she tries to pick up two jacks. The next time, three, and so on. This game may be played alone or with 2 players.
Skills required: Counting and motor skills.
Age recommendation: 7 to 10.
this game is to get all your pawns "home" before anyone else. Each player moves forward by drawing a card and moving their pawn the presented number of spaces. Sounds simple - but other players can send you back home, trade places with you, and so on. May be played with 2 - 4 players.
Skills required: Counting. Also, it's important to be able to read some of the cards, because they may actually tell you to move backward so many spaces, instead of forward.
Age recommendation: 7 to adult.
This game board is made with indentations for marbles to fit into. Each player has his own color of marbles and tries to move them forward to their opponant's part of the board. Marbles can only be moved one space at a time, unless your own or other player's marbles can be jumped over. The first person to move all his marbles into his opponant's position wins. For 2 - 4 players.
Skills required: This game tests your child's spacial understanding. Children must learn to stategize their positions to get where they want to go as quickly as possible.
Age recommendation: 7 to adult.
No game makes my children laugh as hard as Twister. Technically, it is neither a card or board game - unless you can count a large plastic "rug" as a "board." The "rug" has dots of several colors on it. One player uses a spinner to tell the other players to put a particular limb (hand or leg) on a particular color. This continues, with players unable to move a limb from it's former location unless the spinner tells them to. The results are hilarious as kids bend into all kinds of strange positions and get twisted into each other. The winner is the person who is last to fall.
Skills required: Color recogniation and knowing the right from the left.
Age recommendation: about 6 to adult (Younger kids can play, too, but it's much more difficult for little people to stretch across the "rug" to reach the appropriate colors.)
Technically, this isn't a board game either - but Yahtsee is too fun not to include on this list. Each player rolls a set of dice and tries to get either as many of one number as she can, or combination of numbers. Each play earns a particular number of points and the person who finishes getting all the combinations and gets the highest score wins. Like Uno, there are a lot of variations on this game, so be sure to get "Classic Yahtsee."
Skills required: Basic adding skills, plus an ability to read dice. Parents can help with the adding.
Age recommendation: about 7 to adult.
Be sure to also check out this post about what toys my kids play with year after year after year.