Hoot Owl Hoot!
How to Play: Fly your owls home to nest before the sun rises and everybody wins. By working together, young players can learn to benefit from more efficient moves.
Why We Love It: “I like that the game is cooperative, and not competitive. My daughter learns things like taking turns, working to reach a goal, practicing fine motor skills, and counting without needing to be ‘better’ than the other people she is playing with.” —Erin Wu-Kosinski, mother of 3-year-old daughter
To buy: $16, amazon.com.
The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game
How to Play: Spin the spinner and pick up the corresponding colored acorn with the “squirrel squeezer” before placing it onto your log. The first to fill her log wins. Strategy comes into play when you have to pick, steal, or lose an acorn. The game fosters hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and color learning.
Why We Love It: “The simple instructions make it a great first game for kids. It’s very engaging. My son loves pointing out the acorn colors and using the squirrel-shaped tongs to pick them up.” —Monica Holmes, mother of 4-year-old son
To buy: $13, amazon.com.
Animal Upon Animal
How to Play: Race to be the first to stack all your wooden animals onto the animal pile. A roll of the die indicates which action to take, such as placing two animals during a turn or handing one off to another player. Just be careful not to topple over any animals!
Why We Love It: “For a child who is developing hand-eye coordination, and learning about gravity and friction, Animal Upon Animal makes it a lot more exciting—in vibrant colors.” —Nathan Early, sales manager at Guardian Games
Ages: 4 to 99
To buy: $20, amazon.com.
How to Play: Look for the pair of matching pictures on a set of cards. Be the first to call it out. The instructions offer five different ways to play, but many more variations exist. Get ideas at Board Game Geek or other sites.
Why We Love It: “It helps my kids concentrate and focus on finding matches between cards, even when the size of the pictures aren’t the same. It’s an easy card game to play, and it’s actually fun for me, too!” –Stacy Groner, mother of 3- and 6-year-old sons
Try Spot it Jr.! for ages 4+.
To buy: $12, amazon.com.
How to Play: By enlisting adorable wooden penguins, Pengaloo puts a modern spin on the classic memory game. Roll the colored dice and look for the same colored eggs hiding beneath your South Pole friends. The first to ferry six penguins back to your iceberg wins.
Why We Love It: “Kids love it, but even parents can get into the strategy part, so it’s a great game for everyone in the family to play together.” —Sarah Lindsley, mother of 3- and 5-year old sons
To buy: $23, amazon.com.
How to Play: It’s like Bingo except with images instead of numbers. Zingo! helps early readers develop language skills by matching pictures and words to their “challenge card.” The first person to fill her card and yell “Zingo!” wins.
Why We Love It: “It’s fascinating how much my daughter has accelerated her reading.” —Nathan Early, father of 5-year-old daughter
To buy: $20, amazon.com.
Apples to Apples
How to Play: Choose a card (displaying a noun) from your hand you think best fits the judge’s card (displaying an adjective or characteristic). If the judge selects your card, you win that round. Everyone takes turns acting as the judge. Wait for hilarity to ensue.
Why We Love It: “It challenges my daughter to learn new words and gives her a glimpse of some pop culture I grew up with, and a little history to boot. When we come across a term, name, or piece of history we are unfamiliar with, we take a moment to look it up.” –Leanne Mruzik, mother of 11-year-old daughter
Try Apples to Apples Junior for ages 9+.
To buy: $16, amazon.com.
How to Play: Roll the die and fill your basket with fruit before the sly raven gets to the orchard. This cooperative game is designed to develop social skills, color identification, and counting.
Why We Love It: “First Orchard is like the classic Hi Ho Cherry-O, but with bigger, easier-to-hold pieces.” –Nathan Early, sales manager at Guardian Games
To buy: $25, amazon.com.
How to Play: Technically a parlor game, this oldie but goodie has been entertaining families since 1956. Roll the five dice and try to fulfill up to 13 scoring combinations. Highest score wins.
Why We Love It: “It’s fun, fast-paced, and easy to learn. It teaches kids about number sense and probability, and it’s a good combination of luck and skill.” –Jessica Purvis, mother of 7-year-old son
To buy: $10, amazon.com.
How to Play: Sharpen your vocabulary, spelling, probability, and anagram skills with this classic crossword game. Use letter tiles to create the highest scoring words. Earn bonus points for taking advantage of premium squares like “Double Word Score” and “Triple Letter Score.” It’s not how you work the letters, it’s how you work the board!
Why We Love It: “The game has been a great way to share our love of words with our daughters. When they were young, they teamed up with one of us. Now it’s every man/woman for him or herself!” –Karen Springen, mother of 17- and 20-year-old daughters
To buy: $15, amazon.com.