5 Great Board Games to Boost Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a very important skill to have for multiple different areas of your life. It will help you at your job, at school, and even in your personal relationships. While there are many different ways to build up your critical thinking skills. One of the most enjoyable and exciting is playing board games.

However, not all board games will boost up your critical thinking skills, despite how fun they might be. So which board games are good for developing critical thinking skills? Without any further ado, today I share 5 great board games to boost the critical thinking of everyone from teens to adults.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through which I will earn a small commission. Reviews are done based on my own opinions of the quality of the products. All opinions are my own.

Dungeons and Dragons

While more of a tabletop game than a board game, Dungeons and Dragons definitely can help improve your critical thinking. It is a game all about crafting your character and working through your own adventure with your friends.

My daughter loves D&D! She explains, “I like being able to experience the fictional words I always dream about, creating unique characters, trying things out, and experiencing the repercussions of my decisions. It’s also fun!”

I think the role playing aspect is large part of the attraction. My daughter really gets into the game when she plays and even uses uniques voices for her characters. She has journals full of character sketches and notes on their abilities.

By rolling dice, the game throws numerous different problems and roadblocks at you, and you will need to decide upon the right action incredibly quickly. The game can help you make the right decision at high speeds, and also helps you think outside the box. It allows for a ton of creativity as well.

The game is easy to get started with as long as you have some friends and a set of dice. Dungeons and Dragons can be made even more exciting by purchasing fun accessories like game mats, dice trays, game master screens, and mini-figures. If you’re in the market for some colorful and unique dice for your Dungeons and Dragons journey, consider checking out D20 collective. I’m partial to the Druidic Dreams color scheme shown here.

Settlers of Catan

Catan is a wildly popular game that is played by tens of millions of people regularly. The game starts you off with a couple of roads and settlements, and you need to build that up to a whole civilization. Using a roll of the dice, you will eventually get the materials required to build your settlement.

The game is incredibly fun and rewarding, but can really test and improve your critical thinking. You need to always be aware of how many resources you have, the best ways to use them and whether there are any trades worth making. You need to come up with a strategy for how you’ll build the best civilization, while also making assumptions about the goals of others.

There are many versions available of Settlers of Catan including expansion sets, card games, and dice games (pictured above) .

Chess

Dating back hundreds of years, chess is one of the quintessential board games when you think of critical thinking. The game is played by two people, with the ultimate goal being to take out the opponent’s king piece. Each piece in chess can be moved a certain way and is unique from the other pieces on the board.

There are thousands of different moves that can be made and strategies that can be used. Chess relies a lot on using your mind, applying critical thinking skills. You need to think of the best and most optimal strategy for yourself. Using concentration, logical thinking, and focusing on the potential moves your opponent could make in response to what you do.

While there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to first playing the game, once you know the rules, it becomes easy. Chess is also great as it can be played by anyone, no matter your age or background.

For more critical thinking games, check out Hnefatafl and Kübb, two Norwegian games.

Mastermind

With a name like Mastermind, you just know that this game will be able to help boost your critical thinking. It is a game about breaking a code where one person creates a code, and the other tries to eventually break it over time. This takes a lot of critical thinking, deductive reasoning and helps to utilize and build up these skills.

There are well over 1,000 different patterns of colored pegs that could be chosen by the code maker, and the codebreaker has to start from nothing and use their critical thinking and reasoning to eventually decipher it. You need to think about not only choosing the right colors, but also eliminating the wrong ones on your journey to breaking the code.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is without a doubt, one of the most exciting games on the market and is also one that challenges you to think critically. The goal of the game is to connect train cars and fill railways across the map, trying to make links between specific places. The game is all about using logic and strategy to successfully build your connections, while also preventing others from doing the same.

Ticket to Ride is one of my family’s favorite games. We actually own three different versions – Asia, Nordic Countries, and Europe (including the expansion, 1912). In my post, Board Games & Fun, I share more of our favorites.

Ticket to Ride is a game with very simple rules, but can be played and won in several different ways. Some people might try to fill the largest railways possible to score points. Others will spend their game trying to stifle other people’s plans and focus on building smaller train connections. You have a lot of options and with numerous ways to connect different routes. You are free to play the game how you want.

In conclusion, these board games are great ways to not only have fun, but also boost critical thinking. What are your family’s favorite games?

Developing Language Skills with New Amigos Board Game

I have always been fascinated by languages. In fact, raising bilingual children is was one of the primary reasons we chose to homeschool. Along the way, we have purposely sought out resources and opportunities to develop fluency in a second language.

Finding materials for Norwegian is not easy (at least where I live) so I was very excited to discover the New Amigos board game. New Amigos makes language learning fun and interactive!

The game has sold over 42,000 copies in Norway where it was developed. In Europe, it is distributed through toy stores, department stores, as well as book stores. Thus far, there are several versions available including: Norsk-English, Norsk-Spanish, and Norsk-Arabic!

Developing Language Skills

You can play either as an individual or on teams, independent of language knowledge or age. By virtue of three difficulty levels, played in parallel, even novices can stand a chance against advanced speakers and learn the basics of the language along the way.

The game works in two directions: native English speakers, for example, but wish to learn Norwegian can play the English-Norwegian version with speakers of Norsk who wish to learn English. The vocabulary is learned by everyone as each player takes his or her turn.

I have compiled a list of my favorite Norwegian Language Resources for families interested in learning Norwegian, Snakker du Norske?

Even players with the same language background and goals can play together. In other words, though both my daughter and I desire to learn Norwegian and are at different levels ourselves, we can successfully play the game together and learn from one another. We do not need to play with someone who speaks the language fluently.

The correct pronunciation of words in foreign languages is no problem, as New Amigos uses a unique phonetic system that doesn’t require any advance knowledge. Unlike the dictionaries, the words are spelled using Latin alphabet letters instead of phonetic symbols.

New Amigos Game Play

The goal of the game is to win cards over three rounds, each new round begins after seven cards have been won. This is accomplished by translating cards in both languages. The winner is the player who, in the final round, translates all of the played cards error-free.

Novices translate simple words, while advanced players translate more difficult words. In addition to vocabulary, there are also sentences and idiomatic expressions. New Amigos also includes geographical information and cards focused on culture, business, and food and drink.

New Amigos is a great game for language learners of all skill levels. Available for purchase online, there are four bilingual versions presently available: Spanish/Norsk, Arabic/Norsk, English/Norsk, and Spanish/English.

Environmental Science: Timeline, Key Terms, & Pollination

Have I told you how much I love Boy Scouts? My son first joined in February of 2016 and has since earned 21 merit badges – the most recent of which is Environmental Science.

As science – specifically environmental education and stewardship – is my passion, I offered to serve as the merit badge counselor and lead our troop through the merit badge requirements.

My goal was to complete everything in just a few days. We thereby met from 9am to noon for three consecutive days and it turned out to be just the right amount of time.

Over the course of this month, I will share with you the highlights of our exploration. Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science conservation merit badge.

Timeline of Environmental Policy

There are affiliate links below which means I may receive a commission when products are purchased. See my disclosure policy for more details. 

Timeline of Environmental Science

I devised a game similar to Timeline – one of our favorite family games – to introduce the Scouts to the historical events and initiatives that have shaped environmental policy in the United States.

One of the best things I like about the original game is that cards can be combined with the decks of multiple Timeline games (Discoveries, Music & Cinema, Inventions, Historical Events, etc.)

How to Play

While the original game has 110 cards, my simplified version has just 28. Six boys attended the class so I distributed four cards to each. The remaining four cards I held out, using a couple to demonstrate how to play the game.

Each card depicts an image of a historical event related to environmental science and a short summary text. The year in which that event occurred is shown on the reverse side. Players take turns placing a card from their hand in a row on the table.

After placing the card, the player reveals the date on it. If the card was placed correctly with the date in chronological order with all other cards on the table, the card stays in place. Otherwise, the card is moved to the appropriate place on the timeline.

In the original game, the first player to get rid of all his cards by placing them correctly wins. However, since there are not many cards to begin with, emphasis is on familiarizing oneself with the material not on winning.

Download Your Own Copy

If you are interested in playing the version I created, you can download it here, Environmental Science Timeline. There are two cards on each sheet of paper. You will first need to cut the two cards apart. Then simply fold each card in half to conceal the date and begin play.

Environmental Science Timeline ActivityKey Terms in Environmental Science

To familiarize ourselves with environmental science vocabulary, I used a slide show to first introduce the terms. We then played a game of bingo whereupon I called out the definition and they had to find the matching term.

Creating the bingo cards was quick and easy. I simply entered the terms into the widget at myfreebingocards and followed the prompts.

Download Your Own Copy

If you are interested in playing the version I created, you can download and print your own set for Environmental Science Bingo here.

Environmental SciencePollination

The last topic we covered on the first day was pollination. As the boys are entering 7th and 8th grade, they already had a good understanding of the process of pollination before we began. I thereby didn’t spend much time on reviewing this. Instead, we first watched a video, The Lifecycle of a Queen Honey Bee.

With the information we had learned from the video, I guided the boys through the process of creating a fortune teller to illustrate the life-cycle of the honeybee (complete metamorphosis). As they worked on their illustrations, I read aloud from the Handbook of Nature Study in more depth as well as to share the differences between the queen, the workers, and the drones.


As they departed at the end of day one, the boys exclaimed that the activities I had planned were enjoyable and that the also learned something. I call that a success.

Join me again next week when I share the activities I devised to cover environmental science requirements #3a-f in my post, Environmental Science: How Species Respond to Environmental Changes.

Meet the Women in Science with a New Card Game

As a naturalist, the history of science has always fascinated me. I recall fondly reading about the impact Linnaeus had on scientific classification in my college biology classes. I was spellbound as I discovered how Rachel Carson sparked the environmental movement with the publication of her book, The Silent Killer. Many homeschoolers are familiar with naturalist and educator, Anna Botsford Comstock, author of The Handbook of Nature Study.

women in science

I received this game in exchange for an honest review; please see my disclosure policy for details.

History of Science

For the past couple of years, I have been writing a series of Science Milestones posts to celebrate the scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives. I have enjoyed sharing short biographies of the people who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

In addition to the short biographical sketch, I share a list of lesson ideas and activities teachers and students can use to further explore the science these remarkable scientists have made.  I have come to realize, however, that though female scientists do exist, they have rarely received the recognition they deserve.

Women in Science card game

I recently discovered a innovative card game designed specifically for young people to learn about Women in Science. The fundamental idea of the game is to familiarize players with women who have left their mark on science. Often, these women in science did not receive the recognition they were due.

Women in Space

Photo courtesy of Luanagames.com / Francis Collie

As stated by the game creators, Anouk Charles & Benoit Fries,

It’s hardly surprising that few girls display an interest in physics or mathematics when they never hear about women who made extraordinary discoveries in these spheres.

The game is composed of 54 beautiful cards in a full color tuck-box. What I love best about these cards is the versatility. You can play the original, strategic game based on the card colors, collect the cards much like baseball or hockey cards, or play any standard card game requiring 52-cards using the logo in the top left corner of each card. Not only that, but you can also play an online version of the game.

Women in Space

Photo courtesy of Luanagames.com / Francis Collie

The original Women in Science 54-card set retails for $12 and the new Women in Space expansion set retails for $8. The cards are available in both English and French. A free printable PDF is available in Spanish. What is not to love?

A Dozen or So Ideas for Family Time

When asked, children say the number one thing they want most from their parents is time. Parents don’t have to spend a lot of money to spend quality time with their children; any time spent together sharing an activity is considered quality time.

Children grow and change quickly, so family time is a wonderful time to get to know your child better. It builds strong family ties and creates lifelong memories. Family time also creates an environment that builds self-esteem and character in children.

family timeIdeas for Family Time

Here are a dozen things families with teens and preteens can do together as a family.

1. Eat Meals Together

Eating our meals together, especially our evening meal, had been a big part of my childhood. I always knew this was a tradition I wanted to continue when I had children of my own. Times have changed, however, and coming together for dinner is more difficult than it was in the 70s and 80s.

Parents are working longer hours. Kids are involved in more extracurricular activities – sports, school clubs, etc. We’ve thereby made family meals a priority. Though some nights we have to juggle, the majority of our evening meals are enjoyed with each of us seated at the dining room table.

2. Cook Meals Together

This is an endeavor we have only recently begun, but it certainly more fun to prepare a meal with one another than to do all the work oneself. The way our kitchen is laid out, only two people can be actively cooking or preparing a dish. There just isn’t space for more. When Patrick and I are cooking, the kids like to sit at the island and engage us in conversation. It helps to extend our family meal time.

3. Go for an Evening Walk

After we’ve cleaned up our meal and taken care of any pressing tasks demanding our attention, we often enjoy a short walk around the neighborhood. These strolls provide us a chance to catch up and focus on one another without distractions. Sometimes it’s just hubby and I – a great time to assure we are on the same page. Other times, it’s the four of us.

4. Take on a Challenge

Going for walks together is something we have always enjoyed. Shortly into the new year, we challenged ourselves to hike 52 different trails together as a family. We started the year strong, visiting new trail heads in parts of the state we had not previously explored.

One of the stipulations we made for ourselves is that all four of us needed to be there. In other words, Patrick and I can not count the hikes we did during our romantic weekend away to celebrate our anniversary. The kids can not count the hikes they do at summer camp. Illnesses, schedule conflicts, and other obligations have thereby set us back for a couple months.

5. Play a Board Game

It’s well-known that kids need plenty of exercise, but it can be hard to pry them off the couch and away from their electronic devices. One way to get them moving is to engage the whole family in games that are simple and fun. There are many spectacular games available today. Some of our favorites include: Carcassonne, Takenoko, Timeline, & Tokaido. Host a family board game night, invite your friends, and find new favorites. You’ll be glad you did.

classes6. Take a Class

My daughter and I have taken several classes together ranging from seaweed art and foraging for mushrooms. Each class has provided us with opportunities to bond with one another and share our passions.

I have long desired to take a dance class as a family but thus far, we haven’t been able to work this experience into our schedule. I haven’t given up, however, and will continue to hope. Other ideas include cooking classes, martial arts, swimming, creative writing, guitar lessons – wherever your heart leads.

7. Go Camping

In years past, we went camping on an annual basis to our favorite county park. As the kids have gotten older, they have expressed an interest in going more often. I love this for many reasons but namely because it enables us to squeeze in more hikes and detox from screen time. This year, we have camped twice already and three more weekends are planned.

We keep it simple – we tent camp and have agreed that an RV just isn’t necessary. We plan easy meals and cook over the open fire. Bring along a fun outdoor game like Bocce ball or Kübb (a Viking lawn game) and Let the Fun Begin.

8. Take a Road Trip

As a family, one of the things we most enjoy is traveling. In the past few years, we have been blessed to have the time and financial means to travel abroad regularly. As our financial circumstances have changed, we know we won’t travel as often or as far in the near future, but travel is something we have agreed is very important to us and we thereby make sacrifices in other areas to assure we can continue to explore our world.

While not everyone may desire to travel abroad, road trips are a fabulous experience; providing opportunities to connect with one another and to learn more about our nation’s history and natural areas.

9. Enjoy a Book

Whether we are going about our errands around town or enjoying a road trip across state borders, we always have an audio book in our car. This is a great way to squeeze in genres and classical literature that your children may not otherwise choose for themselves. I love the conversations that we have as a result of experiencing a great book together.

volunteer10. Volunteering

There are many volunteer opportunities for kids. When we first moved back to Oregon, Geneva expressed interest in volunteering at the art museum. As she is not yet 16, I am required to go with her. It has been a great experience for us both – exposing us to artists and mediums previously unfamiliar to us. It has also given me the opportunity to observe her professionally.

Likewise, both children and I volunteer together in a variety of capacities at the estuarine research reserve and marine learning center, providing us with experience doing real science (fish seines and annual counts, biomonitoring field work), education outreach, and interpretation. We have also enjoyed volunteering while on vacation.

11. See a Concert or Go to the Theatre

As a classically-minded homeschool family, we try to see a play at least once a year and hope to eventually see Shakespeare’s entire canon. We also try to see live concert events whenever possible. This is especially important to us as both kids are young musicians. While Geneva plays for self interest, Jeffrey has expressed a desire to possibly pursue it as a career. We are most looking forward to seeing The Piano Guys perform again next month.

12. Engage in a Friendly Competition

Whether you consider yourself an athlete or not, there are a wide range of entertaining “runs”. I am sure you’ve heard about them in social media: bubble runs, color runs, mud runs, etc. are all the rage. There is nothing competitive about them other than seeing who has the most color on them after the race! There’s no timing, no timing clock and no placement awards. Just a great excuse to come out and have fun with your friends, family and kids while doing something healthy!

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What do you do together as a family? Leave a comment below and share your favorite activities.

Join the other iHomeschool Network bloggers to learn How We Spend Family Time.

FamilyNight

How Well Do You Know Your World Geography?

We love geography! It is fascinating to learn about other cultures and to learn how the physical geography has influenced different peoples around the world.

A few weeks ago, I shared a post detailing how we use the sidebars in North Star Geography to explore the diverse cultures of the world ~ Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography. We love comparing the cultural points with our own life experiences and have delighted in the many similarities we have discovered.

We live in an ever connected, global world, so it’s important that we teach our children that the world is bigger than they are, larger than just their community. One way to get kids excited about geography is to make it as interactive as possible.

This post contains affiliate links.

How Well Do You Know Your World Geography? @EvaVarga.netWith the help of North Star Geography my kids enjoy exploring world geography studies with a variety of resources including books, videos, hands-on projects, and even online games. Here are some of our favorite online geography games for middle school:

geoguesserThink You’re a Geography Expert?  Try Geoguesser …

Utilizing images from Google Street View, BBC Travel has put together a fun online game called Geoguesser. You are given an image – like a peak from a small window – from Google Maps of somewhere in the world.

Then you have to place a pin on the world map by clicking on the spot you think the picture is from. You’ll see how far off you are and the closer you get, the higher the points earned. You can let others challenge your score too. This is a fabulous activity for families!

The game challenges your geographic knowledge by having you guess the location of a street view image. You can pan and walk through the images to try and extract clues from where you are. Click on a location on the small inset map and click the “Make a guess” button to submit your best estimate of the image’s geographic location.

smartypinsSmartyPins

Another fun game built upon the Google Maps platform is SmartyPins. Rather than show a street view image, it provides a trivia question and a regional map. You put a pin on the map to guess the answer to the question. You can select different categories for the questions such as Arts & Culture, History & Current Events, and more. The goal is to place your pin as close to the actual location as possible. You can “take a hint” for more information and get a bonus if you answer quickly. Try to see how many answers you can get correct before you surpassed 1,000 miles.

Geoguesser & SmartyPins are a great ways to utilize the technology we are already familiar to further explore geography.

brainpopBrainPop

One of our all time favorite interactive games is BrainPop. We all enjoy learning with Tim and his friend, Moby, a robot – the hosts of BrainPop’s animated videos and online games. BrainPop offers free feature videos daily or you can access all of their content through a subscription service. Their geography lessons include Geography Themes, Latitude and Longitude, Map Skills, Time Zones and more.

One of the things I like best about BrainPop is that it is accessible in other languages ~ Español and 中国 !! I’ve only recently discovered the Chinese site so we have only begun to explore. The animations and our familiarity with many of the videos help with comprehension while providing a fabulous tool to develop our foreign language skills.

We also love that BrainPop has both a web version and a mobile app so we can take our learning on the road. We travel frequently, so having access to educational material is a huge bonus!

geonetGeoNet

Created by Houghton Mifflin, GeoNet is an online game they have developed to accompany their publications. You begin the game by choosing from a regional map of the United States or a world map. You then narrow it down by selecting a specific region you want to explore further. Lastly, you choose from six geography categories such as The World in Spatial Terms, Human Systems, Environment and Society, Physical Systems, etc. Your score increases as you correctly answer questions. The broad categories ensure each game will be different.

natgeokidsNational Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids is geared for the younger ages and is a fabulous site for exploring geography and science. To navigate, select the round “Menu” button at the top of the screen. The menu will pop up and from there you can find interesting videos, animal facts, games, and more. You can sign up for a free account for your child where they will be able to collect point, earn badges, and access additional games and videos.

How We Use North Star Geography @EvaVarga.netIf you are looking for a high-quality and engaging Geography curriculum for middle and high school ages, I encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more about North Star Geography – the program we have been using this year.

My family is learning more about geography than ever before and the materials make my job as their teacher so easy! Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.