The Games People Play Part I

Indoor toys and games that take the pressure off, but keep the brain on.

Hello once again and welcome back to my weekly offering: the 7 gems of wisdom. I imagine you are reading my blog either because you care about your children, you work with children, or … perhaps I have sent it to you directly: the chosen ones! (Hello to my dear parents up there in the wilds of Scotland, to my sister in London… and also to those other trusting colleagues from school/life who said, “Yes I’d LOVE to read your blog!” Thank you all for your support.)

Last week I shared with you my mysteriously titled “secrets of the 11+ part 1”. This week, we turn to the lighter subject of games as I present you with a fantastic list that might fuel your Christmas shopping spree for your children, nieces, godchildren ….and those adults who are difficult to buy for. All of these games are physical items that you can hold, carry in a bag or a box, or that you can use a pen and paper to do. This is stealth learning at its best, games that could help your child with history, general knowledge, engineering, negotiation, working under pressure and logic.

But most of all, they are FUN!


1. Screwball Scramble - Recommended to my son in Year 5 by his maths teacher - this game is still a success two years on. The aim: to guide a shiny ball bearing around a challenging obstacle course with agility and skill! Players also have to focus on beating the clock. Determination and persistence are key when taking on the challenge of the Screwball Scramble course! (1-4 players - Age 5+)

2. Downfall - My parents lived in Africa when I was growing up and I went to boarding school in England. At weekends, if it was raining, the cupboard would be opened ...and the games would begin. Connect Four, Operation, Monopoly, Ludo and one of my all time favourites - Downfall.  The basic design has changed since then but the game is the same. On your side, you try to get all your counters down through the cogs before your opponent does, on the other side. Take care though, because a wrong turn could lead to your …...“DOWNFALL”. Don’t you just love a pun! (2 players - Age 7+)

3. Crazy Eights, Go Fish, Old Maid, Pig and Whist - all with a pack of cards. These games are great fun and brilliant for sharpening up analytical skills, concentration and memory. Instructions will be easy to find on the internet and I suggest you play with a pack of cards that has pictures on that your child might identify with: I’ve seen Harry Potter, Kings and Queens, Famous Scientists, Art, Inventors and Fossils and Gems. When you are not playing cards, be creative and have a quiz using the pictures on the back.

4. Rush Hour - a traffic jam logic game - which, believe me, is a great challenge even if it sounds like your worst nightmare. Yes, it is available as an app, but we are trying to reduce screen time aren’t we? Your goal is, obviously, to escape the traffic jam and get your car out of the jam by sliding blocks around the board. This will definitely sharpen up your mind and there are four different levels of play so everyone can have a go. (1 player - Age 8+)

5. Top Trumps - many packs exist but my personal favourites are Wonders of the World and Creatures of the Deep with the alien-like freaky goblin shark, the massive Japanese spider crab and the Megalodon. This is how I learnt that Bungle Bungle is a real place in Australia. Each card contains some numerical facts and the aim of the game is to compare the values on your card with those on the card of the other player ...and then try to trump it - ha ha! on so many levels - thereby winning your opponent's card. If you’ve never played it, you really, really should try. But choose a subject you are interested in - it will make the game more fun. (2 or more players - Age 6+)

6. Jenga, a block stacking game which you have surely played. But did you know the name comes from the Swahili word kujenga, which means "to build"? (The game was designed by Leslie Scott, who was raised in East Africa. ) Without knowing it, when you play Jenga, you are learning about engineering - forces, tension, load - and how easy it is to topple a building in an earthquake. The record is 40 complete stories with two blocks into the 41st but most players are very lucky if they can get more than 30 levels before the whole thing comes crashing down. Can you get above 30? (2 -8 players - Ages 3+)

7. Revision Fun For Clever Kids - Of course I had to include this! My book - full disclosure etc. etc.  - you can buy it on my site. For those who love crosswords but who are not so fully engaged when it comes to word searches and dot to dot anymore… this puzzle book with elements of general knowledge and science is perfect to dip into for some puzzle fun! Recently I met two GCSE students, trying to crack the Churchill compound words puzzle (page 16). They had to stop and think probably because puzzles that you train for at 11+ are not front of brain when you are studying for exams aged 15. They got there in the end without looking at the answers as they didn’t want to be defeated by the quiz and they definitely thought it was fun. (Perfect for ages 8-88)


Don’t forget, these toys and games are FUN - and who doesn't need a bit of that?
Light up those winter evenings with something other than the iPad or the TV screen.... just for a few minutes.
What are you waiting for?


That's all for this week but because the list of indoor games and activity suggestions I came up with my children this week is so very long - just like that sentence -  next week, in my gems of wisdom:

More indoor games and activities that keep the
brain switched ON while the pressure is definitely OFF.