June 21, 2018

Carolyn Vibbert and Ronnie Cabrera

Stop the Brain Drain: Games for Summer Vacation

Topics: Learning at Home, Learning Through Play, STEAM


When school is out for summer, it's time to get the games ready for your on-the-go family. Game time can bring together family for conversation, keep your brain active and healthy, and alleviate frustration. Here are our recommendations for all of those moments summer may bring to your family.


Waiting Games

When you're on vacation, there is a lot of waiting required in cars and lines. The trick to make waiting a breeze is to activate cognitive reasoning areas of the brain. This can override the emotional response of frustration. Because you are on the go and never know when a frustrating wait will happen, each of these games are easy to throw in a purse or backpack.

While waiting at a busy restaurant or anyplace with a table we recommend Sherlock, from Playroom Entertainment, a quick memory game. It can be set up and cleaned up quickly; split the deck if you have a larger group. Set cards up in a circle, quickly study them, and then flip them over to test your memory. Move a game piece around the circle of cards, guessing the object hidden beneath. If you are correct you move forward in the game. Wrong, and play moves to the next person. The deluxe version of this game includes a Sherlock hound pawn. This is a nice touch and makes the deluxe version worth the purchase.


Waiting in line can challenge the best of us. We recommend word games in these situations. This or That, from Peaceable Kingdom, can be stored in a purse or bag. Each token in the game's bag includes two choices about topic. After each player guesses what a designated person might choose for themselves, that player reveals their answer and explains why.

Bonus Game: Heads Up Kids! mobile app, Warner Bros.


Alone Time

Sometimes you need games for kids to play by themselves. Whether you are trying to give yourself a moment of sanity or finding a solution for choruses of "I'm bored," Chocolate Fix, by ThinkFun, is the perfect choice. The premise of this game, from ThinkFun, is that you are fulfilling orders for chocolate boxes. The catch is that these orders have come in the form of clues you use to figure out the correct placement of each of the chocolate pieces in the box. The clues start easy and slowly become more difficult. This is a great game for improving logical reasoning. You can play the physical version or download the app to play on the go.

Bonus Game: Rush Hour, ThinkFun


Games for Family Teams

Listening to siblings argue about gameplay is no parents' idea of fun. Instead, work together to meet the challenge in cooperative games. We recommend Mole Rats in Space, from Peaceable Kingdom, for its strategy and intrigue. Work together to evacuate four mole rats from a space station before the snake infestation takes over. You'll have to play the game again and again to meet the different challenges luck brings your way. A deck of secret challenge cards adds game twists for expert players.


Bonus Games: Outfoxed, Gamewright; Forbidden Island, Gamewright 


Fast Games for Mixed Groups

When you find yourself in a large group at a family reunion or event, pull out these word games to break the ice. In ThinkFun's Last Letter, search your cards for a picture of something beginning with the final letter of the word played by the previous player. Like a Where's Waldo of card games, every card is a busy scene illustrated by a different artist. Just exploring the pictures on each card is an engaging task.


Blurble, from North Star Games, comes in a medium-size box, but cards can be packed into a small deck perfect for taking along with a casserole. Turn up one card at a time, each with a picture. See the picture, but don't identify the item aloud. Instead, name something that starts with the same letter as the item shown.

The ease of these games is their ability to be played with any number of players with little setup and easy cleanup. As soon as the potluck is ready each game can be swept up and thrown into a plastic bag.

Bonus Games: Happy Salmon (blue and green fish), North Star Games; Disney's Eye Found It, Wonder Forge


Family Party Time

In the frenzy of Tenzi, a dice-rolling game, your family members won't even realize they are improving their math skills.  Each competitor rolls a set of 10 dice setting aside the desired dice. Reroll the rest of the dice as fast as possible until all the dice have the same number. Shout "TENZI!" The brilliance of this simple game is that there are many ways to play, with a card deck of ideas from the game creators. The variation Addzi has players roll their dice to create sums. The original Tenzi contains a set of dice for 4 players while the party pack has enough for 6.  Any set of ten dice per player works for this game.

Even picky eaters will love the game Sushi Go!, from Gamewright. You are only allowed to select and keep one card from your hand before passing it along to the next player. You never know which cards will be available in the hand you are given. Save sets of different sushi in hopes of scoring the most points. We love the party edition for 8 with a wider variety of cards and a board for scoring. The original is great to take on-the-go.

Bonus Game: Apples to Apples (available in many editions, including Apples to Apples Pictures), Mattel Games


Enjoy every day of summer as you keep your kids learning and laughing with these games for every situation. Share your other favorite summer games in the comments; we know other readers would love to read your ideas.




Ronnie Cabrera is the gifted specialist at Sudley Elementary, Prince William County Schools, in Manassas, Virginia. She uses games in her classroom to foster strategic thinking and cooperation. 




Carolyn Vibbert is a school librarian, also at Sudley Elementary. She has created a school game collection and uses games in classes with all students. Together they host a weekly student game club and plan how games can be used to strengthen student learning throughout the school day.



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