5 educational board games you probably already own

Educational Board Games

Written by contributor Kris Bales, of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

My family and I enjoy playing lots of board and card games.

Usually when we’re playing, it’s just for fun and I’m not even considering the educational value. However, a lot of games that we play actually put many practical learning skills to use.

What hidden learning is lurking in your game closet?


Scrabble is one of my favorite games and probably one of the easiest to peg for educational value. First off, there is spelling. Players have to spell the words correctly or they can be challenged (which provides practice looking words up in the dictionary).

Scrabble is also great for vocabulary. Os, xi, za, and qi are great two-letter words to know…but do you know what any of them mean? Os is a bodily opening. Xi is the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet. Qi is another form of chi, the substance of which everything is composed in Chinese philosophy.

And, za? Well, there is some debate over whether or not it’s a word, but the official Scrabble dictionary and Words with Friends allow it.

Photo by Kris

A lot of times, we don’t keep score when I play Scrabble with the kids. I figure it’s good practice for them and I’m just happy I can get someone to play with me. While I am careful not to turn it into a spelling or vocabulary lesson, I will define any words I play that I think the kids probably don’t know.


I remember playing Yahtzee as a very young child – like, under the age of 8. In addition to just being fun, Yahtzee is great for counting and adding (or multiplying).

It’s also great for categorizing (putting all the matching die together) and strategizing (would it be better to count this roll for the fives or wait and go for a full house?). And, then, of course, there is some serious three column addition at the end to see who won.


I never really thought much about Battleship as an educational game, until my kids starting doing graphs in math. E5, anyone? Players have to be able to figure out how to read a grid in order to play and that’s just more fun than math. Then, when you actually get to the math, it makes those graphs make a lot more sense when you can say, “You know, like in Battleship.”


Photo by John-Morgan

There’s a great deal of strategy and critical thinking involved in Battleship, too. Is it better to cluster all the ships together to disguise their sizes or spread them out? When you find your opponent’s ship, do you try to sink it right away or locate the others first? And, of course, you’ve got to pay attention to the graph you’re keeping on your opponent’s ships, too. It’s no fun when you forget to do that because most opponents aren’t helpful in reminding you what you’ve already called.


Monopoly is such a great game for combining learning and fun – and patience! It can be a long game. It’s worth it, though. It’s got:

  • counting – both moves and money
  • figuring amounts owed and making change
  • real estate concepts – mortgage, taxes, land development, and, of course, monopoly


Photo by John-Morgan

Monopoly is another game that offers some great critical thinking opportunities, too. We do a lot of trading or selling properties, so a player has to weigh the risks and benefits of trading this property for that one.

And, finally, probability is a big part of trading and selling property in monopoly. If I let the other player get a monopoly on this property, how likely am I to land on it and have to pay big bucks?

Chess and Checkers

Okay, here’s the part where I have to fully disclose the fact that I am terrible at these games. Both are great for teaching strategy and critical thinking. That’s why my husband teaches the kids to play. I am terrible at having any strategy other than trying to get my checkers in the corners and keeping my back row intact as long was possible. I’m terrible at tic-tac-toe, too.


Photo by John-Morgan

That being said, for most people, chess and checkers can be great games for teaching thinking skills in a fun, low-key way. They’re also great games to chose if you want to beat Mom. Just don’t dare to challenge me to Clue. You will lose.

What games with hidden or not-so-hidden educational qualities do you and your family enjoy?

About Kris

Kris Bales is the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest voice behind Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She and her husband of over 25 years are parents to two amazing teens and a homeschool grad. Kris has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. She also seems intent on becoming the crazy cat lady long before she's old and alone.


  1. My kids love board games but I don’t love the mess of all the small pieces! Thanks for the motivation to do it anyway. I JUST read that National Scrabble Day is coming up on April 13. It’s a little silly but I marked the calendar anyway. 🙂
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: What I’m Really Paying for When I Pay $22 for Lipstick

  2. Oh I love Battleship! My brother and I used to play that all the time growing up…and monopoly. Right now my kids are more into matching games, but the other ones will come soon enough 🙂
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  3. Don’t forget Pay Day, I had such a blast playing that game when I was young!
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  4. Adrienne says:

    Oh my family loves board games. We play almost every day. I really think it is the reason my sons had an early advantage in math. Some more of our favorites:
    Monopoly Jr – Some of the “Jr” versions of games are not really great but this one is! My kids started playing around 2yrs old. It’s simple but they learn a lot of counting and numbers.
    Clue – A great logic game and fun too.
    Settlers of Catan – This is a current favorite of my boys (5 and 8). We got it for christmas and have played it multiple times a week since. It’s a great strategy game and since the board changes every time you play it still feels fresh after oh so many games.

  5. I’m a big believer in board games being good for the mind. When I was kid my German uncle always played with us. He believed they helped significantly in math. I never saw the benefit to Battleship but do now. Sunday evenings used to be our game night but we have fallen out of the practice lately. After reading this I will have to be sure to reinstate it.
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  6. Our family of um… two adults and a toddler… really enjoy games. We’re kinda nerds that way. Except we don’t really play any of the games listed–except Scrabble. We adore Ticket to Ride, which if you play the European/African/Indian versions you’ll be learning lots of geography. We also really like Dominion. The game with a medieval setting allows each game played to be made of a different set of cards so it’s not predictable. There are also blank cards for creating your own–hello creative thinking! Our other favorite for older kids is Pandemic. It not only teaches about how pandemics spread, but it’s a cooperative game so everyone needs to work together. My husband actually uses with college kids to teach teamwork and cause/effect. Two older games my husband grew up playing was Stocks & Bonds–which simulates the stock market and The Farming Game–which incorporates weather, loads of math, and some RISK elements to teach about farming, crop rotation, etc. FYI: BoardGameGeek.com is a great place to find unique games and get honest reviews. Very fun post!!
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    • We are board game geekers! My husband and I play with a group of friends all of us with young children. Right now we just have a bank of pack n plays on game night, but I can’t wait to get the kids in on the fun too 🙂

    • Another game geek here! Start ’em young! There are so many great games out there, and they are fantastic for teaching critical thinking, multi-stage processes, math, and more. Our now 8 year old enjoys playing 7 Wonders, Power Grid, Carcasonne, Ticket to Ride, Stone Age, Settlers, and Pandemic. Dominion and Quirkle. And now he’s learning Terra Mystica. I would love to introduce him to Battleship, but think we’ll take a pass on Monopoly.

  7. I think that after tromping around outside, games rank first in how we homeschool in our family! my girls and i devised an alternative to “battleship” (they just couldn’t get into it) – we call it “you ate my radish”: http://plotfiftyfive.blogspot.com/2011/07/you-ate-my-radish.html – it’s good for this garden-planning time of year!
    other current favorites are Quiddler (for word play), SET (for patterns), Blokus (strategy) and the Scrambled States of America…
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  8. My mom got us hooked on Triominos…there’s also a younger kids version with pictures instead of numbers. Its good for addition, subtraction and strategy.

  9. I think I am a mean homeschool mom. I had not considered some of these games to be so educational. But for some reason if they are having too much fun I worry they aren’t learning. I guess I still have a lot to learn myself!!

  10. The only reason Monopoly is a long game is because people don’t follow this rule (SEE SHOUTING):

    “Whenever you land on an unowned property you may buy that property from the Bank at its printed price. You receive the Title Deed card showing ownership. Place the title deed card face up in front of you. If you do not wish to buy the property, THE BANK SELLS IT THROUGH AN AUCTION to the highest bidder. The high bidder pays the Bank the amount of the bid in cash and receives the Title Deed card for that property.”


  11. Some of my favorites for school:
    Ticket to Ride (geography & strategy, basic counting)
    Word games: Scrabble, Upwords, Boggle, Word Yahtzee, Quiddler, Bananagrams
    Settlers of Catan: strategy & critical thinking
    Qwirkle: color, shapes, counting, and strategy

  12. We love Rack-O for organizing numbers, yatzee has lots of adding, too

  13. Honestly I could never figure out why folks loved boardgames… I would here of family game nights and literally shudder at the thought, with my kids it was a recipe for a disastrous time. My kids didn’t play a lot of games when they were little, but I had such fabulous memories of the summers that I was eleven and twelve where my best friend and I played Monopoly almost continuously… so I held my breath and waited – so glad I did!!!
    This past year my folks have made every effort to visit us on a Monday, my dad taught them all chess… one-on-one and week by week and my mom played dozens of other games with the remaining kids… It took a while but they are finally really into it!!! And it is fabulous, now I often start our school day with a quick game of bananagrams or sumoku and we all love it!!!
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  14. Danielle says:

    My kids current favorites are Upwords & Blokus (both have been mentioned already). My kids are 6 & 4, so we tend to play Upwords open-handed with a lot of “what could you change this letter to?” and “If you put that letter here, what would that spell?” but they love learning new words! My 6 year old is also SO into the strategy of using each tile to get the most points possible! Blokus is great for strategy, spatial reasoning & geometry.

  15. We love the old game Can’t Stop – hard to find but worth it. As a kid I loved the puzzle version of the perfection game called Superfection. Dominos, where the ends add up to multiples of five are a great addition game – easy and yet so reinforcing for quick mental math.

    We love Catan. Our kids love Catan.

  16. We use simple playing cards to play war to reinforce “less than” and “greter than” concepts. We also throw dice to do addition and subtraction facts. Easy things for young learners! And I LOVE sneaking in education!

  17. Virginia Knowles says:

    Pente, mancala, Rummikub, Yahtzee and Scrabble are all family favorites. I just bought Sequence yesterday and the kids said they liked it. I played it years ago and thought it was really fun too.

  18. Marsaille says:

    We have a 5 year old and a 3 year old. A current fave is Jenga. Fine motor skils anyone? Strategy? Engineering concepts? Sometimes we use the wooden block set with the smaller pieces from Jenga- and then find out what we can take away and what we can’t. Thanks to my art history classes in college with the detailed instruction on cathedral masonry… my kids beat adults every time at Jenga. And know what a flying buttress is.

  19. I love you list, but our family favorite is Bank It! It’s a SimplyFun game that is similar to monopoly, but it only takes 30 minutes to play. 30 MINUTES! 🙂 We love it!! Here’s the link: http://www.simplyfun.com/georgia

  20. We love games too. At the moment my 6 year old plays Carcassone a strategic tile game, tantrix another tile game this time hexagonal. I’d highly recommend British game maker orchard toys for younger children. Their Pop to the Shops, Tummy Ache, Dotty Dinosaurs are big hits. Galt games are similar their listening bingo type game is loved by my 4 yr old. Animal soundtrack it’s called.

  21. I am discovering the joy of playing to learn. Scrabble can help kids begin to understand the concept of algebra. Every word played on double or triple squares can be turned into an algebra problem. I don’t ruin the fun by making him turn every word into an algebra problem. It just helps him understand the concept.

  22. Love love love this post!! We are board game/ card game family owning a couple hundred games. I am homeschooling my oldest for kindergarten and pretty much everything we learned we did with a game. My entire approach to learning to read was taught in games. I hate candy land and my daughter is a huge fan. So I printed a stack of sight words and phonetic groups. When she landed in a predetermined color she had to read either two or three sight words before moving her guy. She would have to read through the words of a whole phonetic group like -an, -at etc. when she got one of the picture cards. It made the game bearable. We spend all day playing games and sewing and I haven’t regretted my decision one moment to center school around having fun.

  23. We are rediscovering a love for Uno. We like to turn it into a math game both adding and subtracting. We will probably add multiplication too. Also for my pre-schooler we like Spot-it Jr. Perfect for recognizing letters and then saying the sounds as well as matching. But I forgot all about scrabble for spelling. I guess I know what game is going on my next amazon order. 🙂
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  24. We love Apples to Apples Jr. for vocab building, Scrabble Soup, and Mancala for Critical Thinking and addition/Subtraction.

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