(Updated for 2019!)
Many modern board games are designed as educational tools, and instead of a lucky die roll, these board games require strategy, critical thinking, and even some teamwork or alliances, which will keep you and your middle school kids engaged. Everyone will have fun, spend quality time together, AND learn a thing or two along the way. Make game night into an educational experience with educational board games for middle schoolers (and adults!).
With electronic games always at our fingertips, you may think it’s backwards to be recommending traditional-style board games, but at A Grade Ahead, we really do think they are great tools for taking learning offline! We practice this hands-on philosophy in our learning academies where we provide small classes and more personalized learning in an after-school setting.
Socially, your middle schooler is developing his or her higher level critical thinking skills along with learning social techniques that will continue to define how he or she behaves and acts with other people. You, as parents, are the first and most important examples of teaching the development of these skills that no smartphone or laptop will ever be able to recreate. Board games can help a child develop teamwork skills in a safe, fun environment.
As more and more research emerges about the benefits of mindfulness for kids and adults, why not unplug and cultivate more time together that is not co-hosted by other activities like electronics, athletics, or even celebrations?
Well, insert family game nights! Do what you can: try once a week, if you love it, or a couple times a month! Kids will see the benefits of this positive interactions, and if you use our list below, they’ll be practicing thinking skills! We want to help you find which games will engage, challenge and entertain everyone – kids, tweens, and parents alike.
As board game aficionados ourselves, we took the time to compile a list of games that we believe will boost your family game night from a snooze-fest to a night filled with strategy, fun, and learning. Although these games are acceptable for a wide range of grades, middle schoolers will get the most out of these educational board games because it’s an important age to develop critical thinking, logic, and reasoning. We’ve added a few more great finds for you, so keep reading to see the new additions!
5 8 of the Best Educational Board Games for Middle Schoolers
1. Snippets (NEW!)
Snippets is perfect for a party or family game night. It can best be described as a combination of Scrabble and Scattergories, but unlike Scrabble, you don’t need a crazy vocabulary to win, and unlike Scattergories there’s no ambiguity, and unlike most word games, the “smartest” player doesn’t always win.
Number of Players: 2-8
Recommended Age: 12+
Skills Developed: vocabulary, pattern recognition
How to Play: A “snippet” is a short sequence of letters that can be found as a whole within one or more words. For example, the snippet IPP can be found in the words SNIPPETS, QUIPPED, and HIPPIE but not in SHIPSHAPE, PIPE, or HOPPING.
Players have 60 seconds to write down as many words as they can think of that contain each round’s snippet. Anything goes! Dictionary words, people names, place names, brand names, fictional things, technical terms, slang, acronyms, abbreviations, contractions, hyphenations, non-english words, the snippet itself, and even plurals and alternate verb tenses are all allowed!
When time’s up, players compare answers, earning points for unique words and fun bonuses. The player with the most points wins the round and the first to 3 rounds wins the game!
2. Proof! (NEW!)
Proof! Is an award-winning math game loved by teachers, parents and kids alike. It can be played with ages 9 and up, but the rules can be adaptable for younger players too. It’s great brain training to improve creative mental math skills, practice multiplication, division, addition, subtraction and square roots. (And, yes, this may be more of a card game than a board game, but equally as fun and a great game for family groups to play together!)
Number of Players: 2-6
Recommended Age: 9+
Skills Developed: mental math/speed
How to Play: Nine cards, each with one number from 0 to 100, are arranged face-up in a 3X3 grid. Players simultaneously try to create equations using at least three cards in the grid and as many math symbols as necessary. A player keeps the cards he uses to make an equation, and those cards are replaced in the grid with new ones. Play continues until the deck runs out. The player who has collected the most cards wins.
3. The $tock Exchange Game (NEW!)
© 2016 by 8th Kid Games Inc
We like this one not only for it’s play, but for the premise of the game. If you’ve got middle schoolers that are showing a penchant for money, economics or business, this is a fun way to put their budding talents into action. And honestly, it’s fun for adults too. This board game has the look of a retro traditional style board game; however, it doesn’t play like one! Kids must come up with multiple strategies to win. This educational board game features lots of action and tracks stock price changes with coins, so there’s no major math or tedious paper tracking! Grab this game to get kids doing a little math and focusing on strategy.
Number of Players: 2-4 or in teams of 2
Recommended Age: 10+
Skills Developed: abstract strategy, economics
How to Play: (from the publisher, 8th Kid Games Inc.) Think of each trip around the board as a year in your life. Investing with the goal of how to retire. Early in the game, purchase risky assets with higher returns, then later in the game sell the risky stocks for safer, more stable investments. “Wheel and Deal” buying and selling stocks to flip profit into more money! The investor to retire with the most assets wins! There are 3 levels of play:
1) Family Fun – Buy and Sell Stocks, ETFs, Gold, and Bonds
2) Strategic – More serious players – Take it to the next level with Advanced Deals : Mergers & Acquisitions, Hostile-Takeovers, Stock Options, and taking companies Private!
3) Optional Teams – Play Family or Strategy level in 2 person teams
This game will remind you of Monopoly at first glance, but the play is more interesting. Any player can call for a buy to end the game at any time, so unlike Monopoly, you don’t have to be stuck in an endless drone of game action.
4. Settlers of Catan
Coming in at number one on our list and a popular favorite of many: Settlers of Catan. This board game is fun and challenging for the whole family. Players collect resources and use them to build roads, settlements and cities on their way to victory. The board itself is variable, making each game a little different from the next. Each round of The Settlers of Catan is intended to keep three or four players ages 10 and above engaged for up to 90 minutes.
Number of Players: 3-4
Recommended Age: 10+
Skills Developed: strategic planning, an understanding of probability, spatial intelligence, and even an ability to make smart deals or trades with other players.
How to Play: Players must reach 10 Victory Points, which they acquire through building settlements (think Monopoly houses but wooden) and cities as well as through other achievements throughout the game. To build, players must earn resources: brick, lumber, ore, sheep, and wheat. They earn these resources through their settlements and cities—whatever the roll is (using 2 dice) for that turn, players receive the resources if they have a settlement on that block.
In this example, if a 9 was rolled, the blue player would receive
3 sheep resources because she has 3 settlements touching the sheep hexagon.
Players must be strategic about what resources are most important to their overall game (some resources become more important at the end of the game, as well!). Players must strategize and plan ahead on what resources they have, wish to save, and think they’ll earn in the future—they also need to figure out which hexagons have a higher probability of being lucrative in resources. For example, a hexagon with a 2 would not be a good choice because it has a low probability that someone would roll a 2 using both dice.
Blokus is a lot like Tetris, but much more strategic and fun for middle schoolers.
Number of Players: 2-4
Recommended Age: 7+
Skills Developed: spatial intelligence and strategy
How to Play: Players must get all of their Tetris-like pieces on a 400-square game board. The trick of this board game is that players cannot place a new piece adjacent to another piece; instead, the corners only of each piece must touch. The rules of this game are simple, but the strategy and visual planning are endless.
This bluffing game requires creativity and will help your middle school student with their writing skills.
Number of Players: 2-6
Recommended Age: 12+
Skills Developed: creative writing, comprehension, critical thinking, and vocabulary
How to Play: Players will pick an obscure word from the card deck. Players must try to fool the other players by making up definitions for this word. One player (the one who did not write a fake definition) will read all of the definitions, including the real definition, and the other players have to vote on which definition is the real one. The player’s definition that receives the most votes as the real definition gets to advance on the board, or if a player chooses the real definition, he or she also gets to advance on the board. The key to this is players must change the voice of their own writing to sound like a dictionary definition: the most convincing ones are authoritative in tone! They also have to use their critical thinking and comprehension skills to pick out the real definition.
7. Ticket to Ride
This board game’s rules are simple and quick to learn, but the strategy can be very sophisticated.
Number of Players: 2-5
Recommended Age: 8+
Skills Developed: strategy, critical thinking, and geography
How to Play: This board game is a map of North America, and players must collect train cards and claim railways in North America. The longer the railway, the more points a player can receive. Additionally, a player can receive more points by completing a Destination Ticket. The rules are simple, but the strategy can get complicated. The longer a player waits to claim a route, the more likely it is that another player may steal that route; however, players get more points for longer routes, so there are benefits to waiting.
This is a great cooperative game that teaches your middle schooler about areas in the world and how we are connected globally.
Number of Players: 2-4
Recommended Age: 13+
Skills Developed: strategy, cooperation, and geography
How to Play: Players must work cooperatively to stop the spread of 4 infections. To begin, each player is assigned a role (i.e. a researcher, medic, quarantine specialist, etc.). These roles contribute in a special way to the play of the game (i.e. a medic can help control the spread of an infection by going to a city and healing people). The object of the game is to completely eradicate the infections. To do this, players collect cards of that infection (like how a researcher would gather research about a disease). Players must simultaneously make sure that an infection does not spread and become a pandemic. After each turn, players must choose a random card that will “infect” certain cities; sometimes, there’s even an epidemic. These infections can spread quickly if players are not working together!
As a board game lover myself, I enjoy learning and trying new games. Educational board games are a great way to bring your family together, but they’re also helpful in cultivating critical thinking and strategic planning (which is something we really emphasize at A Grade Ahead). To give students a chance to enjoy learning even more, we created an interactive curriculum that practices all the skills that these games do!
Are there any educational board games for middle schoolers you play on game night? What do you kids enjoy? Let us know in the comments below!
Author: Becky Adams, Curriculum Manager at A Grade Ahead; Audrey Webster, Marketing Assistant at A Grade Ahead
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