I'm always on the lookout for books, games, toys, and tools that help my kids learn about and interact with nature. Here are some of our family's favorite games that teach kids (and grown-ups!) about the natural world. Whether your kids are fans of memory, Pokemon, or Monopoly, you'll find something on this list for them!
Perfect for young and old to play together, this simple bingo game (pictured above) requires players to match pictures of plants and animals. Names of each plant and animal are included in the instructions. I actually purchased this game to introduce Spanish animal and plant vocabulary because it is so easy to use and reinforce vocabulary while playing the game. This game can also just be used as a fun solo matching activity. I've kept my 4yo entertained for a good half-hour this way. The same images are also available as a matching game. Eeboo makes many other wonderful games and activities that require careful observation and incorporate living things from the natural world.
This beautiful memory game is by one of my favorite US toy manufacturers: Maple Landmark. The set features realistic illustrations of a dozen of the most common backyard birds in the US, including the chickadee, robin, goldfinch, and cardinal. Includes a cloth pouch for storage. If you prefer photographs over illustrations, try the Birds of North America Memory Card Game (which I own). This set includes 100 cards (50 sets of birds!). This is a little overwhelming for younger kids, so we like to play memory with a subset. Also fun for sorting (find all the birds with blue feathers). One more lovely memory game is Grow a Garden, which introduces kids to the names and images of common flowers, vegetables, and fruits, as well as garden tools.
The perfect game for the Pokemon-lover, this game is just like Pokemon except that it uses real creatures! Phylo is a project that was started by folks troubled by the fact that many kids know more about Pokemon creatures than they do about actual animals in the real world. I heard about this game from a friend whose daughters created cards and played games in their zoology class. Phylo is a card game "that makes use of the wonderful, complex, and inspiring things that inform the notion of biodiversity." It is an open access, open source, crowd sourced games. Many decks can be downloaded and printed for free. There are also some decks and expansion packs available for purchase. You can begin quickly by printing yourself a deck and checking out a set of rules.
I recently saw this game -- along with Bugopoly, Bird-opoly, Animal-opoly, and Earth-opoly -- in the store inside a Museum of Natural History. Each deed includes interesting facts about the organisms printed on the back. If you balk at the idea of your child "buying" a blue whale, this might not be the game for you. But I think the game could spark great discussions about ownership, stewardship, and how to ethically make money from wildlife. The Animal-opoly game tries to sidestep the commercialism by having players create a habitat for each animal (rather than owning it).
Guess My Animal
This simple game requires no equipment at all! One person simply thinks of an animal while the others ask yes/no questions to try to figure out what it is. A terrific way to teach kids about classification. For my nonfiction-loving son, we narrow down by asking about classification ("Is it a mammal?"). With my younger kids, we ask questions about attributes and habitat ("Does it have any red?" "Does it live on land?" "Does it live in the mountains?" "Is it bigger than a cat?" "Does it have fur?"). It was in playing this game that I learned how few types of amphibians there are (frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts). And that an octopus is a cephalopod and mollusc. You could also play the game Headbanz (where each player wears a card on his or her forehead and tries to figure out what card it is by asking others questions) with a homemade or store-bought deck of animal cards.
What are your favorite games to play as a family?
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