I love a good game. To a fault. I love Scrabble and Pictionary and chess and checkers and poker. I will play to the death, which is why I usually have to sit out a round or two while the rest of the family continues. They put me in time out. Games are all about connection—with other people, with abstract ideas, with logical thinking. They can teach with fun what often takes years of skill-building in the classroom. That’s why it’s crucial that every child gets to play. These 10 games will make family game night worth it for any child with special needs. Click on the name of each game to read more about it on Amazon.
No, this isn’t the beginning of a lecture. This is a walk in the park and a slide down the slide and a visit to Waterland. With each turn the player draws a card and must choose between two options. Each choice has consequences, hence the name. I love this game for its logic, but also for the fun and for the blank cards that are included so parents or teachers can write their own tasks and results.
Hello 1974. This game might be over 40 years old but it still sucks you in. Dungeons and Dragons teaches fantasy and role-playing better than any other. What kid wouldn’t want to be a hero on a quest seeking treasure, rescuing those in distress and battling foes? For kids with special needs, thinking figuratively can be tough. But this game draws you in and stretches the imagination in a way that makes you forget it’s just a game.
My son who has cerebral palsy loves this game and so do his brothers and sisters. This is one game they can all play together despite his limited language skills. It also sneaks in a little physical activity. The game comes with a big plush square with a different color on each side. Toss the square and draw a card from the pile in whatever color lands up. The cards teach colors, counting, animals, body parts, and the best one for us, emotions. This game is not about competition, it’s a big group quiz that gets you to move around and show off what you know.
This one was a childhood favorite. It made it on every car trip or plane ride because it’s small and comes in a banana-shaped carrying case that I begged to use as my pencil holder for school. The premise is simple: try to form as many words as you can from your tiles faster than anyone else. The best part—you get to yell “Bananas!” as loud as you can when all your tiles are gone. It’s like Scrabble with less rules. This one lets your kids practice spelling without struggling to hold writing utensils—you just sort the letters and keep going.
I always feel like I need a massage after Jenga—there’s so much tension! Building a tower without toppling can take serious concentration, but it’s the best game in the world to teach patience and social interaction as you work with your opponent to rebuild the tower once it falls. It also takes serious hand-eye coordination. We like to start with half a tower and work our way up. Pun intended.
This is another great game that teaches the effects of choices while working on colors and counting. The end goal is to move all four of your colored pieces from “Home” to “Finish.” The best part of the game, however, is the Pop-o-Matic—the push button dice roller you get to punch each time your turn comes round. We have a Disney Cars version with Mater as the dice roller. It might be more fun that the actual game.
This is Bingo amped up on caffeine and intelligence. Hence the slogan–“Bingo with a Zing.” This is great for both pre-readers and readers. It teaches matching, reading and language skills through picture cards. And this is another one that has a fun contraption. The “zinger” shoots out the cards, making you feel like a winner at the slots every time.
Storytelling can be hard for those with special needs who struggle to think creatively and outside the box. But these little cubes make it easier. You simply roll the cubes like dice and tell a story based on whatever pictures face up. It enhances literacy, teaches cooperation and teamwork, and can be played solo. I’ve been caught playing this one by myself during nap time. It’s surprisingly addictive.
This one’s a classic. And simple. And travels well. If you’ve got a logical thinker on your hands, they’ll love it. The only requirement is to line up four of the same colors in the grid to “connect four.” It takes patience and forward thinking, like chess but much simpler and faster. And chances are you already have it in your pile of games in the closet.
This one’s a fast game that focuses on building teamwork and social skills. Each game only takes about 10 or 15 minutes and kids learn numbers, colors, shapes and more as they pass the key and match pictures to collect all the treasure balls. This is the kid version of Cranium set on a tropical island. It will make you want to go to the Caribbean and hunt for treasure, or at least watch Pirates of the Caribbean.
Now you have all the ingredients for a perfect family game night. And if you’re like me, repeat this mantra, “It’s just a game” and maybe you won’t get put in time out.
*This article originally appeared in Parenting Special Needs Magazine.
What’s your favorite game night game?