As parents, we're supposed to always be on the lookout for "teachable moments" — those golden opportunities to ruin nearly any fun activity by clumsily inserting some educational content.
Kids can smell teachable moments a mile away and their eyes start to roll long before the words ever leave our mouth. But some games find the golden ratio, that perfect balance between fun and educational. Here are five games that parents and kids will love to play — and learn — together.
Space It! This is a simple, yet very clever numbers game. Players create sequences of numbered tiles that follow a pattern that they make up.
For example if the sequence is 2-7-12, the next player would have to play 17 (adding five) or create a completely new sequence utilizing at least one of the numbers that's already there. For example, a 5 above the 7 and a 9 below. Although the rules say to create sequences only by adding, you can can add a degree of difficulty by allowing for multiplication, subtraction, or division. Ages 8 and up; simplyfun.com.
Let's Drive. Another low-stress-yet-entertaining game for the whole family. Players collect points as they "travel" through the United States and Canada. It's a great way for the kids to learn state capitals, scenic locations, and trivia about every state.
It's also a good way for moms and dads to brush up on geography. Ages 8 and up; simplyfun.com.
Blunders. Who would have guessed that learning manners could actually be fun — fun enough that a 9-year old would pull the game out from a shelf of a dozen of her favorites and ask to play it? True story.
Players move through the board by rolling dice and answering questions from several categories: Dining, Home, Play. Questions can be fill-in-the-blank ("What's the right thing to do if you're sitting on a crowded bus and an elderly lady gets on?"), multiple choice, or true/false ("Billy and his friends love to zoom around the street and across everyone's lawn on their bikes. This is OK to do because they are having fun").
Or, they may have to do things such as create a proper place setting (honestly, does anyone really know where the dessert fork goes?) Ages 5-10; blundersmania.com.
Eat to Win. Designed by a concerned mom whose child struggled with weight issues, Eat to Win tests players' knowledge of nutrition and exercise in a fun, engaging way.
Players answer multiple choice ("How many calories do you burn jumping rope for 30 minutes?), or true/false questions ("You should eat Greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt"). Plus, there's a physical activity component, things like "Hop on one foot across the room and back" or "Everyone get up and run around the room and flapping your arms like a duck." Players earn money for reaching certain milestones (or if they don't want to hop, they can pay a laziness penalty). Ages 6 and up; Eattowingame.com.
Jishaku. Jishaku (the Japanese word for magnet), is a neat combination of strategy game and science lesson. Played with a set of different-sized magnetic stones of varying strengths on a surface that looks like a foam egg carton, it matters not only where you place each stone, but also how you place it.
It's a fascinating way to spend some quality time exploring the laws of magnetism with boys or girls Ages 8 and up; playjishaku.com.