As a parent and a teacher, I’m constantly looking for new ways to engage my kids and my students both in and away from school. As summer approaches, I thought I would share some of my favorites with you.  I’d love to know how they work for you and to hear some of your ideas as well!

Which Do You Like More? — Kids can play this with or without you. Simply ask questions of each other where you have to analyze two similar nouns and decide which you like better and why. For example, my son recently asked me if I like the Sun or Earth more. I had to pick one and then tell him why I chose that one. (The elaboration of why is the most important part of this exercise since it practices a key, difficult critical thinking skill.) Make sure they realize that coming up with the comparisons is at times as difficult and important as choosing the answer. The two items in the question must be somewhat similar so that true analysis takes place.

Yes/No Critical Thinking Questions—Many verbal games can be played with yes/no questions. Take any game that is traditionally a guessing game (Guess My Number) and make it a yes/no question game. You say, “I’m thinking of a number from 1 to 200.” The children have to ask you yes/no questions with mathematically accurate vocabulary. They might say, “Is the number prime?” Younger children can ask, “Is the number even?” Or, “Is the number greater than 50?” If the child asks a question without using mathematical vocabulary, don’t answer the question. And, definitely don’t answer if they just take guesses!

I Spy (with a Twist)—This is still our favorite car ride game and a great one to suggest to parents. It can also be played in the classroom or playground. Instead of always spying a colored object, as is traditional, we spy objects that are certain shapes, distances, or textures. You might say, “I spy an oval.” Or, “I spy something about a mile away.” Or even, “I spy something bumpy.” It certainly makes the game more interesting. And, don’t forget to allow yes/no critical thinking questions. For example, “Is the object high in the sky?” Or, “Is the object on the floor?”

ABC Categories—I can remember playing this game with my sister when I was in elementary school. Think of a category and name an object from that category for every letter of the alphabet. You can add complexity by making the categories more difficult or by having every person have to name an example for every letter. Popular categories are: movies, characters from books, or things you might see on vacation.

Written by Emily Smith