Nica’s current favorite “bored” games

Nica, 5, loves playing games of all kinds. She is especially into board games and card games lately. But having a toddler-age brother makes it difficult to play properly, especially when the game is something as tantalizing as Candy Land.




By the way, why are there so many versions of Candy Land? And each new version is more obnoxious-looking than the last. There’s Candy Land The World of Sweets, Candy Land The Kingdom of Sweets, Deluxe Candy Land, Super Deluxe Candy Land The Oligarchy of Sweets…. OK, I made up that last one.

Recently, Nica had a mild cold that kept her home from school for a few days. So, she got to play some games while Ham napped.

Pros of playing games:
-It’s a great way for kids to practice reading and counting.
-Kids learn to follow rules and to win and lose at least somewhat gracefully.

-It requires more than one player, which creates near-constant “Mommy, wanna play [a game that you can’t stand playing]?”
-Kids don’t always lose gracefully, not even somewhat.

Besides Candy Land, the two games that Nica kept wanting to play when she was home from school were Digging Up Sight Words and Mermaid Beach. The first was designed by Teacher Created Resources, the second by a 9-year-old girl.

Honestly, I am amazed that Nica enjoys playing Digging Up Sight Words. The object of the game is to collect bones by filling in the right sight word in sentences. Now, I think this game could be worthwhile for a kid who is just beginning to sound out words and learn their meanings, so the challenge would be to read the words and then figure out the right choice for the sentence. But if your kid can already read and converse, the game is way too easy, because the filling-in part is a no-brainer. I started to get the feeling that Nica liked the game only because she got all the questions right. And, not to toot my own horn, but I got them all right too. So, woo-hoo. Not very fun at all. I guess I’ll try it again with Ham, in a couple of years.



Meanwhile, Mermaid Beach is one of the few kid games that I can actually enjoy playing. It’s got elements of Go Fish, Old Maid, Uno and other card games. You can see how this was created by a kid. And it works! The art on the cards is fun, and after you learn the rules and different cards, game play is unpredictable and engaging. An extra plus is that kids practice addition and subtraction.



Hands down, the kid-designed game far surpasses the teacher-created one. They should let kids design games more often.

Don't make me play this.


But maybe not my kids.

The alternative gift guide (for some specific types of 7-and-unders)

1. For the siblings who want to play a game together but can’t sit still (or there’s a toddler in the mix): Chameleon Crunch Game

The object: to throw bugs into the chameleon’s mouth, which opens and closes at random. For added action, the chameleon moves around a bit (and says a couple of phrases). Both my kids (ages 5 and 22 months) love playing this. They had fun playing this with their 3-year-old cousin, too.


2. For the on-trend kid: Furby

It’s ba-ack! And it’s one of the hot toys of the season, no less.


3. For the anal-retentive Legoist: Lego Sort & Store

Shake, shake, shake, and your Legos get sorted by size into different trays. Now if you could just hack a Roomba to pick them up off the floor first….


4. For the DIY diva: Fancy Nancy Sticky Mosaics Fancy Tiaras

The tiaras turn out pretty snazzy! Warning: You and other family members will be expected to wear the creations.


5. For the kid who just can’t wait to take driver’s ed: Drive Time Street Signs

For the driveway, or, in our case, for the kitchen. Whichever.


6. For the budding magician: My First Magic Set (with DVD Instructions)

We got this for Nica’s birthday, along with a hat and cape. She now performs full magic shows in front of audiences (she’s very picky about which audiences, though—she got it like that). The included DVD doesn’t quite jibe with the items in the set, but Archie and Nica figured it out. Archie is her “lovely assistant” during her performances.


7. For the kid who has everything except maybe a street named after him: Personalized sign à la Sesame Street

Adorable! Great for a luxe birthday party or for room décor.


8. For the Barbie lover who’s interested in her culture and maybe other people’s too: Dolls of the World (pictured, Princess of South Africa Barbie)

We got Nica the Princess of the Korean Court Barbie, because she’s getting more curious about her ethnicity and feeling some Korean pride these days.

9. For the kid who likes to touch gross stuff in the name of science: Scientific Explorer’s Sci-fi Slime Science Kit

This is so in Ham’s future.


10. For the baby with jokester parents: Buff Baby: Dumbbell Rattle

I totally would’ve gotten this for Ham when he was an infant. Because he was enormous, and it would’ve been hilarious. Damn!


11. For the music lover who loves to build stuff, too: Quercetti Saxoflute

This is a cool toy the kids’ aunt and uncle got for them. Both Ham and Nica enjoyed making different wind instruments. I did not enjoy washing out the saliva afterward. But, you know, that’s just me.


12. For the kid who can’t decide which (s)he loves more, Angry Birds or Star Wars: Angry Birds Star Wars Fighter Pods AT AT Attack


Angry Birds Star Wars 5″ Plush

This is on the list because, come on! This is bizarre! Yet strangely cute.

Hurricane games

Sandy blew through our town last week. We didn’t have power for a couple of days, and the kids’ colds got worse without heat, but compared to many other families’ situations in New Jersey, this was nothing, and we are grateful we got off so easy.

One of the most amazing things about children is that despite what is going on—whether it be wind and rain or the cancellation of Halloween or the loss of electricity—they are compelled to continue playing. No matter how dark the house or how scary-sounding the wind outside or how worried-looking the adults, they will scrounge up some fun and insist on merriment. So, while on one hand it is more stressful to have little ones to worry about and take care of during times of emergency, on the other it is such a blessing to have pint-size party people around and be able to hear so much [unironic, unhysterical] laughter during those times.

The blackout inspired much flashlight play, of course, and “picnics” consisting of culinary odds and ends and random junk food. The sounds of wind and rain got Nica started on some tall tales that ended up scaring her. Ham somehow didn’t even seem to notice the pitch-dark conditions; he continued playing with his toys even without a flashlight. Is he a nocturnal creature? That would explain so much.

In the afternoons, while Ham took his nap, Nica played some board games with Archie and me. Two that Nica really enjoyed were Guess Who? and the Disney version of the Pretty Pretty Princess Dress-Up Board Game, both of which Nica had recently received as birthday gifts.

The object of Guess Who? is to guess correctly the person or animal your opponent has in mind, by asking questions to try to eliminate those that are not The One. The pictures of the suspects are behind open doors, and as you eliminate suspects, you close their doors until hopefully you end up with one open door.


The game is sort of annoying to assemble and the parts are cheaply made, but once play gets going, it’s pretty fun. After a couple of games—plus one bratty preschooler display of sore-loserness and subsequent parental lecture about good sportsmanship—Nica got quite good at coming up with questions that would effectively eliminate many suspects from the running.

The Pretty Pretty Princess Dress-Up Board Game ingeniously combines standard board-game play (each person gets a piece to move around a board, a spinner tells you to move a certain number of spaces, and you do whatever the space you land on tells you to do) with a little girl’s greed for bling + her love of dressing up.


The object of the game is to be the first to wear all the pieces of jewelry in your assigned color plus the crown. We had a lot of fun playing this. At least, Nica and I did.