Learning fun: Games excite student's learning

Employees and owners of some local stores selling games geared toward helping kids learn have a hard time picking favorites.

"There are so many good games," said Gini Wingard-Phillips, owner of Math 'n' Stuff in Maple Leaf. "I love games."

In a store full of board games, card sets, colorful dice, books and other fun-looking "educational toys," one can't help but share Wingard-Phillips' enthusiasm for the product.

Math games

The beautiful Blokus is one Wingard-Phillips touts because it's one of her favorites. A non-verbal game, the visual-spatial reasoning puzzle is good for all ages.

At Gary's Games & Hobbies in Greenwood, employee Todd Weaver suggests the ever-popular Yahtzee for math.

Math 'n' Things sells several games for math students of all ages. Bump focuses on adding, subtracting and mental math, while Blink is a card-matching game for age 4 and older.

Both Math 'n' Things and Science Art & More in Roosevelt sell Set, another card-matching game for all ages.

"None of these games sound fun," said Mary Takle, a math tutor who helps out at Math 'n' Things, "but they are."

Walter Lounsbury at Science Art & More insisted games such as Set are essential, saying he plays it with his adult friends as much as with his nieces and nephews.

Dice make another common learning tool that have taken on a new role in schools as "random-number generators." Multiple-sided and multi-colored dice are popular at Gary's Games for their place in role-playing games, but Math 'n' Stuff sells them as math learning aids.

Moreover, Wingard-Phillips declared, "As soon as kids hear dice roll, they think 'fun.'"

Language and knowledge

Apples to Apples is a critical and crowd favorite. The card game has players creatively match people, places, things or ideas to an adjective. Players take turns as "judge," pulling the adjective card and deciding which noun best suits it.

The nouns are sometimes obscure concepts that provide a geography, history or vocabulary lesson, as well as how to play to one person's biases.

Gary's Games, Math 'n' Stuff and Science Art & More all sold the basic set, but Math 'n' Stuff carries multiple expansion sets and printable cards so players can add their own nouns to the game.

History-focused games from the Civil War to World War II are found at Gary's Games. Weaver was particularly fond of History of the World, which takes players through seven epochs, from Egyptian civilization to the British Empire, learning historical facts all the while.

A series of games from Germany, including the popular Settlers of Catan, teach players about resources, building and trading.

Weaver, who admitted he's played the game with friends, said it sounds simple but "it takes some thinking."

Bioviva takes an environmental slant to Trivial Pursuit. Players age 8 and older make moves on a world map. Science Art & More carries Bioviva.

Not your father's chemistry set

Science Art & More caters to the niche market of science- learning sets. Even TV's Bill Nye (the Science Guy) has borrowed items from the store for his new series, Lounsbury said.

Lounsbury called the Microchem XM 5000 the "best classic chemistry set on the market," but noted that it's not as dangerous as sets used to be. None of its 1,500 experiments involve open flame or poisonous mercury, and the kit includes safety equipment.

Several Wizard kits - ElectroWiz, Chemistry Wizard, Newton's Wizard and others - include a book describing and explaining several activities. They start simple and get more advanced. The kits include equipment for projects such as building a hovercraft or water-powered rocket.

Smaller toys can still contain great scientific lessons, however. Louns-bury pointed out the Putt-Putt toys that allow children to build a steam engine-powered boat; Insta-Sno, which teaches about polymers; and the ever-popular ant farms and butterfly gardens.

Bugs appeared to be a favorite subject of Lounsbury's. He recommended David George Gordon's "Eat-A-Bug Cookbook," stating that 70 percent of the world's population eats insects willingly.

The store also sells such creepy treats as chocolate-covered ants, grasshopper lollipops and the crunchy, baked and flavored Larvets.

"Bugs are only gross to us because we say they're gross," he said.

Strategy, competition and teamwork

Some of the classic games of strategy have taken new forms and, say some game experts, become better.

Risk 2210 is an update of the original Risk board game, featuring a post-apocalyptic world with moon bases and underwater cities; it is available at Gary's Games.

Diplomacy is similar to Risk: "It's a cutthroat, kill-or-be-killed game," Weaver enthused, "half cooperation, half stab-your-friend-in-the-back."

Lord of the Rings is one of Gary's Games' most popular board games. It's one of the few Weaver said truly enforces the value of teamwork: "If you don't play together, you all lose," he explained.

Kuba is a bestseller for Math 'n' Things. It's a dynamic, two-player game that game enthusiast Takle described as different every time it's played.

Takle said Checkers 2000 adds "chess strategy to regular checkers." It uses numbers and helps with math, too.

Wingard-Phillips travels to New York every year for Toy Fair, where she discovers prototypes of new games. "I can see a game in New York," she said, "and hanker for a year before it's out."

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