Kids love games, and these strategic thinking games are fun board games for executive functioning. That’s why using games to help executive functioning skills is such a powerful method for development of skills like attention, prioritization, planning, and impulse control. Read on to find suggested strategy games and planning games for executive function that kids will love while improving the brain skills they need.
StrateGic Thinking Games
One of the best parts about working on EF skills is that they can be addressed through almost ANY activity! However, that’s also why they are so important, because almost any occupation requires EF skills.
There are many games out there that improve executive function and the skills that make up this cognitive super power. Here, we’re talking about a few recommended strategy games kids will enjoy.
What is Strategic thinking?
Strategic thinking involves the ability to analyze situations, make sound decisions, and plan and execute effective solutions with a long-term perspective.
It goes beyond day-to-day problem-solving and focuses on achieving specific goals by considering the broader context and potential consequences. You might even replace the phrase strategic thinking with critical thinking (there are slight differences, by the way)>
Strategic thinkers anticipate future challenges, identify opportunities, and align their actions with a clear vision or objective. This skill is crucial in daily activities as we plan and implement tasks that require thinking strategically.
Board games for executive functioning skills
You can actually use board games to support strategic thinking, and the skills that make up executive functioning.
Integrating board games into therapeutic interventions or educational settings can be an effective way to support the development of strategic thinking skills. Here are some ways board games can be used for this purpose:
Problem-solving Opportunities: Board games often present players with challenges and obstacles that require strategic thinking to overcome. Encourage players to analyze the current game state, anticipate potential moves, and develop a plan to achieve their objectives. They can use the information in front of them to prioritize the steps they should take to accomplish a task within the game. This mimics real-world problem-solving scenarios.
Decision-Making Practice: Board games offer a safe and controlled environment for individuals to practice decision-making. Players must consider the consequences of their moves and weigh different options, fostering the ability to make informed and strategic decisions.
Long-Term Planning: Many board games involve a long-term strategy to achieve victory. Players need to plan several moves ahead, considering how their current decisions will impact future outcomes. This encourages the development of foresight and planning skills.
Adaptability: Games with changing rules or unexpected events encourage players to adapt their strategies in response to new information. This flexibility in thinking is a key aspect of strategic thinking, helping individuals learn to adjust their plans when needed.
Social Interaction: Board games often involve social interaction and collaboration. Negotiating with others, understanding their strategies, and adapting to different playing styles all contribute to the development of social and strategic skills.
Critical Thinking: Board games stimulate critical thinking by requiring players to assess information, evaluate alternatives, and make reasoned judgments. This analytical thinking is fundamental to strategic decision-making.
Resource Management: Many games involve the efficient use of resources to achieve objectives. This can translate into real-life skills related to time management, budgeting, and prioritization.
Rule Understanding: Board games typically have rules that players must understand and follow. This fosters attention to detail, procedural understanding, and the ability to work within established frameworks – all valuable skills in strategic thinking.
So, let’s get to some board games to support this skill!
Strategy Games for Executive Function
Strategy games are one of many fun ways to improve executive functioning (EF) skills! The best part about these games are that children and teens often do not even realize that they are developing a challenging skill set. Try some of these fun and engaging games to improve your clients’ executive functioning skills.
Note: Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.
Strategy games are a favorite way to work on EF skills. A few favorites include:
Ticket to Ride (ages 8+, up to 5 players):
Ticket to Ride is a popular game with many versions based on geographic locations. The original is based on a United States/Canada map. The point of the game is to complete a series of “routes” without having your opponent(s) block your path, all while being the first to run out of train figures.
Players earn points for laying down track toward completing their routes. There are multiple rule intricacies that require working memory, along with the need to plan and predict your opponents’ moves!
Magic Labyrinth (ages 6+, 2-4 players):
Magic Labyrinth is a fantastic fantasy-based game. Players take on the role of being magicians who are searching for treasure within a labyrinth. However, just like every good strategy game, there is a twist! The labyrinth cannot be seen.
If magicians bump into the obscured walls, their magnet falls off and they are required to return to their starting corner. This requires planning skills, along with working memory as to where the walls are placed. The walls are moveable, allowing for endless fun, since players will not be able to permanently memorize the location of walls in between games!
Jump In’ (ages 7+, 1 player):
Jump In’ is a cool 1-player game from Smart Games. Smart Games has many options for 1-player strategy games starting in preschool all the way up to games for adults.
Games come with a challenge book with several levels of difficulty. The goal of Jump In’ is to get all of the rabbits into their holes without getting caught by the fox! Jump In’ primarily requires the player to use planning and problem-solving skills.
Cribbage (recommended 7+, 2-3 players):
Cribbage is a classic card/board game requiring impulse control, working memory, monitoring, and more! While there is not a formal minimum age for cribbage, players should be familiar with doing addition up to 31 in their head if playing without an adult to support.
There are many rule intricacies in cribbage, requiring players to constantly be mindful of the points that they earned and could potentially give to others by playing their cards. The goal of cribbage is to be the first player to get your pin to the finish line.
Codenames (ages 10+, 2-8 players):
Codenames is a fantastic game for perspective-taking, monitoring, working memory, planning, and impulse control. The makers of Codenames list a recommended age of 14, but board and strategy game enthusiasts feel that ages 10+ is a more realistic age minimum.
The goal of Codenames is to “contact” all your undercover agents before the other team through giving a series of one-word clues. However, as always, there is a catch! If your team guesses the assassin card, you instantly lose the game!
Using Games as a Fun Way to Improve Executive Functioning
Ultimately, strategy games are a fantastic way to improve executive functioning in a fun, age-appropriate way! While this is just a sampling of a few favorites, there are many more available. Have fun, and good luck!
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.