If you have kids, the terms chaos and disorder take on a whole new meaning. If you are experiencing these feelings within your family, it may be time to work on executive functioning skills with your children. Executive functioning skills are the fundamental habits of mind required for getting organized, staying focused, and controlling impulses and emotions.
These skills can be especially hard for toddlers, but as our kids grow up, they need practice in developing problem-solving skills, and that is where board games that teach executive function come in handy! Check out these critical thinking board games that we love to play at home with our elementary school-aged children. This post includes affiliate links to relevant products. Should you purchase through them Boucenabck Parenting receives a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.
- Age Range: 7+
- Teaches: planning and prioritizing, organization, task initiation, impulse control, flexible thinking, strategizing, thinking ahead.
- Players: 2
Chess is a board game that has been around for centuries because it is one of the best board games for executive functioning. The two-player strategy game is more complicated than most believe but once you sit down to play it becomes clear that this game takes some real brainpower! Chess clubs are often found in elementary schools because they help kids to plan, focus, and think clearly. The game is also quiet and calculating which can help children organize their thoughts.
Most kids are ready to learn how to play chess at seven years old, but younger children have learned to play. The thing we love most about Chess is that there is no age limit on the game. Kids through adults enjoy relaxing with a good game of chess.
- Age Range: 4+
- Teachers: cooperation and teamwork, observation, focus, attention to details,
- Players: 1-6
This hidden picture game is perfect for kids of all ages and comes with a giant six-foot board that transports children through periods from prehistoric era to the future and everything in between. The Richard Scary version is a constant favorite on our Preschool Board Games list.
Players will travel through the eras on a time machine and must get home before the machine runs out of fuel. They can only accomplish this goal by working together as a team. When you have a family full of siblings, this game can help them learn to work together towards a common goal. It’s also great for play dates with other children.
- Age Range: 5+
- Teaches: critical thinking, planning, working memory, turn-taking, prioritizing, and planning, strategizing, cognitive flexibility
- Players: 2-4
This junior version of the classic Catan board game teaches executive functioning through planning, strategy, and problem-solving. This adventurous game is designed for kids as young as five and transports players to a land of pirates, islands, and ghosts. You’ll have to find and compile resources to build hideouts and ships, find help, and avoid the Ghost Captain.
This game has a lot of pieces and is best for older children who won’t lose the pieces or put them in their mouths. A rule book is also included, but the gameplay is simple, and the perfect introduction to skills you need to play games like Risk, Catan, and other roleplaying strategy-based games.
- Age Range: 5+
- Teaches: logic, critical thinking, STEM, planning, and reasoning
- Players: 1
Rush Hour Traffic Jam Jr. is the junior version of the classic Rush Hour game and is produced by ThinkFun, one of the leading brain and logic game developers in the world. This game is super helpful in developing executive functioning skills because you have to use critical thinking and planning to get out of the jams.
More than 50 million of these games have been sold worldwide and many parents love to use this executive function board game to entertain kids on car trips. A storage bag is provided which makes cleanup especially easy and there are more than 40 challenges that can be overcome with increasing difficulty.
- Age Range: 6+
- Teaches: Deductive reasoning, logic, critical thinking, STEM principles, strategy
- Players: 2-4
Mastermind for Kids is a codebreaking game for kids age six and up that can be played in fifteen minutes or less and features three different levels of play so the game can grow with your child. The game also teaches executive function skills such as deductive reasoning and logic that are the basis for principles of STEM learning.
The jungle animal motif is fun and colorful and designed especially for kids. There are choking hazards with the game however so children under three years old should not be left unattended with Mastermind for Kids. Because there are nearly endless code possibilities, every game is different and entertaining allowing kids to have code-cracking fun and put their skills to the test again and again.
- Age Range: 8+
- Teaches: planning, strategizing, critical thinking, turn-taking, prioritizing, decision making
- Players: 2-6
Ticket to Ride is a great strategy game for up to six people that takes players across the United States on a cross country train trip at the turn of the 20th century. Players must build railways, add on train cars, fulfill destination tickets, and collect cities along the way. We love this game because it is fun for kids and adults, although children under eight years old may need adult assistance to play. The gameplay is usually finished within 30-60 minutes making it a great after-dinner game before bedtime. Kids also learn a little bit about geography while playing the game!
Strategy board games
Strategy board games that require critical thinking are some of the best games for helping to develop executive function skills that can be used for a lifetime. As your child grows, their ability to use logic, reasoning, and problem-solving skills, as well as work cooperatively with a team will become even more critical. These skills are especially important and fundamental to STEM subjects and how we can process and understand complex ideas. If you don’t already have a set family game night, continue setting one weekly and choose board games that involve strategy and multi-step thinking to play.
Related Articles on Executive Thinking:
- STEM Gifts for Middle Schoolers – more ideas for critical thinking and developing executive function here!
- Smart But Scattered – our favorite book for helping struggling kids reach their potential
- Raising Problem Solvers – Ideas to help improve your kids' creative thinking skills