Chutes and Ladders
Best for ages 3 to 5
What kids learn: To take turns, count spaces, and accept rewards and consequences.
The basics: Spin the wheel to move your pawn up the board. Land at the base of a ladder and you get to climb up. But if you stop at the top of a chute, you'll slide back down.
Keep in mind: At this age, games are more about the journey than the destination. Your kid may actually want to go down the ladder. Let him.
Game tip: "For a preschooler, this game could evolve into an elaborate fantasy, or he may get bored and quit in the middle," says Parents advisor Kathleen McCartney, PhD, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Best for ages 3 to 5
What kids learn: Letter, number, color, and shape recognition.
The basics: Players take turns picking cards and unlocking doors in search of colorful balls. Whoever finds the last ball gets to open the treasure chest.
Keep in mind: There's no reading required, and a round takes less than 15 minutes -- perfect for a preschooler's short attention span, says William Coleman, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Game tip: The balls are easily lost, but you can order more by visiting hasbro.com.
Sequence for Kids
Best for ages 3 to 6
What kids learn: Memory, matching, and visual skills.
The basics: Each player picks a card from her hand, then places a chip on the board's matching spot. The object is to connect four in a row. Unicorn cards let you place a chip anywhere; dragon cards let you remove an opponent's chip.
Keep in mind: This game is faster and easier for young kids to play than the original, award-winning Sequence (which is recommended for ages 7 and up).
Game tip: Have young preschoolers focus on identifying the animals and matching them to the board. Older kids can start thinking about strategy.
Best for ages 4 and up
What kids learn: Counting and sportsmanship.
The basics: Move your pieces around the board until you get them all home. But be prepared: Your opponent can bump you or make you switch places.
Keep in mind: A player can go from first to last in an instant, which may frustrate a young child. Start with a two-player game so your kids don't have to choose whom to bump.
Game tip: This one can take a while to finish. Feel free to adapt the game for shorter sessions: Try using just two pawns per player instead of the usual four, for example.
Best for ages 4 and up
What kids learn: Spelling, reading, following rules.
The basics: Players take turns placing the tiles on letters and earn points by completing words (the words are already spelled out on the board and include picture clues).
Keep in mind: Even prereaders will have fun matching letter tiles to the board. "It lets them learn their ABCs without feeling like they're being drilled," says Dr. Coleman.
Game tip: As your child's language skills improve, you can flip the board over and let her try to form words on the blank grid.
Best for ages 5 and up
What kids learn: Geometry, spatial skills, strategy.
The basics: The goal is to place as many of your pieces as possible on the board (each must touch another piece of the same color at the corners).
Keep in mind: Blokus is a blast, but it takes a few tries to get the hang of it. "Play as a team at first, so you and your child are working together," says Dr. McCartney.
Game tip: Since Blokus can become very competitive, model good sportsmanship. If you lose (and you probably will before long -- kids can get good at this game in a hurry), say something like, "Congratulations. That was a lot of fun, and you deserved to win."
Best for ages 7 and up
What kids learn: Math, persistence, fair play.
The basics: You and your opponent hide ships of different sizes on a grid and then take turns "shooting" at each other's boats. The first to sink all the enemy's vessels wins.
Keep in mind: It's tempting for a young player to cheat at Battleship, since no one else can see his board. Remind your child to follow the rules.
Game tip: Battleship takes longer to play than preschool games (approximately 30 minutes), so set aside enough time. "Sit down with your child, turn the cell phone off, and really pay attention," says Dr. Coleman.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Parents magazine.