Board Games Have Much to Offer When Days are Dark & Cold

Board Games Spark Play-Based Learning and Inspire Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

From classics to original creations, board games have much to offer regarding learning. Almost any game will encourage the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and specific games help players to hone in on particular skills or topics. By exploring local resources for playing games, creating new games, and digging into the history of games, families can maximize the educational potential of a great family pastime!

Dating back to the Victorian era, board games as we know them have been a popular form of entertainment for close to two centuries (though their roots stretch even further back in time). Sometimes seen these days as a low-tech version of computer-based games, board games have lots to offer within the realms of both entertainment and education. In addition to providing an exciting and engaging screen-free gaming experience, board games can encourage the development of essential thinking skills, as well as important content-area knowledge. From basic math skills to world geography, board games have much to offer – especially when daylight hours are short! Read the rest of this entry »

Explore & Connect to Where You Live through Nature Bingo & BioBlitz

Creative Nature Scavenger Hunt Stimulates Nature Education & Strengthens a Sense of Place

Outdoor adventures with kids have a way of turning into loosely-structured scavenger hunts. Woodland trails are littered with interesting treasures, beaches wash up endless items of interest, and the tall grasses of meadows reveal new treats wherever you part the seas of green. Supporting children’s interest in looking closely at nature and discovering treasures is easy enough to do. While unstructured, free play and exploration can uncover lots of natural wonders big and small, adding just a little bit of structure can help children lead themselves to certain discoveries or a specific learning goal, and will support learners of all ages develop useful skills that can be applied in many different educational and real-life contexts.

While we’ve covered the basics of nature scavenger hunts in an archived post, there are more possibilities for learning via nature exploration than we could ever list! The simplest way to open your family’s eyes to nature using a game-like structure is to use bingo-style cards to track your discoveries. Online resources for nature bingo abound, including boards filled with variations on camping bingo and MassAudubon’s nature bingo, which offers four different cards (one to match each season) that help to open players’ eyes to the interesting and exciting natural occurrences, connecting them to the seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

Music Trekking: Games and Music for Hanukkah

Watch a Little Dreydl Spin!

December is such an exciting time of year as folks prepare for holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. For those who are celebrating Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, there are goodies to prepare, a menorah to light with it’s eight special candles, relatives to greet and a wonderful little game to play based on a top that spins, called the dreydl (or dreidel).

So why is it called a dreydyl? The word “dreyen” in Yiddish means “to spin” so the name makes perfect sense. The dreydyl song talks about a toy made out of clay and it is certain that the first dreydls were made this way. If you have one today – it is probably made from either wood or plastic. And it will have four Hebrew letters on it. What does each letter mean? Well, it tells the tale behind Hanukkah, how a very small bit of oil that should have lasted only a short time was miraculously able to burn in the Temple for 8 days! It spoke volumes to the Jewish people about how God was able to provide for those who were faithful. If you watch the video, the letters will appear and you can see their meaning as well as how they relate to playing the game.

If you’d like to play the dreydl game at home, you’ll need a pile of goodies. You can use walnuts, candies, pennies or special chocolate coins called Hanukkah gelt (literally, Hanukkah money). Everyone takes a turn spinning the top and they either pass their turn, add a treat to the pot, take half of the pot or take it all. What fun!

Is this a custom your family does around the holidays? If so, why not share it with some friends and teach them about the things you do. If not, what are the special customs that mean the most to your loved ones? Can you share them with your neighbors or friends so they can enjoy them as well.

Whatever holidays you celebrate – may they be bright, beautiful and full of love!


Award-winning children’s performer, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) has created 7 cd’s that have won national honors. She has the most awesome job of traveling the world to sing for kids and peace. Her “world music for kids” website,, was given a 2009 Parents Choice Award for its musical and cultural content.  She has also created a multicultural kids video site as well as My Favorite Multicultural Books.

A free copy of this month’s song can be downloaded on Daria’s Monthly Song Page.

Q&A: What’s Your Favorite Family Card Game?


Uno is always a go-to. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Playing card games on these lazy summer days with the family create great memories!  What’s your favorite family card game to play with your kids?

  • Jennifer Page responds: When I was a kid my brother and I played Spit a lot. It’s a 2-person game, but would be fun for family tournaments.
  • Angie Gregory responds: Uno is always a go-to. And now my oldest is enjoying Set (which is not quite a cards-in-the-hands type game, but really fun and challenging… and colorful!)
  • Phoebe Shaw responds: Casino
  • Kathy Kristjanson-Gural responds: My son and I love playing Double Solitaire.  We play to see if we can both put our cards up to the middle.  That we play as a team instead of against each other.    We have also really enjoyed Frog Juice, Rat-a-Tat Cat and Duck Duck Bruce (all by Gamewright, I believe).
  • Jessica Day responds: Scrabble Slam! It’s fun and great for our seven-year-old… gotta stay on top of the spelling skills over the summer.
  • Anita Morehouse responds: Cribbage.
  • Jody Hadden responds: Uno!!!
  • Julie Gouldman Russell responds: Love me some “Blink.”
  • Jenn Drumm responds: We love Slamwich and Hiss, but you need to buy their deck as it’s not a card game for a regular set.
  • Anne Campbell responds: Frog Juice, Sleeping Queens and Rat-a-Tat Cat. Anything we’ve tried by Gamewright has been great.

Other games recommended:

  • Diane Hinze Kanzler responds: Checkers. And we’re all playing Marbles, even those of us with “old knees!”

Diamond Bridge: Locally Made, Locally Played

Diamond Bridge: Locally Made Board Game

Come play Diamond Bridge at the Forbes Library in the Community Room on Monday, May 24th at 7pm. Free and open to the public. (Pictured here: Andy Grant holding his locally made board game, Diamond Bridge)

If you’ve ever dreamed about creating a board game and then decided it’s not possible to compete with Milton Bradley, take heart. Andy Grant, who moved to the Pioneer Valley a few years ago, not only created Diamond Bridge, he also had it produced…yes…locally…by the United Paper Box Company in Holyoke, MA.

Andy and friends will demonstrate how this fascinating game is played at several local gatherings, including the Forbes Library in Northampton on Monday, May 24th, to which you’re invited as a participant or an onlooker.

Diamond Bridge is a strategic board game for two to four players ages 8 and up. Andy Grant explains that, “Diamond Bridge is in the lineage of a game invented by Piet Hein in 1942 at the University of Copenhagen. In 1948, a similar game was introduced at Princeton University by John Nash, a Nobel Laureate mathematician and subject of the book, A Beautiful Mind. Reading a description in the book inspired me to make a board to play at home with my children.

The board has a diamond-shaped grid, four corner pits and gems of two colors. Users say, “It’s Zen-like.” “The blue and green remind me of flowing water.” “It doesn’t take a lot of instruction. The learning happens as you play the game.”

“In recent years, I developed a series of prototypes and an updated set of rules based on extensive play testing. My box design and name, Diamond Bridge, reflect a core strategy of visualizing diamond shapes to span across the board. The game concept is basic-players try to bridge sides of their color. It’s fun to play ‘right out of the box.’ For the serious player the complexity of Diamond Bridge soon becomes apparent. Mastering the game requires a sense of balance, spatial reasoning and sustained focus. Enjoy!”

Come play Diamond Bridge at the Forbes Library in Northampton, MA on Monday, May 24th at 7pm. This program is free and open to the public and will meet in the Community Room.

How Baseball Can Encourage Information Literacy

Step Up to the Plate @ Your Library
Swings into Action!

The boys of summer are stepping up to the plate, so why not join them? The American Library Association and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum are getting into the swing of things by launching the third season of Step Up to the Plate @ Your Library. It could be your chance to win a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame!

All you have to do is use the resources at your library to answers a series of baseball trivia questions. All of the questions were developed by the library staff at the Baseball Hall of Fame (Click here to read more about information literacy.).

There are two ways to enter: Read the rest of this entry »

Discovering Our World Through Scavenger Hunts

Zoe Travels the World: Scavenger Hunts
By Tony(a) Lemos, HF Contributing Writer

(c) 2008 Tony(a) Lemos

While putting together a travel journal and activity book for Zoe, I remembered all those years teaching at Summer Camp at the Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA in Becket, MA, and how much fun we had planning scavenger hunts.

What’s a scavenger hunt? A scavenger hunt is a game in which individuals or teams seek to find a number of specific items, or perform tasks, as given in a list. The goal is either to complete the list first, or to achieve the highest score within a given time limit. They can be indoor our outdoor and they can be fun as well as educational. They can also be part of a larger treasure hunt. For example, riddles leading to the location of a custom made puzzle piece and then when all the pieces are found and assembled the puzzle can be a map to the “treasure.” The ideas are endless.


The scavenger hunt that I have the most experience with is the Nature Scavenger Hunt. A sample list might include:

  • Find three different tree leaves, seeds or pods
  • Find an insect
  • Find a feather
  • Find a twig shaped like a letter
  • Find a leaf that a bug has nibbled
  • Find something that has decomposed
  • Find something that is no longer living
  • Find something that was never alive
  • Find two different kinds of tree bark


There are simpler methods for younger children, such as:

  • Color Scavenger Hunt: find something red, blue, brown, etc.
  • Pattern Scavenger Hunt: find something with strips, a spiral, dots, etc.
  • ABC Scavenger Hunt: find something beginning with a letter or shaped like a letter
  • Number Scavenger Hunt: find one of something, two of something else, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

Local children’s author/illustrator offers on-line educational resources.

Jan Brett offers on-line educational resources.

(c) Jan BrettLocal author Jan Brett has a collection of nearly 4,000 teaching aids as free downloads on her website. These teaching aids and activities include beautifully drawn posters, worksheet, coloring pages, visual aids and other projects. Her site is definitely worth your perusal. Teachers, home-schooling families and parents alike will find a wealth of resources to supplement the education of their children. Grade school students are the primary target of this abundant resources; however, older children with learning disabilities will benefit greatly with her beautiful pictures illustrating each resource.

(c) Jan BrettIn addition to free downloadable teaching aids Jan Brett’s website ( also has a nice collection of on-line video tutorials to teach drawing to children, book character games that include flash cards and sight word lists, a murals to download for a classroom to color.

She also offers a free newsletter that sends out an email letter whenever new activities and projects are added to her site.

The Gift of Games

Playing games with your kids is a perfect way to spend time together — and build learning skills at the same time.

By Alvin Rosenfeld

What your child most wants — and needs — is to be with you with no goal in mind beyond the joy of spending time together. S/he wants you to take pleasure in him, play with him, and listen to him. Nothing bolsters his self-esteem more! So why not pull out an old board game tonight? Playing games is an easy and excellent way to spend unhurried, enjoyable time together. As an added bonus, board games are also rich in learning opportunities. They satisfy your child’s competitive urges and the desire to master new skills and concepts …

(Read more…)

Move over Elmo!

Video Games Fun But Pose Social, Health Risks
11 Dec 2006

Move over Tickle Me Elmo. The recently released Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 video game systems are rivaling the giggling red monster as the gifts children beg their parents for most this holiday season.

As coveted as these new video game systems and other models are, some parents may want to think twice before buying them for their children and teens, a University of Florida child psychologist says. Read the rest of this entry »

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