Our family has been playing cards every night around bedtime, sadly often in place of reading a book. But, that’s okay in this case, because we’re playing Whizizzle, a new phonetics game.
Whizizzle is not unlike Crazy Eights except that the families of items are phonetic sounds that players must match with cards with similar sounds. Adults, and other players, are supposed to say out loud the word containing the sound so that smaller players get the hang of the phonetic pronunciation.
The game has a few twists with “action” cards that players can use at any time to change the direction of play to force the next player to draw a card. Trumping almost all strategic action though, is the all-important “change the vowel” card, which allows a player to use any sound, usually to win the game.
We think the best toys and games are ones that can motivate the whole family to play. No child wants to stand around begging adults to play some mind-numbing game that they only play once and begrudgingly. While I can’t say they’ll be adding Whizizzle to Las Vegas card game favorites, I’ve been happy playing Whizizzle almost every evening for the past two weeks. My nine year old loves the game and delights in helping her little brother learn the basics of reading. And, my five year old is just starting to get the idea behind the sounds.
The only drawback that I see for the game is that they could have integrated picture clues into the cards so that pre-readers could associate the sound with a word they could identify. As it is now, my little boy has to wait for us to read what is on his card. Eventually, he will read them too, but for now, all he can do is identify the letter without the corresponding, and very important, phonetic sound.
Whizizzle comes in two packs, 1-3 and 4-6. 4-6 is only slightly more advanced. $14.95 at Amazon.
My son (not pictured here) loves his ZipBin Mini Speedway from Neat Oh . And so do we. These very affordable storage bin toys are a good find for little kids who collect lots of little items like dolls, cars, or farm animals. The carrying case unfolds completely to reveal a play scene. And, the Zip Bin comes with 2 cars (or other item) so the child feels like he’s getting a toy, and not just a storage bin. $9.99 and up on Amazon.
Cards are a great accessory to have around when you have kids. They are portable, easy-to-find, and cheap. And, after the kids are in bed, you can play gin rummy or poker with your spouse.
We like ThinkFun 4 Children’s Card Games, a boxed collection of the favorite children’s card games, including Crazy Eight, Old Maid, Animal Rummy, and Hearts. However, with just a simple pack of cards, you can play a lot of games. Here are a few ideas:
1. For kids 2-3, you can just create a game yourself based on what interests your child. Let him or her group the cards by color, number or suit. Or, look for similar cards playing a simple version of “Memory” with just a few cards.
2. All kids love Old Maid, the politically incorrect classic that is easy to play once you take out all but one Queen. The game hasn’t changed since you were a child. Deal all the cards out, and take turn drawing from your neighbor until you find all the pairs. The player left holding the Queen is, well, the loser.
3. Go Fish is an important cultural touchstone. How can anyone ever understand the many references to “go fish,” without playing this game where each player collects sets of four cards by asking another player for a specific numbered card. The player who collects the most sets wins. There’s also a good math principle in the works here.
4. We love SNAP! Deal all the cards and and all the players flip a single card at the same time. Players yell out SNAP! if they see a pair. Winners take the card.
There are lots of ideas for kids (and adult) card games, played with a simple pack you can find at the drugstore. More ideas can be found at usplayingcard.com.
Astronomy and star-gazing has always been a great dad and child experience. Nothing beats lying on the grass on a warm August evening staring up in the sky and conveying the majesty and mystery of the heavens to a small child. This is a completely free activity, there are also plenty of accessories around if you’re so inclined. Here are a few of our favorites this year:
Moon in my room – $39 – This light up moon hangs on your wall and shows the moon in 12 different settings, controlled by an infrared remote control. An audio CD tells more about the moon.
Planisphere watch – $59.95 – This watch glows in the dark for 2-3 hours. It’s a great present for the astronomy geek who always wants to take advantage of a dark night sky. The watch shows northern constellations only.
Celestron Skyscout – $199 (50% cheaper than in 2007) – The Skyscout uses GPS to ID and 8000 starts and planets and then will even tell you about via audio or text. All the astronomer has to do is point this gadget into the night sky and it actually finds constellations for you. As one reviewer on Amazon says, “This is the astronomy device I’ve been waiting for all my life.”
4. Orion Star Target Planisphere ” target=”_blank”>Orion Star Target Planishere – $11.00 – This stargazing the old fashioned way, with a map of the heavens you hold up in the night sky. You’ll also need a red flashlight to read the map in the dark.
Barska Travel Telescope – 59.95 – Savings priced telescope for aspiring astronomers with 300X magnification and a 5×24 finder scope. Don’t expect the world, but this is a good intro telescope. Minor to major inconvenience is the table level telescope. It’s perfect for setting up on a picnic table and taking turns looking from there, but impossible to use at ground level.
Guess Who Travel Game – Our kids loved this simple game that teaches kids deductive reasoning as they eliminate suspects to find the last person standing. By asking questions of their competitor like “does the person where glasses” or “have blond hair,” kids can easily play the game even before they can read. It’s an easy to pack travel game, or for playing at home. Unfortunately, the cards, however, are easily lost so it takes an adult around to keep from losing all the parts. My kids played this so many time though, they broke the pieces off the hinges before they lost any cards. $10.45 (a bit more expensive than you would think for a game built like this, but we did get our money’s worth.)