TDmonthly Magazine!
March 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 3


Homeschoolers: Think to Win

Kids Strategize and Steal Their Way to Top

“Once they learned how to play, they could not stop!” Teresa Wilson on Khet
Think, think, think! Games that entertain while exercising the brain were the focus of this month’s Homeschooling Roundtable. Five homeschooling families with 20 kids developed critical thinking skills through the use of strategy (Cross Over, Idol Quest, and Khet), and tested their knowledge of history, grammar and spelling (American Trivia Junior Edition, Sentence Says: Dice Edition, and Nerdy Wordy).

Each product is rated with from 1 to 5 TD (for TDmonthly!) stars; 5 is the highest mark.

Roundtable participants were art teacher Lynn Costine, B.A., MAT, with Sarah (13 years), Anna (11), Emily (9) and Will (8); Susan Ledford, editor of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for SC,” with Victoria (11), Joe (7) and Griffin (1); Julie Petoia, RN, with Cabot Lee (12), Talia (10), Malynne (9) and Jeremiah, Jacob and Gabriel (5); Alison Shanahan with Elizabeth (14), Emily (12) and Katie (6); and Teresa Wilson, editor of “HOMES Newsletter,” with Timothy (14), Andrew (11), Elise (8) and Steven (6).

Cross Over from SJB PRODUCTS LLC
For 2 players
Age: 5 and Up
Price: $19.95

TDmonthly rating:

What it is: A game that combines strategy, chance … and marbles. The goal is to be the first to cross your marbles to the opposite side, using rolls of the die to move ahead or set an opponent back.

What the moms thought:
Shanahan appreciated that the strategic thinking is accessible to younger players. Costine said, “Once the play is understood, the children can take the strategic thinking to a higher level.”

What the children thought:
“Kate (6) enjoyed setting other people back in their strategies,” Shanahan said. The Ledford children appreciated that the various ways to move created more opportunities to strategize. The six Petoia children liked that each of them, from ages 5 to 12, could easily learn to play.

How to improve it: Victoria (11) noted that different colors for the opposing sides would make it easier to differentiate between players’ marbles. She also found that slightly larger marbles stayed in the holes better.

Would you want another toy like this? “Cross Over is really, really fun!” summed up Joe (7).

Idol Quest from REX GAMES
For 2 to 4 players
Age: 7 and Up
Price: $25.00

TDmonthly rating:

What it is:
A 3-D strategy game for the whole family. Players capture an idol by placing blocks and climbing a tower, and then escape to a waiting boat — or steal the idol from an opponent and bury his explorers.

What the moms thought: “I love strategy games that have an ‘accidental’ component; no matter how hard you plan, you can’t predict the outcome,” said Costine. Petoia noted that Idol Quest appealed to many ages. Ledford commented that the 3-D aspect and the ability to remove blocks made it more interesting.

What the children thought: “The stacking blocks are unusual,” noted the Shanahans. The Costine kids “loved plotting against each other,” said their mom. Joe Ledford (7) said he enjoyed stealing the idol from another player.

How to improve it: Sturdier blocks that interlock better, a grid to keep the blocks from sliding, and clearer directions were suggested by several families. “I can’t stack these right,” said Talia (10).

Would you want another toy like this?
Steven (6) yelled, “I want to play this again and again!” Brother Andrew (11) agreed, “This is great!”

For 2 players
Age: 9 and Up
Price: $44.95

TDmonthly rating:

What it is: A strategy game with lasers. Players use a laser to illuminate and thus eliminate an opponent’s Pharaoh. Mirrors, several starting configurations and a “beam-splitting” expansion set (additional purchase) increase the challenge and excitement.

What the moms thought: “Strategy with high-tech flavor!” raved Wilson. Costine noted that because you can choose the location and number of starting pieces, “the game can be as challenging or as simple as you want.”

What the children thought: The Costine and Ledford children agreed that “lasers are cool!” Ledford said the combination of an ancient Egyptian theme with super-modern technology appealed to her children. “Even Joe, at age 7, learned how to play, and more importantly, how to strategize,” she said.

How to improve it: Costine suggested listing more starting positions for younger players.

Would you want another toy like this?
Wilson said her children call Khet "laser chess" and absolutely love it. “Once they learned how to play, they could not stop!”

Nerdy Wordy Crossword Game from BRIARPATCH INC.
For 2 players
Age: 8 and Up
Price: $14.99

TDmonthly rating:

What it is: A modern version of the classic crossword where opponents try to outwit — and outscore — each other.

What the moms thought: Wilson loved that the game makes spelling fun. Ledford appreciated “the company’s replacement-parts offer” and the ability to “pause” the game by closing the case.

What the children thought:
Costine said Emily (9) and Will (8) “liked thinking up outrageous words.” Wilson’s children enjoyed creating their own crossword puzzles. Shanahan said, “Kate (6) is very interested in spelling, and this simple game makes her feel accomplished.”

How to improve it: Costine said a bigger game board would allow for more play and appeal to older children.

Would you want another toy like this? “Any game that makes a 7-year-old want to spell is welcome here,” concluded Ledford.

American Trivia: Junior Edition from OUTSET MEDIA
For 2 to 8 players
Age: 9 and Up
Price: $29.99

TDmonthly rating:

What it is: A board game of trivia/knowledge designed for younger students, with 1,000+ questions from three American categories (history, geography and general).

What the moms thought: All five moms mentioned the educational aspect of this game as their favorite quality. “I was pleased to see how much the children recalled of American geography from our studies,” said Ledford. “Our whole family enjoyed this game.” Costine said the familiar format made it easy for the children to learn to play.

What the children thought:
“I was surprised by how much I knew,” said Victoria (11). The Shanahan children “liked the references to current movies and sports,” said their mom. Costine stated her children “love it when they remember something a sibling or adult forgot!” The Wilson children enjoyed the game so much they regularly take the cards along in the car.

How to improve it: The Shanahan children wished for a longer version, while the Ledford children suggested including a timer to increase the pressure.

Would you want another toy like this? The Wilson children would love a travel version, and suggested a “media” version based on music, books and film. “Why not have a science version, too, with categories such as biology, anatomy, health and nutrition, and ecology?” asked Ledford. “Playing a game like this beats taking a traditional test and is a fun way to test your knowledge.”

Sentence Says: Dice Edition from MARBAN INDUSTRIES INC.
For 2 to 4 players
Age: 7 and Up
Price: $17.95

TDmonthly rating:

What it is: A quick-thinking sentence game. The roll of a die determines the first letter of each word in sentences players create. Action cards give a specific instruction, and players can steal each other’s sentences — and points!

Note: Roundtable moms evaluated Sentence Says regular edition in February 2006.

What the moms thought: Wilson enjoyed the educational aspect, and Petoia agreed, “It shows sentence structure.” Ledford appreciated the game-play variations that increase or decrease the level of play. “This widens the appeal,” she said.

What the children thought: The Shanahan and Costine children liked making silly sentences. The Petoia children found this edition more challenging than the original Sentence Says. “This is cool!” they raved.

How to improve it: Petoia noted that the Dice Edition is already improved over the original. Wilson agreed, saying, “The dice version held their interest a bit longer.” Costine would like to see a simpler version for children learning basic grammar.

Would you want another toy like this? The Wilson children enjoyed the “opportunity to dazzle others with their quick wit and vocabulary.”

Photo of children by Susan Ledford

Susan LedfordWriter's Bio: Susan Ledford is the writer, editor and publisher of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for S.C."  She has been evaluating toys and games for TDmonthly's Roundtable reviews since 2005. She also is a homeschool veteran of seven years. Read more articles by this author


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