Improve Your Students' Skills with Puzzles and Games

Pattern recognition, spatial relationships, and logical thinking are all necessary skills as students learn to read, do math, and develop problem-solving strategies. Having a big collection of puzzles and games on hand can make developing these skills fun. Many children's magazines contain creative, age-appropriate games that reinforce the content of the text, but that's only one source. You can also enlist parents to contribute crossword puzzles and other games they find from newspapers and magazines. Sudoku is all the rage now; papers from the local daily to the New York Times carry at least one sudoku puzzle in every issue. Each puzzle consists of a large square, divided into nine sections in a 3X3 pattern, each of which is divided into nine more squares, also in a 3x3 pattern. The object of the game is to place the numerals from 1 to 9 in each of the nine squares of each section; numerals cannot be repeated within the sections or across or up and down in any line of squares. A great way for older kids to practice pattern recognition and problem solving strategies, the sudoku puzzles range from the simple to the maddeningly difficult; the New York Post offers both an easy and difficult puzzle in every issue, and sells sudoku books as well. A number of websites offer free sukodu puzzles playable online, and offer software programs which can be purchased and downloaded; start with Mah jongg is an ancient Asian game traditionally played with decorative tiles arranged and stacked in a three-dimensional pattern. The object of the game is to find two identical tiles and remove them from the pile; the trick is that the tiles cannot have another tile located on top of it or to the left or right; one side has to be free. Sort of like an elaborate version of "Old Maid" or "Go Fish," the tiles have both simple and complex patterns; several patterns have subtle differences, demanding fine-tuned pattern recognition skills in addition to spatial relationship abilities. Simplified versions are available for younger children. Kids who enjoy tactile kinesthetic activities will have fun manipulating the tiles; visually oriented computer fans may prefer one of the many mah jongg programs available online. Both multi-player and solitaire versions are available; play a solitaire version free; or check out multiple versions of mah jongg for kids. includes a huge collection of games and other interesting info for kids. Other websites offer games which can be played online with other web surfers around the world, but if you're thinking of allowing your students access to a game site online, be sure to check it out and monitor the kids frequently, to make sure they don't end up in communication with the wrong people. You may want to use these games as a springboard for yourself or your students to develop their own games, for themselves or for younger kids. A version of sudoku for younger kids, for example, might involve pictures of nine different kinds of animals; find a few very simple sudoku puzzles and substitute nine different animal pictures for the numbers. Create a giant sudoku grid and make big cardboard or wooden animal pieces to make it easy for little hands to manipulate them. However you decide to incorporate games and puzzles into your classroom, it's a great way to keep kids learning while they play.