“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”

E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web

I chose this quote for this holiday post as an invitation to uncover and celebrate the wonderful hidden talents of the children, friends and family in our lives—who may have dyslexia. To discover the secret skills of your peeps, try playing a few board or card games with them over the holidays. Chances are, if you have a person with dyslexia in your life, you already know that they excel in playing games involving visual perception, logic and reasoning, strategy, role playing, pattern building, pattern recognition, and drawing. Word games that require spelling, word retrieval, word recognition and letter sequencing skills, on the other hand, may not be a dyslexic player’s top choice for game night.  

As a board game reviewer for BoardGameGeek.com comments, who identifies as being dyslexic, “All games are wonderful for a dyslexic child. Your child is more likely to be of above average intelligence and will excel at games. I would try abstract strategy games. Something like Blokus is great for pattern recognition and is colorful too.” He goes on to say that he wouldn’t completely shy away from word games for dyslexics and wisely cautions, “I would not put a dyslexic is a gaming situation where they can be ridiculed for skills that are not their strengths. My siblings were merciless.”

Coincidentally, when I asked a parent of one of my students what games their child enjoys and excels at, she also recommended Blokus. Gravity Maze by Thinkfun and Junior Monopoly are also their favourites.

When you discover games that engage the skill sets of dyslexics you will often find that they don’t involve language, reading or spelling skills. But even if a game requires some text reading, like Monopoly or Pictionary, other players can help by creating a crib sheet that summarizes the rules of the game for players who struggle with reading. This is a good way to promote teamwork and teach the benefits of skills collaboration.  

Puzzles are also very appealing to people with dyslexia because they involve pattern recognition and pattern building skills. Ravensburger is a well-known, world-renowned puzzle producer based in Germany. Although they are known for their beautifully illustrated puzzles that appeal to people of all ages, the company has also produced several award-winning strategy games for children, including Labyrinth—one of my favourite strategy games and—Rivers, Roads and Rails.

What to look for:

To find games that are likely to appeal to dyslexic players, look for games that involve these skills:

  • Abstract games of strategy
  • Pattern recognition
  • Pattern building (puzzles)
  • Visual perception
  • Drawing or creating visual clues

To make a game easier for all players to understand and engage in, look for these fundamentals:

  • clear instructions
  • easy-to-understand rules that can be read aloud and explained to all players
  • colourful and accurate illustrations
  • examples of game scenarios, and
  • good visual cues for set up.

Board Game Geek is a useful resource to find board game overviews, reviews and ratings from board game enthusiasts. An overall rating is given for each game along with game basics; number of players required, average playing time, and player-age recommendations. It also names the game’s designer, artist and publisher so you can easily find other games they have created.

Of course, you can never go wrong with these classic strategy and pattern recognition favourites: Chess, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Backgammon, Cribbage, Bridge, Risk, etc.

Here are a few games I have played with my students which involve pattern recognition…and yes…they beat me hands down, every time we play.

Spot-It

Spot-It is a fast-paced game that my younger students thoroughly enjoy playing. Success comes often and frequently with every card match.

  • For ages 4 and up
  • 2-6 players

It’s a junior card game consisting of 31 cards, each decorated with 6 animals of different sizes. There are more than 30 different animals in all. One—and only one—animal match exists between two cards. The goal is to be the fastest player to spot the matching animal between two cards and call it out. It’s a quick short game that can be played anywhere, anytime! This game can be played with players who speak different languages. Games with this feature are excellent for dyslexic players because they do not rely on spelling, word recognition or letter sequencing to play.

SET

SET takes an eagle-eye for pattern recognition and several of my students who excel in math, really enjoy this game.

  • Ages 6 and up
  • 1 or more players

It has won over 35 Best Game Awards including MENSA Select Award, Dr. Toy’s 10 Best Games Award, Creative Child’s Preferred Choice Award, Games Magazine “Games 100 Award”, Teachers’ Choice “Best 25 Games of the last 25 years.”

The object of the game is to identify SETs of three cards. Each card is unique in its four features:

  • Colour (red, green or purple)
  • Shape (diamond, squiggle or oval)
  • Number (1, 2 or 3 shapes)
  • Shading: (solid, striped or open)

A SET consists of three cards, where each individual feature is either:

  • All the SAME, or
  • All DIFFERENT on all three cards

Labyrinth by Ravensburger

Labyrinth by Ravensburger is a family favourite of ours. There are new versions including Labyrinth Harry Potter, Labyrinth Junior, and Ocean Labyrinth.

  •  2 or more players
  • Ages 6 and up

Be the first to collect all of your treasures by shifting the walls of the Labyrinth to create a clear path to get to them. Watch out for traps as the walls constantly move. This mysterious maze game is magic!

Rush Hour

Rush Hour is the ideal game if you have a budding driver in your family!

  • 2 to 6 Players
  • Ages 8 and up

The object of the game is to traverse the board from HOME to the OFFICE after dropping off one’s commuters at their respective places of employment.

You start off with two commuters but may pick up extra ones before you’re out of the Neighborhood Jaunt. Next is either the Interstate 500 or Suburban Gauntlet. After this is the Beltway Expressway, with a Car Pool Express Lane for the lucky bastards with three or more commuters on board. Finally, there is the Inner City Maze.

You normally roll two dice, but some road signs reduce that number to one die. Optional rules include Traffic Jams, Fender Benders, Public Parking, Double Parking and Baby Behind the Wheel.

Other games recommended in this article include:

Blokus

  • 2 to 4 Players
  • Ages 7 and up

Players compete to fill in as much of their individual player board as possible by using four different color marker pens to draw Blokus pieces. Players have one marker to pass each turn.

On your turn, roll all dice and select one of them from the pool. In turn order, each player selects one of the remaining dice. Then, draw one of the Blokus pieces on your board from the row matching the die’s value. The rules for drawing pieces are: 1) the first piece you draw of a color must cover one of the corner spaces on the board, and 2) every subsequent piece you draw must touch another piece of the same color only at the corners.

After all players have drawn in their piece they pass their marker pens to the left and the next player rolls the dice to start a new turn. Play continues in this way, with each player drawing a new piece on their board, until no one can place another piece. Then the player who has the fewest unfilled spaces on their board wins.

Note: There are several versions and variations of Blokus, including Blokus Junior.

Gravity Maze by Thinkfun

  • 1 or more players
  • Ages 8 and up

It’s a gravity powered logoc maze that will test your visual perception and reasoning skills. The colourful, clear plastic towers can be arranged in a variety of visually stimulating structures but, for each challenge, you’ll have to think carefully to build a path that will successfully carry your marble to its target. There are 60 challenges ranging in difficulty to challenge you creative building and maze maneuvering skills.

Rivers, Roads and Rails by Ravensburger

  • 2 to 10 players
  • Ages 5 and up

This is a matching game. Each tile has two sides, and each side contains at most one road, one river, and one rail. You can only play a new tile adjacent to a played tile if the sides match. The act of playing tiles creates a map of an intricate twisting transportation network. The tile illustrations are appealing to all ages. Only two of the tiles are branching, so the game is mostly played at both ends of the tiles already laid down. Several variations are supplied in the rules. You can play this game competitively or cooperatively like a free-form jigsaw puzzle.

Pictionary Junior

  • 3 to 8 players
  • Ages 7 and up

For little Picasso in your world who loves to draw—this is their ideal game! Pictionary Junior is a simplified version of the grown-up game, designed for a younger audience. Players divide into two teams, each with one Picturist and the rest of the players as Guessers. If there are only 3 players, one can act as full-time Picturist.

The game consists of rolling a die to circle a linear track on the board. Topics to draw come from cards. An hourglass marks the time limit for guessing. The cards contain simpler topics than the parent game, more suitable for children. Guessing correctly earns the next roll. Note: Some text reading is needed by the Picturist to read the cue card but a non-participating adult or reader can always help out. 

Happy holidays and good luck in finding the games that bring out the hidden talents and skills in your crew!

Marion May is the Blog Curator and Content Writer for The Open Door blog as well as a reading and spelling tutor for The Open Door, tutoring children between the ages of seven and 10. Her blog content is “local, organic and specific” and is relevant for parents of children with dyslexia.

Marion formerly tutored teenaged students in a literacy remediation program at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School in Ottawa. She also worked as a paid fundraiser and grant proposal writer for The Excellence in Literacy Foundation, a national non-profit aimed at helping marginalized youth. She began her career in radio broadcasting and news writing and has worked in the area of promotional writing for several federal government departments and agencies, including the National Research Council.

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