Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Logic Games and Puzzles That Teens Genuinely Like

Logic is something that I have been griping about since the beginning of our homeschool. I kept feeling, for years, like I wanted something "systematic," A baby debate club, perhaps, or a Socratic reasoning curriculum. Something!

I don't know why I felt this way, because otherwise, most of our homeschool years have been very much anti-packaged curricula. Following someone else's instructions or sequential study very rarely fit in with what, and how, my kids wanted to learn. So I just keep feeling like maybe I did want a formal sequence but also didn't want anyone else prescribing it for us but also didn't want to do it myself.

Instead, I regularly offered the kids logic games and puzzles.

And that's what I still do, now that they're teenagers, and honestly, it works great! It turns out that the kids practice plenty of logical reasoning with the essays they write and the presentations they create and the discussions that we have. If they ever want to engage in the systematic study of the form of arguments, they're well set up to do that. What I'm mostly interested in doing with them is the kind of logical reasoning that doesn't necessarily build up your formal knowledge of the form of arguments, but your deductive, critical thinking, analytical, and pattern-making skills.

And that's exactly the kinds of skills that you improve when you regularly play logic games and work logic puzzles!

Even better is that lots of logic games and puzzles are cheap or super free. Most of ours come from thrift stores, yard sales, and our local libraries.

Even EVEN better is that they can take as little or as much time as you need. The kids and I can while away a full hour on a school day, or just a few minutes.

Even even EVEN better is that they're really fun! We do logic games and puzzles every week, but the kids don't always notice that they're part of school, because sometimes we do them in the evenings or on the weekends as part of our family time.

Here, then, are our favorite logic games and puzzles. We don't cycle through them with any sort of system--rather, often we'll get super invested in one particular type of puzzle or game and do it a LOT, then move onto something else, or I'll pull out something that the kids haven't worked with in a long time and they'll fall in love with it all over again, etc. The list below, though, are the ones that we return to most often:

New York Times crossword

Matt and I work the New York Times crossword daily in our newspaper, saving them to work later if we don't have time to do them that day. This year, we started setting aside the Monday crossword for Will, which means that on some evenings, we can all sit at the kitchen table, wine in a couple of glasses, and trade the crossword around:

Matt and I switch off when one of us is stuck, and when Will gets stuck, she'll hand her crossword to one of us and we'll solve a few before handing it back to her for another go.

For larger sets, I bought Matt a couple of the New York Times crossword omnibuses--particularly Thursday, which is always the "tricky" puzzle!

The puzzles increase in difficulty throughout the week, so you can buy an omnibus of just the Monday puzzles and have a whole set that's perfect for a young teenager:

every single ThinkFun game

Every single time I see a ThinkFun game at a thrift store or yard sale, I buy it, and I have never been disappointed. The kids' favorite ThinkFun game, by FAR is this one:

We don't own it, but every couple of years I check it out of the library, Syd zones into it until she solves every single puzzle, and I return it and check it out a couple of years later when it's brand-new again. As a matter of fact, guess what's waiting for Matt to pick up from our local university's library right this minute (along with two different botany ID kits, a portable weather station for an APES microclimate project, and a human body model that I want to check out as a possible resource for our biology study)?

One thing that I DON'T like about these games is that they're all plastic, and lots of it. I like to think that we somewhat mitigate that by buying them secondhand, and keeping them in good condition so that we can pass them on again someday.

Here are the ThinkFun games that the kids have played and that I know they love!

And here are the ones that are still on my wishlist to try out someday!


Syd and I are the ones who super love Sudoku, but Will is pretty game to try one out if I put it in front of her. Sudoku also comes in our newspaper every day, and Syd can handle the Monday and Tuesday games pretty handily. I've also got a gameboard version of Sudoku that I don't adore and won't live through our next purge, but it's a different setup and so feels novel to the kids whenever we pull it out:

I don't own this Colorku game, but it's been on my Amazon wishlist for the kids for practically their whole lives, lol, and if I can ever find THAT at a thrift store or yard sale, I'd replace our current Suduko game board with it in a hot minute. I like that is more lovely, has a much smaller profile, and divorces the reasoning skill from the number system:


The kids have grown out of their childhood love of pattern blocks, but our love of tangrams is nine years strong by now!

Miraculously, we STILL have all of the pieces of that tangram-a-day calendar, and it still gets played with.

Our love of pentominoes is more recent, but they remain a favorite, as well:

Similar to these is one of Syd's favorite games: 

I bought it for her for Christmas a couple of years ago, and she loves it so much that I've been on the lookout for other Brainwright games, but nothing has come on the secondhand market for me to try, alas.


I don't think we're social enough, because as a family, we don't really enjoy a lot of whole-family games. The kids went through the odd obsession with a particular game as they grew, most notably that year that I think we played Sorry! several times a day, every single day (thanks, Syd!), but now whenever I suggest a game, if I don't agree to Cards against Humanity both kids lose interest and instead just humor me... with a varying amount of good humor. 

But occasionally, if I ask just one of them, I can get them to play happily with just me. I managed to get Syd as into Blokus as I am for quite a while, and that was AWESOME. We prefer this two-person travel game setup, and at one point I actually managed to find a second set of pieces being sold in a bag in a thrift store, so now we have enough pieces to have pentominoes, too! Syd and I also like to play SET together, although frankly, she prefers to play the online version by herself, humph!

Will has been my chess buddy for nigh upon a decade by now, and she'll also happily play Scrabble with me whenever I want. But honestly, we'd all prefer to play solitaire games or puzzles while in the same room, chatting occasionally and listening to music. Shrug!

puzzle books from The Critical Thinking Company

When I was a kid in pull-out gifted classes in my local public school system, Mind Benders were my FAVORITE thing. I devoured them, and if I'd known that they came in real puzzle books that you could buy, and not just in mimeographed hand-outs given to me by my teacher whenever I looked especially bored, I would have been asking for them for every Christmas and birthday. 

Neither of the kids love Mind Benders quite as much as I still do, but they still like to work them occasionally. What the kids really like, though, is for me to lay out a whole assortment of puzzle books from The Critical Thinking Company, including my favorite Mind Benders, so they can choose whatever style of logic puzzle they feel like working right that second:

Will is working this puzzle with a dry-erase marker over a plastic page protector, because all of these Critical Thinking Company books came from the library!
I get out a whole pile of puzzle books and put on some music, and it's a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

Here are our favorites, although don't necessarily use these specific levels as your guide:

To me, the variety is the best part; I like to see what types of puzzles each kid is drawn to, and it might lead me to sneakily assign more of that, or specifically something else, at a later date.

Especially now that the kids are getting so grown up and ever more ready to go off on their own, I think that doing puzzles and logic games is a nice habit to enforce, completely apart from the goal of advancing their logical reasoning and deduction skills. Brain games like these will keep their brains strong as they grow old, you know, when I'm not around to remind them to eat blueberries and wear helmets when they ski and memorize poetry.

Hopefully, Matt and I will keep remembering to do all that stuff as WE grow old, too!

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