Holiday Gifts with an “I” Toward Literacy

For the past few weeks – and over the next few days – the airwaves will be filled with suggestions for gifts. There are many, many recommendations for books. Maybe it is because we’re snowed in with two feet of snow, but I’m going to go in a different direction …

The fun of the holidays, for me, is selecting a gift that shows the recipient that you gave a lot of thought to the present. Ideally, it matches their interests and stretches them just a little in new directions.

With the kids in my life, I look for gifts that look more fun than educational. For example, kids who love mysteries and riddles might enjoy word puzzles or games. Because it is a game, then don’t notice that they’re practicing spelling, expanding their vocabulary, or learning synonyms and antonyms.

Thanks to computers, you can play many of the traditional pen and paper games – and even some board games – online. As a result, kids can play “solitaire” versions of activities that usually required two players or more. While solo play can be helpful, the entertainment comes from sharing the fun with other people. Think: book v. eBook.

Here are some ideas that you can create yourself, find online, or purchase in a “formal” game.

Pen and Paper Games

Alphabet Chase – There are lots of names for this game, and rules vary from version to version. This is a race to find a word for each letter of the alphabet before any of the other players. In some versions, the words must be part of a theme; sometimes players have to find words in exact alphabetical (or reverse alphabetical) order.

outrageous-crosswordCrossword Puzzles – These are probably the easiest puzzles to find. If you’re looking for online puzzles, there are plenty of websites that include crossword puzzles among their activities for children. You might even find some built around a theme. Although you can find some puzzles that are geared for first and second graders, generally, the books are designed for older audiences (third grade on up).

word-hangmanHangman – This is a timeless classic that is good for kids ages 6 and up. When I was kid, we played with paper and pen. Now, there are portable versions kids can play on hand-held computers.

word-findsWord Finds – About the time kids start to practice spelling words, they are ready to try to find words hidden in a grid of letters. For younger kids, look for grids that are no larger than 10 letters by 10 letters.

horse-puzzlesWord Puzzle Books – I love these anthologies because they offer lots of variety. Within the covers you’ll find crossword puzzles, word finds, anagrams, and other games that engage kids in thinking critically.


Board Games

boggleBoggle – Shake and sort 16 letter die into a grid, then see how many words you can make from the letters. This takes the paper game to a new level and adds a timer (though we play without one).

passwordPassword – Does anyone remember this besides me? This word game dates back to the 1970s. One member of each team is given a word and they offer synonyms or antonyms to help their partner guess the right word. Because spelling isn’t involved, it is a game that all ages can enjoy together.

scrabble-jrScrabble – In addition to the classic game with the wooden tiles, Scrabble Jr. has a picture-style version that is great for Kindergarteners and first graders. There are also brand-centric versions that feature Scooby-Doo, Dora, and Charlotte’s Web. It is an excellent selection when you want something readers of all levels can enjoy.

whats-gnuWhat’s Gnu – With this game, kids can master 3-letter words. Each player gets a card with one letter and two blanks. A dispenser releases two tiles with letters, and the first person to create a word with the letters wins the round.

zingoZingo – This is a picture/sight-word bingo game for pre-K and early elementary students. It is a fast-paced game.  The tower releases two tiles that players need to match on their boards. There are variations you can play (one column, full board) to keep it fun.


Several of the recommendations – like hangman, alphabet chase, and word finds – are games you can make for the kids or that kids can make for each other.  They’re great as gifts or fun to do when you’ve come down with Cabin Fever.

Games offer wonderful opportunities for quality time, incorporating wordplay is a bonus! The best part is that they can be as simple or elaborate as you want, and they can easily be adapted to your playmates’ reading ability.

Do you have a favorite word game? I’d love to hear about it!


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12 responses to “Holiday Gifts with an “I” Toward Literacy

  1. As the weather is so much colder now and my kids are off on break now it sure helps to keep them up to par with a good book for them to read. These make great gifts for children to read over their breaks.

  2. We own Zingo and love it!!!! It is one of my son’s favorite games to play. I’ve also seen the What’s Gnu and would love to get that for my son. He is just learning to read, so it may be a good choice this year for Christmas. Thanks for the great ideas!

  3. Tif … it is a GREAT game. For a while Catherine just liked matching the tiles and letters. We would get the tiles then pick a board that helped make a word, then went to the next one. It is a great way to help kids understand the roles vowels play in words. My mom has Zingo at her house so that they can have fun there, too.

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  5. I very much like the sound of Password. Have you seen sedarahc? Alphabet Soup has review on it. I love games that combine words with creativity.

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