A bunch of educational publishers are getting rich – and not just off of me – from selling summer “bridge” workbooks that permit kids to practice and sharpen the reading and math skills they learned the previous school year as prelude to the grade they’re about to enter.
The workbooks manage not to be completely joyless, but I feel a bit dorky forcing my children to cart the booklets along on long car and plane rides. And even if they do pack them, they find ways to avoid them. Which brings me to three things they and other traveling kids might do instead while on the road.
Melissa & Doug License Plate Game, $19.99
When Melissa & Doug introduced a line of travel games, they took durable and colorful pieces of wood and shrewdly bound them with elastic bands to the puzzle boards, so even a multi-lettered game like Hangman won’t scatter its tiles into the recesses of car floor mats and airplane seat pockets. The Flip to Win Hangman game has been a trip favorite for years but another we’ve come to appreciate more recently is the License Plate Game, fifty tiny license plate tiles bound with elastic to a wooden map of the United States. Sit in the car, spot a license plate, find it, and flip it on the board. That’s it. Value-added, of course, is that you’re making your kids hunt for the states as they find the plates.
Scrabble Slam Card Game, $6.99
Handing my travel Scrabble game to my brood in the backseat would be about as practical as throwing half the tiles out the window. A better idea? Picking up the Scrabble Slam Card Game, released last summer. The game is more slam than Scrabble – players try to unload cards they’re dealt by slapping them one at a time onto an existing four-card, four-letter word, so as Hasbro puts it, “game” could become “fame” and “fame” could become “fate,” and the first player to use up all his cards wins. I particularly like this game because it resembles the letter-changing exercise my second-grader has been doing in school all year. It also passes the time easily and, unlike real Scrabble, if cards start disappearing, the game’s still playable. If you want to go utterly paperless, a downloadable Nintendo DsiWare version of the game was released last month.
The Moron Test, for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Android-enabled smart phones, 99 cents
The brain-teasing questions in The Moron Test have been engrossing tweens and adults since last year. “The pictures are kind of tricky and the way they ask the questions is tricky, too,” my fifth grader offered about the puzzles, one of which demands that you click on some turtles in size order – though you may realize too late that the smallest clickable creature is actually a frog. Or, you might be asked to spell a word that flashed on the screen only seconds before. Part of the fun is seeing how quickly you can flash through the questions without messing up. Not to take all the fun out of it, but isn’t that good practice for the insufferable standardized testing your kids will face during the school year?