Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Know of any non-digital toys/games that teach, for 6-10 year olds?
62 points by vijayr 103 days ago | hide | past | web | 71 comments | favorite
Teach anything - math, literature, problem solving etc. As long as it isn't digital. Something like card games, board games, simple DIY toys etc?

I think the best gift for kids is still Legos. I spent hours building miniature cities, vehicles, homes, train systems, etc. as a kid. My children love them too. It's a great way to develop imagination and motor skills. I would personally avoid the branded sets, although that may just be my bias.

I also had a strong bias against the sets, I saw them as completely against the spirit of Lego. Why would I want to build the one thing in the picture?

Now that I have a 5 year old daughter and we play Lego a lot, I see the value of the sets. They teach discipline, and following the instructions is very challenging for a child, requiring quite a bit of mental modelling, spatial awareness, patience and diligence. A feeling of satisfaction when complete, and a teachable moment when you encourage them destroy the built structure and combine it with your loose brick collection for later reuse.

Great toy.

Lego taught me many things including how and why to plan ahead. Every child who grew up with Lego has experienced an off by one brick error. :)

Growing up, I wished I could design my lego projects ahead of time with an interface as simple as what Google SketchUp has ended up coming up with. I wanted to be able to model it and order the required parts with a single click. I think they might have something like that now but they didn't have it back then.

There's also an official software (not necessarily better, of course): http://ldd.lego.com/

I'm against legos since they have special parts. duplo blocks are great, since they are all the same and require imagination to see the result.

They also released lego boost robotics kit week ago for mentioned age frame, and it is amazing!

I'm a big fan of K'NEX http://www.knex.com/knex-education

+1 for K'NEX. Legos always seemed so limited to me as a kid. K'NEX is much more oriented towards actually building things rather than just making neat things to look at.

Both are fun. Knex are better for things that move, Legos are better for pretending.

I transitioned from Lego to Knex once I got the Big Ball Factory at 11

I commend you for wanting to teach children alternatives to digital. While binary & hexadecimal are popular, especially if you want to get them into the nuts & bolts of computers, I'd be interested to hear any reflections on duodecimal. I'm not too big a fan of this counting method: https://mihaslekovec.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/duodecimal-... as it comes off as a bit too digitcentric for my tastes

Balanced ternary could be a real fun starting point-- getting negative numbers involved asap surely has some great benefits. I think if balanced ternary was exposed to children more often at an early age we'd have a lot of these new fangled type level numbers being balanced ternary. I was playing around with implementing such in Rust: https://github.com/serprex/lambdaski/blob/master/src/typenum...

Binary comes off as particularly weak when type systems are still resolving lambda terms / prolog logic as associative maps & trees. http://repository.readscheme.org/ftp/papers/topps/D-456.pdf benchmarks 5 as being an ideal radix perfwise, but that does seem implementation dependent

My father wrote a song reflecting on our digital world: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw-au4sqKD2gWVJqOGFzSEVoakx... Stay strong & good luck

I'm amused with how much you've amused yourself here.

It's an obvious one, but I think there's something to be said for a simple three-in-one chess, draughts and backgammon set. The upfront cost is small but the long term benefits are vast.

Math Games

1) Prime Climb https://www.amazon.com/Math-for-Love-Prime-Climb/dp/B00PG959...

2) Tiny Polka Dots https://www.amazon.com/Math-For-Love-Tiny-Polka/dp/B01N1UUHP...

- Tiny Polka Dots might seem too basic, but counting is this complex topic that we forget because, well, we know how to count. Lots of downstream advantages of having the kind of secure understanding a kid can get from understanding counting inside and out. Tiny Polka Dots can help.

More Maths Games

We have Qwirkle and City of Zombies in the classroom. I hate them :) mainly because I am rubbish at them.

Give them a bunch of tools - hammer, saw, screwdriver, ruler, pencil, hand-powered drill, pair of pliers - and some scrap material (left-over planks, some thin sheet material, some small nails and screws, etc) to work on. Add a bottle of wood glue and some paint, preferably left-overs from other paint jobs to make them feel more at ease at wasting some and appreciate the fact that things don't have to be brand-spanking new to be useful. Help them along a bit but don't get in the way. They might make swords, bows, arrows, cars, horse stables, houses, whatever fits their fancy. The results might not be perfect but they're the work of their own hands and minds.

Yes, a 6yo can learn to use a saw, just make sure it is sized accordingly and has small teeth - both because they are easier to use as well as less likely to cause injury.

Even younger :)

We had some aerated concrete brick left after rebuilding our bathroom and my son (4yo at the time) "crafted" them with tools like saw or nails and screws. He really enjoyed that.

It stressed a lot his grandfather, to see his grandson with sharp tools, but the boy was very proud of his work.

A kickstarted I supported is Turing Tumble, a simple Turing-complete mechanical computer. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/871405126/turing-tumble...

Math: Skat[1] is an awesome card game with rules that fit on the back of a single card (basic version) and that trains addition and multiplication. AFAIK it is/was accepted as a teaching tool in Thuringia's schools. (usually for 3 players, a 2 player variation is described in the WP-article).

Literature: A membership in the local library was enough for me.

Problem Solving: Chess and related board games; any kind of puzzles - I loved metal puzzles where I had to separate/join pieces (e.g. those found here[2] - not endorsing the shop, just the first hit on DDG).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skat_(card_game)

[2] http://www.zoompuzzles.com/Metal-Puzzles_c_15-2.html

  Magnifying glass

Reading this list as one item is incredibly confusing.

Tangrams are amazing, I would recommend presenting the silhouettes in varying sizes and at the other end of a room - makes it more fiendish.

A musical instrument. I would suggest not teaching them the traditional way, but in a more natural way. Check out the approach of Victor Wooten [0]. If you want things a little more structured, try Improvise for Real [1]. Both will teach creativity, self expression and more. Plus its fun!

[0] https://youtu.be/2zvjW9arAZ0 [1] www.improviseforreal.com

So did I! I'm not quite sure because it was a long time ago, but it was probably a Meccano set: http://www.meccano.com/

Board games like scrabble and boggle are great for spelling and vocabulary development. Try to get them to say the definitions for the words (at least a brief one) rather than accept that they know them. Play with a dictionary at hand. Also ask them the meaning of the words you play so it seems that getting at the definitions isn't meant to just criticize/challenge their plays (which it isn't, the purpose is to develop their understanding).

Card games like Rook, Spades, Cribbage (mentioned elsewhere), Casino are great for math and pattern matching, planning ahead. These just require a standard deck of playing cards, maybe two (habit from playing Bridge, have one deck in play and one shuffled and ready for the next hand).

24 Game was a good one for arithmetic (4 numbers, put any of +, -, *, / between them and try to get the result to be 24).

Mastermind is another good strategy, logic type game. It can also be played with pencil and paper which makes it a very fun one to teach kids so they can play it anywhere.

Dots and Boxes is a nice abstract strategy game to play on paper, which can serve as a good gateway to other abstract strategy games.

Guess Who was a good game of logical deduction. Shades of 20 Questions where you ask for features of the person and mark off people who don't qualify. Clue, of course, is strictly a game of logical deduction if you can get past the movement mechanics and all (always frustrated me to get low dice rolls and not have a chance to win even when I knew or was very close to the answer). From Clue, books of logic puzzles that practice deductive reasoning from a set of facts (along the lines of Einstein's puzzle).

Others mentioned RPGs, these can be good with kids. Particularly if you focus the emphasis on teamwork (discourage showboating and hogging the limelight), storytelling (goes back to vocabulary, but also thinking about complex situations), planning and strategy. You can incorporate lots of puzzles into the game that emphasize wordplay (riddles and such) or math (numeric puzzles) or logic (colors, connecting their actions with specific effects) or just general problem solving.

there was a book getting started in electronics that use to be sold at radio shack. They had all sorts of basic projects from a battery using a potato to a transistor radio to an amplifier. I think it is still available online. I use to love making those projects when I was younger.

this one, which I assume you are referring to, is a classic. The one I had from the 80's had a green cover. http://www.forrestmims.com

I still have the green cover one, I am planning on letting my child have at it when she is old enough. Right now we are just doing the snap electronics.

Pencil & paper role playing games. If you view them as collaborative, improvised, slightly-structured, in-person storytelling, there's nothing like them for developing skills related to imagination, narration, language arts, cooperation, politics (seriously!), empathy, problem solving, and communication. They don't require exotic or expensive technology, can be played almost anywhere, help build meaningful social relationships, can be played by almost anyone, can be a lifelong hobby, and encourage learning about an enormous range of real world histories, ideas, technologies, literatures, skills, etc.

Both my kids enjoyed Mastermind (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastermind_(board_game)) from a young age. Deductive logic game.

I don't know if you'd count this as "not digital" (it's mostly analog) but my kids have a blast with http://www.snapcircuits.net/

"Robot Turtles. This game teaches kids 4+ the ins and outs of programming in a fun, tactile game."

https://amzn.com/B00HN2BXUY $21.89

(originally a Kickstarter)

Most board games can be great educational tools. Eg Guess Who teaches logical thinking skills since kids have to think of a strategy to use and a question that will support that strategy. Clue is similar but possibly a higher age range.

Same goes for puzzle games - Sudoku, or even those little golf tee + peg board games you see at like cracker barrel. Simple but educational and they exercise the brain.

As others have said, Legos and similar toys teach spatial reasoning and similar skills as well.

If you are looking for toys that teach a specific skill (eg algebra) that is likely trickier to find.

Meta-Forms teaches problem solving. You have to guess the arrangement of objects in a 3 by 3 grid based on clues such as two circles are next to each other, and no red objects are next to each other. https://smile.amazon.com/FoxMind-5512646-Metaforms-Games/dp/...

When I was 6 or 7, my Grandma taught me how to play cribbage. At first, it was a little tough, so my Grandma helped me decide which cards to put into my crib and with counting out my hand. But as my ability to add and spot patterns increased, I stopped needing her help so much.

Cribbage is a nice blend of strategy, applied math and pattern matching. I plan to teach my 17 month old daughter cribbage as soon as I can.

For DIY toys, check out Arvind Gupta's toys from trash: http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/toys.html

A compelling way to introduce children to laws of nature. You can see him sharing his philosophy here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOllmFfELT8

I would really recommend MERCUR, I am just not sure where would you be able to get it. Where I come from (i.e. Czech Republic), it is this legendary engineering toy kit, and you could build almost anything with it :)

As kids we loved it, and then, even in college we still used it in our robotics projects :)


For problem solving / strategy (and fun of course!) Marble run, Geomag, Monopoly, Canasta (2 or 4 player)

Also the games by thinkfun.com (Rush Hour etc) are very good


I was also going to say books. You could get books that aren't novels. For example, a book on how to do magic tricks, or a book about how the world works (e.g. earth science), or a book about different type of bridges, etc etc.

Not to discard novels either though. If they can encourage book reading they also fill a purpose!

magnatiles (amazon have seen at target) one of our kids favorites, great for 6 year old but they will play with them for years. https://www.amazon.com/Magna-Tiles-Clear-Colors-100-Piece/dp...

Kapla Blocks (building) https://www.amazon.com/CitiBlocs-200-Piece-Natural-Colored-B...

Dominos for Toppling (lots of tutorials online to do amazing runs) https://bulkdominoes.com/collections/all

Wooden Blocks https://www.amazon.com/ECR4Kids-Hardwood-Building-Storage-48...

If you don't have a hard smooth floor pick up a sheet of plexiglass for dominos and kapala blocks.

Legos, get a variety of sets, encourage mixing and building your own creations.

Board Games


Catan Junior Settlers of Catan

Ticket to Ride


Scrabble (deluxe with plastic grid)


Stratego (Original General is 1)

Uno Card Game.


Snap Circuits (Electricity Projects)


Do science night where parents use a white board to teach how things work, let them ask questions/explain things they know.


Lego Mindstorms is good too, but they would need to be on a screen some for this.

My parents used Brain Quest cards with me and I loved them. Kept me happy on road trips and at restaurants.

Boardgames are a great way to teach. There are so many to choose from now. Also there is nothing better than spending time with your kids. https://boardgamegeek.com/

Some people may not realize that boardgamegeek has ridiculously granular search capabilities- For instance, here are all recommended board games with a minimum recommended age of 6 sorted by rating: https://boardgamegeek.com/search/boardgame?sort=rank&advsear...

There is this brilliant card game Set (https://www.setgame.com/set), which is a load of fun and also teaches visual reasoning skills.

The one thing I've never personally enjoyed about Set is that it's a "how fast can you do it" game that promotes quick thinking over other skills. My wife loves it, though, and I do agree it's a great game to teach patterns and set matching.

I totally understand where you're coming from with it emphasizing quick thinking. Unfortunately, that's part of the game and it can't be taken away. Even so, I love that game, I credit it with helping to stoke my interest in patterns and logic at an early age (love you mom!). Not necessarily related but Tangrams is another (math related imo) activity, a tiling puzzle that exercises spatial thinking.

Model Rockets (designing, working out altitude, etc.)

Ship in a bottle

Woodworking projects (especially involving measuring, proportion, etc.)


I Hate Mathematics Book by Marilyn Burns

Stolen Sharpie Revolution by Alex Wrekk (and other books on creating Zines)

Problem solving/lateral thinking books.

Also books about the way things work - maybe also books on inventions.

I would have suggested Make Magazine but its a lot of digital now. Instructables book is good though.

Old (70s and earlier) popular mechanics popular sciene and science and mechanics magazines. Older Scientific American magazines too

Games - Clue, Black Box, Scrabble, Boggle, Madlibs

Math rods / Cuisenaire rods: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Viga-Wooden-Maths-Rods-Cuisenaire/d...

A Pound of dice: https://www.amazon.com/Wiz-Dice-Pack-Random-Polyhedral/dp/B0... (I'd be keen to know if there's dice at a similar price in the UK)

You can then play something like Button Men (which could easily be rethemed to "Pokemon battle") https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Button_Men

Scrabble is great for vocabulary, although as you get better you'll learn strategic words and probably disregard their meaning (for example, I frequently use qi, qat, suq, qua but I can't define them)

House rules: if you don't know what a word means you can't use it.

RPG? Something like Herokids http://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/product/106605

Not sure if it will fit your age range but this company has a lot of good teaching toys/things:


I listened to a podcast from these founders. I don't have kids to buy their products but I would buy from them based on the 1 hour show I listened to

Have them try sports. Don't force them, but try a few and see if any stick. It's a huge social advantage for the rest of their lives both as something to do and something to talk about.

Lego, erector set, chess, backgammon, othello/reversi, card games are all things I remeber from my pre-technology childhood.

Reading of course.

bicycles teach you a great deal.

Lego, Magic the Gathering, European board games, and playing a musical instrument

chemistry set, microscope, bicycles, roller skates, balls, play doh, legos, books, magnifying glass, compass, etc.

Pretty much anything you throw at them will teach them something.

The question is, what do you want them to learn?

Poker for probability and a little bit of psychology.

Standard cards deck. Solitaire, card tricks.

Kapla (wood blocks)

Rubik's cubes?

MECCANO ( http://www.meccano.com/ )

6 might be a bit on the younger side for it, but 10 definitely not. You learn to use a screwdriver and screws and basic mechanics. You can go all the way to elaborate designs.

It's a timeless toy, my father already played with it (looked like this back then: http://www.dalefield.com/nzfmm/slap/RoyalMeccano.JPG ) and so did I. Heck, even an adult can use these, I once made a distillery platform with height-adjustable burner with these. Really nice to slap together sturdy prototypes.

EDIT: Now that I'm looking at modern MECCANO, I feel like they have diverted too much from the original path. I'd rather have the basic old metal kit in the second image than a fancy MECCANO car consisting of oddly shaped plastic pieces.

My parents got me some MECCANO over a decade ago and were most annoyed that it didn't have enough 'normal' pieces for me to build other things with it. As such I built the car and thats that.

No suggestions unfortunately, but I'm curious to know the motivation behind trying to find non-digital toys. Is there something we could do to bring the benefits of non-digital toys into digital ones or are the differences fundamentally irreconcilable?

Fundamentally irreconcilable. Staring at a screen is only so helpful when you're under the age of 15

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact