Stem summer learning loss with fun family games

Free and easy ways to engage children

It's no secret that summer vacation causes a significant learning loss for many school-aged children. To stem the tide, Thornwell School for the Arts grade 3 teacher, Brandy Benjamin, recommends some classic and informal games that boost language, memory and other learning skills. The best thing about these games is they don't cost any money to play, and don't require any pieces or components—just brain power. Here is a short list with instructions:

20 questions

One player thinks of an object, let others know if it is an animal, vegetable or mineral. The other plays ask only questions that can be answered with a yes or no. The goal is to discover what the object is in fewer than 20 questions.


This game is a riff on 20 questions, best suited to older students who are familiar with people in the news and more historic figures. One player (or a team of players) takes on the persona of a well-known person and shares only the initials of the person's name as a clue. Other players (or the other team) asks yes or no questions until they guess the person, or have used up 20 questions.


One player names a category and the other players take turns naming items that belong to it. The category can be broad (e.g., animals) or narrow (e.g., types of dogs). The game continues until no one can come up with another item to add to the category.


Each player comes up with a place name (town, state, country, etc.) that begins with the same letter as the last letter of the place mentioned by the previous player. For example, if the first player says Italy, the second player might say Yosemite. Play continues until players run out of places to name.


This game is similar to Horse. The game starts with the first player naming a letter of the alphabet. Other players take turns by adding a letter that contributes to the spelling of a word. The catch: Avoid completing a word. Each time someone completes a word, he gets a letter of the word Ghost. Once a player has spelled ghost, he/she is out of the game. A player can be challenged if another player suspects the letter added isn't part of a real word.

I packed my grandmother's trunk

Each player starts off with the sentence, “I packed my grandmother's trunk and in it I put...” The first player completes the sentence with an item that begins with the letter A. The next player repeats the sentence and the first players answer, and then adds an item with the letter B. Play continues through the entire alphabet.