Archive for category: Games

Some of our favourite literacy-encouraging toys and games

Looking for a great gift for a kid? Just want to give them something to do when they’re bored–that’s not TV? Well, read on, my friend because here are the best of the best literacy-based games that I’ve reviewed in the past and that are still available and still awesome… Part I.


Microsoft Word - Riddle Edition Sales Oct29.docxuKloo
Recap—It’s a treasure hunt you don’t have to make yourself! (What?! You’ve never made a treasure hunt yourself? Well, trust me, it’s very Pinterest and a whole lotta work. This is muuuuch better.)

How it works
Kids find cards telling them where to search next… at the end is a small treat. The whole thing is great for developing reading skills because the child is super-motivated, not just for the treat but for the whole process.

Update—Since I reviewed this game years ago, they’ve developed a great phone app and a “Riddle Edition.”

Here are my past reviews:


must pop words enterMust Pop Words
Many online “reading” games are BO-ring and slow or both.  Well, here’s one that’s fun AND features a cute penguin. Gotta love that.

How it works
Go to the website:

And click on PLAY.
Then hit Enter on your keyboard to start.

Now, use the letters that fall to make words. Type a word and hit Enter. The balls will speed up, falling faster and piling up. Throughout the game you’ll get little “challenges” like “type a six letter word for 500 bonus points” that make the game more interesting.

Not only reading and word-making, but typing skills as well. Fun!

Here’s my past review:


Rory Story CubesRory’s Story Cubes
A fundamental building block of reading is being able to put stories in sequence: beginning, middle, end.

This is a wonderful game for that. And, bonus, if you have kids of different ages, they can all play at the same time and it will be just as fun for each of them. Many times I brought out these cubes at a restaurant while we were waiting for our order. Keeps kids busy and they don’t even realize they’re “sequencing.” Ha!

How it works
The cubes have pictures on them; you roll them and use the pictures to make a story that you come up with and tell to the others. More fun than I’m making it sound.

These simple cubes have come a LONG way since I first talked about them. Now there are tons of themed cube sets like Batman, Doctor Who, Scooby-Doo!, Looney Tunes and Moomin as well as Voyages, Actions and more.

My past review:


ScrabbleFlashScrabble Flash (known as Boggle Flash in the US)
This is an awesome game. Don’t ask me how it works because the answer is either “magic” or “magnets” or maybe both, I’m not sure.

Basically, you have letter blocks that work together–somehow, see above—and flash letters. You mix the blocks around to form words. The more words you can form with the blocks, the more points you get.

Trust me, this is an awesome game-slash-toy. Kids will love it.

My past review gives you a better idea of how it works:

Disclosure: I don’t get paid for reviews, but usually I do receive a free copy of the game after I’ve called up the company and asked for a review copy. Can’t really review a game unless I have it, can I? Yeah, that’s what I think, too. If I don’t like a game, though, I just don’t review it. So, not that much of a disclosure ’cause there’s not much hiding in this closet, so to speak.

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Plangman = online game + literacy!

Kids often learn the most when they don’t even realize they’re learning.

Online games are great for that. But the game has to be (a) fun, (b) easy to play, and (c) smart.

Plangman ticks all those boxes.

Kids will not only enjoy Plangman, but they’ll be thinking ahead, reading a storyline, putting together letters and spelling out words that are sometimes quite challenging. In short, they’ll be reading and learning. And having fun.

The “angman” in the game’s name is from hangman–Plangman is a version of hangman in that the goal is to guess the missing letters and fill them in. Don’t ask me what the Pl is from. Play, maybe? Platform? (An online “platforming” game is one like Mario, where the character runs around and jumps onto platforms, etc.)

CapturePlangman 2 2016

The clue (so far) is _ovel_ … novels. So the little person has to run, jump and fly around to find the n and the s to complete the secret word. In the meantime, the letter boxes can be pushed (the r has fallen, for instance) and sometimes they fall into space, taking you with them. Fun!

In Plangman, you are a little person, running through space, leaping onto letter blocks. You want to leap on the right letters, and avoid the wrong ones.

Hanging in “space” are a series of blanks. In order to figure out what word you’re making, you need to run over to the star and grab it. That will cause a picture to appear. That image is your clue as to what the word is.

Capture Plangman 2 3 2016

Yeah… I had to Google Eowyn. But your kid won’t, guaranteed. (Lord of the Rings, btw.)

The other clue, just like hangman, is the number of blanks, or letters, that comprise the word.

Link to Plangman
To play Plangman, go to:
You will need to use the Firefox browser if you want to play Plangman online, because it supports “Unity.” It’s all very above-board, and those are both extremely popular programs so don’t worry about using them. And when you download Firefox, it just sits on your computer and you can use it later–it won’t take over your IE or Chrome browsing. If you don’t want to do all that, you can also download it*.

You jump on the letters, and if it’s in the secret word, it will show up in the appropriate blank. If it’s not in the word, your letter block will fall away into space, possibly taking you with it. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to stay alive–all you have to do is jump off the falling block before it gets too far down.

Also fortunately, you never really die. There are lots of lives, so you just start over.

This game looks simple–very retro, which is totally in right now, of course–but it’s engaging, challenging (but not too challenging) and it really makes you think.

Plangman has an interesting storyline. Each word you reveal is integral to the story. There was another game, also developed by Ehren von Lehe, called Langman. It’s great too, but Plangman’s storyline is a bit more literature-focussed. It harkens back to a number of great books like The Lord of the Rings and references literary characters as well.

Try Plangman, and even if it’s not for you, point your kid toward it. I’m pretty sure it will be a hit.

And do try LangmanCapture plangman (you can play it here, on the awesome online game review website Kongregate), as well. Fun! My 2011 review of Langman.

If you’d prefer to download Plangman and play it offline, on your computer, here’s how:
Download it from (Just click “Download Now” and then “No thanks, just take me to the downloads”.)

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Scrabble Twist — good fun, great for literacy

Scrabble TwistHasbro makes great, sturdy toys. From an adult’s perspective, they tend to be an excellent buy–good value, won’t break. But for two other crucial factors, namely fun and literacy, we wanted to get the opinion of someone who is likely to play with the toy.

So we asked high school writer Leni K. to play with Scrabble Twist for awhile and jot down a few comments on it. We also asked her whether she recommends it for parents who want a good, solid toy for their kids that might also teach them something about words. (Spoiler: She does.)

Review by Leni K.

Scrabble Twist is a super-fun toy. I especially enjoyed its “turbo” mode. It’s very easy use, and kid-friendly.

It’s certainly much more literacy-focussed than other toys I’ve tried.

I didn’t get a chance to try it between two people, but that option sounds great.

Overall, it worked well and didn’t break, not even once.

Conclusion: Good for young kids, very hard to break.


Thanks, Leni!

Here’s a video by Children’s Technology Review that explains how to play Scrabble Twist. They call it “essentially, Words with Friends” — but as a toy. Not a bad description. Scrabble Twist is designed for kids 8+ and retails for about $28. That’s on the medium-to-high side for a game, but because it has several modes (you can play it alone or with others in various modes) and because words only have to be three letters long to count–but can be longer–it’s quite a versatile toy.

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Elmo will get your kid reading

20c87071-8197-42cc-b5c6-e5f0cc492a8d._V313956058_I’ve been testing out Elmo’s on-the-go Letters, a new addition to Hasbro’s holiday line-up.

This is a very simple toy, very old school. No electronics to be found here, but I also believe that It is one of the better literacy toys that I have seen lately.

It is just a plastic briefcase with the letters of the alphabet in it. The letters snap in. There is also a space at the bottom-right for children to make words with the letters.

The letters are quite difficult to snap out, even for me. A toddler would most likely not be able to get them out on their own, an adult would do it for him/her. But there’s an upside — it means that there won’t be letters strewn over the house, or lost pieces (kind of critical for an alphabet).

Kinesthetic learning (learning by touching) is a great way for kids to learn words.

The letters come in a bright red, plastic “briefcase” with Elmo on it. It is a very durable case too–I put about half my weight on it without it really making any sound, or breaking. The briefcase is hard to open, and it would be an impossible feat for a young child to open it, which means that they might be begging mommy or daddy to open it for them, which might be a problem.

All-in-all, this toy is excellent for any child who is starting to learn basic words and is starting to be taught how to form them.

Going to give this one four and a half out of five stars.

(Note: Hasbro sent me this toy to review but I haven’t been paid for this review and wouldn’t have reviewed it if I didn’t like the toy or didn’t think that it had a good literacy application.)

Price: Approx. $35.

Recommended age: 2-4

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Great online word game: Words Warrior

Words Warrior captureThis is a wonderful game that hits all the right notes: reading, strategic thinking and fun. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning–plus, it’s not lame (if you’ve ever played an online game that’s “good for you,” you’ll see how important that is, and how rare).

You use your computer’s arrow keys to move your knight across the sentences, reading as you go.

Each sentence contains clues as to what’s up ahead–for instance, a vampire–as well as tools to help you overcome the monsters and problems. For instance, pick up the bridge to span the gap before you fall into it.

Even better, your character can’t win right off the bat. He’ll have to discover and be defeated a few times, before you can figure out which words will help you succeed. So good.

Play Words Warrior here (via Bonte Games).


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Taboo Buzz’d will get ’em reading

Taboo buzzd gameHere’s a really fun game that will get your kids reading, and they won’t even knowing they’re practising their reading.

Best of all, this game is electronic, which will make kids like it even more.

Taboo is a popular board game–Taboo Buzz’d is an electronic version of it. You have to get your partner(s) to say a certain word. But you’re not allowed, yourself, to say any of the four “taboo” words.

Here’s an example: Try to get someone else to say sandcastle but you can’t say beachpail, water or moat. Or blend but you can’t say colours, mix, combine or together.

It’s pretty difficult — and fun. And with the electronic (“Buzz’d”) version it’s super-simple, which
means kids can concentrate on the words and the synonyms and the game play without any distractions.

How to play
You press the big orange button on the hand-held unit to start the game. A screen gives you the word plus four taboo words. If your teammate guesses the word, you press the orange button again. If you just can’t get them to guess your word, you can press the “pass” button. And if you accidentally say a taboo word, you press the big purple “taboo” bar on the top of the unit and your team loses a point. Each round continues with six games. The unit keeps track of the scores for two teams.Taboo Buzzd package

The reason the game is so good is that they’ve chosen really appropriate “taboo” words. It’s pretty difficult to think of a way to play the game without using those words. And of course, that’s where all the fun is. “Oops! I said necklace!”

Taboo Buzz’d is most fun when you’re playing with teams of two or more, but my son and I were even able to just play it ourselves, albeit the scoring was kind of wonky but that was fine. The game is aimed at kids 13 and up, but I think younger kids would find it fun. You could modify the rules so that younger kids had to use the taboo words. It would still be silly and fun–and they’d be reading.

Taboo Buzz’d by Hasbro, age 13+, 1,000 words per unit, requires three AAA (not double-A) batteries and they’re not included, so make sure you pick some up when you buy the game. It sells at Toys R Us, Amazon, etc., for about $22. Worth it.

On a different topic: I apologize for the backwards apostrophe in the headline of this article. I can’t get it to go the right way. Frustrating.

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uKloo: Riddle Edition — another great uKloo literacy game

Microsoft Word - Riddle Edition Sales Oct29.docx

uKloo is a terrific literacy game. Incredibly–wonderfully–they somehow managed to top it.

Toronto game-maker Doreen Dotto recently launched uKloo, Riddle Edition.

The premise of uKloo is simple—it’s a treasure hunt. You (the parent) hide cards around the house that kids find and which lead them to the next clue.

For instance, the first clue is “look in your shoes.” The child goes to her shoes and finds the next card, which says “look on the kitchen table,” and so on.

It’s a brilliant strategy to get kids reading because it gives the child a fun reason to read (they want to find the next clue) as well as an instant reward (they find out where the next clue is hidden, and ultimately a grand prize). Fun + reason to read = reading.

Dotto has taken this simple equation and made it even more fun. And she’s added problem-solving to the skills the child will acquire without even knowing they’re learning.

With the Riddle Edition, kids find a card and have to solve a fun riddle to figure out where the next card is hidden.

Depending on the age of the child, the riddles are very easy or quite challenging.

For instance, a level one riddle: “When your hair is full of dirt, get it clean with just a squirt.”uKloo Riddle-cards

A level three riddle: “Not of shell, of turtle or snail, but made of cloth to hike a trail.”

Did you get those? The answers are at the bottom of this post if you want to double-check.

The wonderful thing about uKloo is the way Dotto has adapted it for various reading levels. If the child can’t figure out a clue, she can get a hint: “Lather up for shiny locks!”

If she still can’t quite get it, she can hold a special booklet (in which the answers are written backwards) up to a mirror and find the answer reflected there.

Three levels of clues, a hint and a fun solution give kids the success that is so important for new or struggling readers.

And with different levels, brothers and sisters of different ages or reading abilities can play together. It’s also great for playdates.

As with the original uKloo game, the Riddle Edition ends with a surprise that the parent provides. It could be a chocolate or small toy, or—as Dotto found out from one parent—it could be the announcement that the child is going to have a new baby sister.

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo Riddle Edition includes blank cards so parents can write their own riddles (Dotto provides tips on writing riddles) and it includes Surprise cards so that instead of a toy or candy the grand prize could be “a trip to the ice cream store” or “pillow fight with daddy.”

If uKloo is one of the most perfect literacy games, uKloo Riddle Edition takes it one step further. Both are must-get games for any parent who wants to get their kids reading.

uKloo retails for $15.95 and uKloo Riddle Edition for $18.95. Both are available at independent toy stores. You can also purchase them from the uKloo website, here.

You can also check out the new uKloo Early Reader App, currently free (that may change) in the iTunes App Store.

Read my review of uKloo here.

Oh, and I’m sure you figured out that answers are: Shampoo and Backpack.

Lastly, Doreen was on Dragon’s Den. Guess what happened? Check it out:


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beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game for ages 8 and up

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

If your kids could use a little brush-up on their spelling, beezi might be the game that does it.

My son and I took the game for a test drive. He figures he’s a better speller than his mother (who is a writer by trade, a-hem).

We really enjoyed beezi. For off, it was easy to figure out how to play it–a huge plus. I hate having to read through two pages of directions to figure out a game before you can even play it.

And it was fast-playing. Another plus.

Essentially, beezi takes you around a board; you select cards and spell words. The harder the word, the further you go on the board. Special spaces on the board let you roll again, skip a turn or advance.

The game includes spelling challenges at different levels. That’s good because it means that your eight-year-old can play with your 10-year-old at the same time. And it makes it extra flexible for playdates.

There’s also a Teens and Parents edition, which we will definitely have to get (we were given this one by beezi, for review). We did find that the younger game was a bit too easy for my 12-year-old. Although, he did not—I stress, did not—win against his mother.

Because kids write down their answer, rather than just spell it out loud, the game can definitely help kids improve their spelling. The game provides a real incentive to sound words out and try to get them right. It also gives adults a chance to explain why certain words are spelled the way they are.

Some kids are shy or embarrassed about not being able to spell very well. Even my son, who’s a pretty good speller, didn’t like to admit it when he couldn’t spell certain words, and I can see that. So you may want to keep that in mind when you’re playing. Usually, I was able to explain that “everyone gets that one wrong,” or “that spelling rule is tricky” and then roll the dice and keep the game moving.

The game is themed around bees, a riff on “spelling bees.” The bee theme continues with the die, which features six types of bees (from honey bee – the easiest words to spell, to killer bee – the most challenging). My son likes “Shaggy Fuzzyfoot” the best; Shaggy’s a wildcard. And the object of the game is to reach the “beehive” in the middle of the board.

The illustrations are quirky and modern, and the dice is one of those big, chunky ones that are such fun to roll.

Bonus: The next time I go to a restaurant or a long car ride with my son, I’m going to bring along the card deck. It will be a terrific quiz-me activity, even without the game board. beezi would also be a good game to take to the cottage, because everyone can play it, using different level card packs.

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game sells for $29.99 and is available at toy stores and Chapters/Indigo. You can also purchase it from the beezi website ($10 to $15 shipping within Canada).

(If you’re in Toronto, buy it from my friend Sam at her Playful Minds toy store. Tell her I sent ya.)

On the beezi website, click on Take the Beezi challenge for a fun online spelling challenge.

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Strange word game – but fun!

monkey-go-happy-guess-starfishMonkey GO Happy, Guess? is an odd game, yes it is.

But it’s fun. Kids’ll like it.

And you can’t deny, it’s all about words.

The online game is one of a series of simple, quirky word games by PencilKids.

In Monkey GO Happy, Guess? (the spelling and punctuation of its name belie its oddness) you have to figure out what word is needed, based on a picture clue.

For instance, a picture of a STAR plus a picture of a FISH would equal STARFISH.
The clues get progressively stranger, albeit not necessarily much more difficult, as you proceed.

Every time you get one right you earn coins.

Underlying all of the oddness is oddly catchy music, bonus games in which you have to figure out roman numerals based on clues, the occasional brainteaser plus the chance to use your accumulated coins to buy mini-prizes (a trampoline, a car) for the little monkeys at the bottom of the page.

It’s all very odd, but fun. And word-oriented.

The link for this game is via Bart Bonte‘s excellent online casual games page.
You can search his site for the other Monkey GO Happy games.


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Must Pop Words – great game for literacy, typing skills

must pop words enterHere’s a smart, fun game that’s great for literacy and for improving typing skills.

In Must Pop Words, letters – inside bouncy balls – fall down and accumulate at the bottom of the page.

You have to type words using the letters. Every word you type erases those letters. If the letters pile up to the top of the page (which they will inevitably do) you lose.

Little tasks like, “create a word ending with e” or “create a six-letter word” let you earn extra points.

The balls bouncing around and the cute penguin who sticks his head in every once in awhile make this a signature Bart Bonte game – one of a series of elegant, fun games you can find on his website. (In my opinion, Bonte is the best casual game designer on the Internet.) Enjoy!

Play Must Pop Words here.

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