For my series on "Games to play on a hike, at the dinner table, or in the car with kids," I've been experimenting with variations on our family's Word Chains game. My kids enjoy it, but the rules need to be well established, or you can end up with one child aiming to overthrow the family democracy. Let me explain.
How to Play:
First, choose a category, like food, places, colors, or cars. The first person says an item in the category. The next person has to say a word that starts with the last letter of the first person's word. I say Grape, you say Eggplant, he says Tomato. But you can't repeat any of the words. Or else what? And if you can't think of a word, you can change the category! Or can you? How you answer these questions will depend on your child's age and flexible thinking. Pitch the idea and work on the rules as you go. See what your child thinks is fair. The flexible rules are what make this game a hit with my kids when we're one on one, but a bit of a sh*t show if we all play together.
The skill it develops
In short, spelling. Also, it helps kids listen for sounds/phonics, think in categories, index their knowledge, and use their imagination to visualize their ideas.
Adapting for age:
Younger kids will need broad categories, like food and people's names, while older kids can think in more detailed categories, like fruit and famous people's names. Also, younger kids will do better if they can change the category when they can't think of a word, while older kids can be challenged to either come up with a word, sit out the rest of the round, or take a strike (whatever that means to your family). Younger children will need a lot of coaching if they can't read or spell yet. That's an added bonus.
Click here for more ideas about how to set up a family culture of games and links to more games.