Flex those Skills
I'm sure you are like me and you grew up with popular children's games like Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, and Hi Ho Cheerios. I'm not saying those games aren't great, but they remind me of game candy. Great for every once and a while, but not the type of games that are truly challenging. Why? Because those types of games are games of chance. While they can teach children counting and colors, they are random. After a while, especially if we're talking about children who can count or know their colors, it gets boring....and frustrating. Frustrating because you aren't using your skills to actually win.
I recommend games that actually work by skill. Here are some examples:
Animal Upon Animal- It's a game where you have to stack wooden blocks shaped like animals on top of each other. And even for an adult it's hard because it uses fine motor skills. There's no randomness about it.
Sorry Sliders- Based on the game Sorry, this game requires players to slide pieces across the board. It reminds me of air hockey, but you don't have to break the bank to get a special table.
Look for Children's Versions of Adult Games
Many game companies have taken popular children's games and modified them so that it's easier for younger players. They also are less random and work on cognitive skills.
Clue Jr.- Although we haven't let our children play this one on it's own, it's good for elementary kids. It's similar to the adult version of the game, Clue. We team up as a family so that in the future the children can play on their own (the youngest is three).
My First Carcassonne- This one is based on the adult game, Carcassonne, and requires children to build roads.
Modify the Rules of Adult Games
Many parents who are gamers want to play their favorite games with their children so if you click around on the Board Game Geek, you'll find modified rules to make it easier for younger children to play. My children recently played the adult game, Pandemic, with modified rules. Worked just fine.
Why Play Games
In addition to the skills I listed for toddlers, board games can actually teach children a variety of academic subjects. There are history games which often have maps so geography two-fer. There are games based on science. You just have to pick a subject and there are a ton of games available, which revolve around the subject but require skill of some kind.
There are also not just winner-loser type strategy games, but games that require cooperation in order to beat the game (ie cooperative games). So if you have a child that just can't handle winning and loosing to another person or a child who needs to work on social skills (ie working with others), then those games are great too.
Games are great to work with a variety of skill sets and work on a variety of skills. So I encourage all parents to think beyond Chutes and Ladders and other random games to find games that can teach your child more.