One of my favorite games is Nim, which is excellent for exercising and developing the logical-mathematical intelligence. Nim is extremely versatile and parents, teachers and children can invent and play their own versions, using simple materials. The game can be made easy enough for early childhood or to challenge older children and adults. Probably originating in ancient China, this strategy game has been studied by psychologists and mimicked digitally. Here’s an example of an advanced Nim game you can find online: http://www.archimedes-lab.org/game_nim/play_nim_game.html
Simplest version. Find or make ten similar objects. (For very young children, use fewer objects. For intermediate students, use more.) Ideas:
- bottle caps
Objects can be lined up or put in any desired configuration.
O O O O O O O O O O
- Two people play and take turns, including who goes first.
- On your turn, take away 1 or 2 of the objects.
- Whoever takes the last 1 or 2 objects wins. (Notice it does not matter how many you have in all!)
As you and children play, you will begin noticing patterns and making hypotheses: “If I do this, then he might do this…” If exercised enough, these mental activities (and not just winning the game) will enrich the brain’s ability to think through problems and strategies of all kinds.
To make the game more fun, make objects that relate to current studies in class or subjects the child loves. For example, after reading “Swimmy” by Leo Lionni, or observing fish in a pond or bowl, you might make little fish for the children to “catch” as they play Nim.
Poison. A fun version of Nim is played with 9 cookies (or objects) of one color or kind and one cookie that is different. The different cookie is the “poison.” The game is played with the same rules except, this time, the one who takes the “poison” loses. I have played this with older kids before or after reading a mystery story or novel and/or analyzing an imaginary crime scene and using forensic clues to figure out “whodunnit?”
Circle Nim. To complicate the game even more, make a game board with 9-12 boxes drawn in a circle (perhaps to resemble a Ferris wheel.) Place a small counter on each box. In this version, use the original rules but add a rule: If you take two, they must be adjacent (right next to each other) on the circle. This brings in more visual-spatial thinking to mix with the logical-mathematical!
Pyramid Nim. An even more complicated version of the game is to arrange the objects in rows, wherein each row has a different number of objects. (It helps to color-coordinate the objects in each row.) This can be done as shown in the illustration or in the electronic version, but actually you can have as many in each row as you wish. The rules are the original rules with this change: On your turn, you can take as many objects as you wish, but they must all be from the same row. (You don’t have to take the entire row, however. So if the row has four objects, on your turn you can take 1, 2, 3, or 4 from that row—as you wish.)
If your child becomes frustrated with the game, try using fewer objects or playing a simpler version. If your child is bored, use more objects or try a harder version. If your child is still bored—no problem. Let him suggest a game to play!