(Last Updated on January 31, 2024)
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One of the best ways I’ve found to get my kids interested in history (or any other subject, for that matter), has been by playing board games.
“Gameschooling” is becoming more popular lately, and I can see why! Kids retain content so much better when they’re engaged and having fun learning!
In a homeschool or classroom setting, games can be used as…
- a hook to get students interested in a new topic
- a fun break from the usual routine
- a way to learn or review material
No matter how you use them, board games are an effective, easy, and fun way to teach and learn!
US History Board Games for Kids
When it comes to the elementary and junior high levels, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of entertaining games to supplement our studies in math, science, geography, and other subjects. But, in my experience, it’s been a little more difficult to find history games that are appropriate for the 1st through 8th grade age group.
While there are many excellent history games out there, the intense topics, detailed content, and advanced difficulty level are often too much for the average eight or ten year old.
The following history games have made this list because both the subject matter and gameplay work well for the elementary and junior high age group.
Made for Trade is just like a field trip to a colonial village (without the commute)! The illustrated game board walks you through an early American town. Players buy, sell, and trade to obtain items from the various buildings in town, like the Glass Shop, Blacksmith, and General Store.
I love that this 2-6 player game includes instructions for three levels of gameplay, each tailored to different ages. The easiest level is for ages 8+, though I think younger kids could enjoy the game with a little help. It also includes instructions for a simple card game (similar to Spoons).
Note: If you play this game with very young children, be aware there is a Tavern and a Gaol (Jail) on the board, and little stocks drawn near the jail. But, it’s all very cartoony and I don’t find anything objectionable at all. The rule book actually provides a kid-friendly description of the tavern, jail, and stocks if your youngest kids notice them and get curious.
The rule book itself is a great teaching tool. It includes a mini-glossary of terms/objects of the time period. So, for example, under the Blacksmith section, the guide describes what an iron spider and a fire back were. In the Music Shop section, it explains a dulcimer and a pitch pipe, among other things. There were several items I’d never heard of, so I think kids (and adults) of all ages can learn something from this game.
Overall, Made for Trade really brings kids into early-American daily life, with an emphasis on the everyday items, village locations, and vocabulary of the time period.
I was so excited when I heard about The Oregon Trail Game! I have such fond memories of playing the old Oregon Trail computer game in social studies class as a kid! (Except when we died of dysentery… but, other than that, very fond memories.)
This newer version is a beautifully made board game. It’s set in 1848 and players are traveling west across the US from Independence, MO to Willamette Valley.
I really appreciate how detailed and comprehensive this game is. Some “history” games just have a generic theme, but this one fully immerses the players in the specific context of western expansion.
There is a harder learning curve in this game since there are many different elements to keep track of. It’s a tricky balance to make sure you have enough weapons, clothing, food, and medicine, given the limitations of your wagon space. There are are also terrain obstacles to navigate and unexpected events (like – you guessed it – dysentery).
Because of this complexity, the age rating is technically 14+. But it made it onto this list because many junior high students and even some 4th-6th grade kids who like complex strategy games would really enjoy The Oregon Trail Game once they get the hang of it.
I’m including this old-school, straightforward trivia game even though it isn’t too flashy and might be hard to find. We got our well-used copy at a garage sale, and I’ve seen it’s sometimes available at Rainbow Resource Center and on eBay, too.
It’s a very basic roll-and-move game. If you answer the trivia question correctly, you get to roll. If not, then you stay where you are.
What I like best about it is how it’s broken up into five major periods/events, each with a different bold-colored background on the game board. This really helps visual learners form a timeline in their head and connect the information to the correct time period. (This is the same reason my family has loved making history timelines in our homeschool – the visual ordering of all the names and events is so helpful for many students!)
The trivia categories covered are:
- Explorers 1400-1600
- American Colonies 1600-1700
- American Revolution 1775-1783
- Constitution 1787
- Civil War 1861-1865
This game is best used for review after learning things about the various time periods and events. And if younger students or siblings want to join in, I’ve found it’s helpful to give them clues, work in teams, or let them pick and choose questions to answer to help them feel more successful.
Overall, Way Back When in History is a fun supplement for reviewing American history up through the Civil War.
It can be difficult to find games for elementary and junior high students that cover the World Wars or war in general. The games out there tend to be battle/strategy games (like Risk or Axis & Allies) which are often too intense, too detailed, and too difficult for younger kids to play.
This WWII version of Monopoly is one of the few war-related board games I’ve seen that work for the younger age range. It’s a perfect way to introduce some of the major battles, terminology, and events of WWII in a way that’s not too overwhelming for 2nd and 3rd graders and up (the game says 8+, but my six and seven year old kids have enjoyed several different Monopoly versions with minimal guidance).
This could easily be used as a world history supplement as well, but it’s created from an American point of view and is ideal for a US history study of WWII.
I also love that the spaces on the board are chronological, ending with Victory in Europe and Victory over Japan (in lieu of Park Place and Boardwalk in traditional Monopoly). And, since many kids are already familiar with the gameplay of Monopoly, less time is needed to get up and running with America’s World War II Monopoly.
My kids (currently in 2nd, 6th, and 9th grades) all especially enjoy Stratego, a two player battle strategy game listed for ages 8+.
Before starting, players setup their pieces (which represent traditional military ranks like General, Colonel, Lieutenant, etc. plus specialty pieces like bombs, their flag, scouts, and a spy) however they desire, and then the battle beings. The goal is to capture the enemy’s flag by finding it on the game board.
Educators can easily use this game to correlate with whatever conflict they’re studying. Any battle within the American Revolution, the Civil War, or any other US history skirmish can be represented by the two sides in the game.
Despite the more generic theme, kids still learn a lot about military ranks, battle strategies, and terminology when playing Stratego.
If you’re not familiar with Professor Noggin’s games, they’re a series of cute, educational, trivia card games that come in practically every topic imaginable.
For supplementing US history studies there are several great options:
- History of the United States
- First Peoples of North America (hard to find… try eBay for this one)
- American Revolution
- Civil War
- Presidents of the United States
Each game has two different difficulty levels — “Student” (easier) and “Scholar” (harder) — and thirty cards per box (six questions per card makes 180 questions total). Their website includes a helpful list of all topics covered in each game, so educators can make sure the game will cover the topics they need.
I personally really appreciate the the dual levels – it makes it much easier for a parent to play with a child, or for mixed-age siblings to play together. The box suggests age 7+, but even younger kids could play this if they’re interested in the topic.
Professor Noggin’s small, inexpensive games are great for car rides, waiting room boredom busters, lesson review, or just a break from the usual routine.
Top Trumps is another series of themed card games with dozens of different versions to collect. We’ve owned several of the Top Trumps games over the years, and my kids have loved them all (although, I will say the Star Wars Episode IV-VI version is their all-time favorite).
The gameplay is like the traditional card game, War, where players battle with the values on their cards. But, in Top Trumps, the values are actually statistics about the card’s featured subject.
So, in the case of the United States Presidents version, the cards list stats for each President’s birth year, year they took office, electoral votes, etc. in addition to a photo and brief summary. Since players are just comparing numbers, they don’t need to know any of the trivia – but they’ll accidentally memorize it as they play!
Most versions I’ve seen are listed for ages six or seven and up, but kids can play as soon as they can read and understand which numbers are more or less than others. This makes it perfect for kids of different ages to play together.
Top Trumps games are quick to learn, easy to play, and very entertaining. My kids have picked up a lot of names, dates, and other facts after playing the games just a few times!
I hope some of these game suggestions for US history board games for elementary and junior high kids have been helpful!
If you’ve got high school students (or pre-teens who enjoy more complex games), these videos by Lakeside Gamer are another great resource for US history game ideas for older kids!
If you’re ready for more great educational game ideas for younger kids, check out these other posts in the Games for Kids series:
- US Geography Board Games for Kids
- World History Board Games for Kids
- World Geography Board Games for Kids
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