For me, games sometimes save an otherwise bad day. If things are tanking, people are fighting or yelling, sometimes I will pull out the games. It generally picks up the mood. It also tends to aid brother and sister relations when those are really bad.
We have a lot of games. These aren't all of them. :) I scourge thrift stores (checking to make sure the pieces are all there before we buy), shop the $5 games sales around Christmas time, and get recommendations for especially fun ones from friends on line. For those, amazon and google are a life line.
Some are stereotypically "educational" and some are educational as used. Regardless, they are all fun generally.
Zhara has been wanting to get better at math. She is also very obsessed with mythology, so a friend suggested finding Mythmatical Battles. I ordered them, and Zhara is loving playing this game. It's a two player game, so it requires some time sans little kids interrupting, but we are making it work. It is really helping her multiplication skills, and has spurred her on to want to memorize her times tables. So each morning, I am writing out a set, yesterday was the 2s, today the 3s. She looks at them and works on them throughout day, and then at night when we're reading books, she recites them to Adam and I. There's no expectation that she has to do them in a certain amount of time. Basically, it's for her to be able to play the game faster, so she's motivated to do it.
This look does not appear that she is loving the game, but actually she's just mad because I have stolen one of her favorite cards as part of the game. We also, just yesterday, got Zeus on the Loose in the mail. This is also a mythology math-based card game, but focuses instead on addition and subtraction. She loves it just as much, and it's really improving her mental math skills.
You don't have to have a "specialized" game to learn these kinds of skills while having fun, though. Zhara's been wanting to improve her spelling so she can do more on the computer without asking me for help, so we have been working some on it by playing scrabble.
But don't be confined to using games in only the way that the makers intended. Here, Wednesday is practicing ordering her ABCs using the scrabble tiles.
Sometimes the best games are ones we totally invent ourselves. Here's one we played today, that I made up on the fly. We took cookie sheets (one for everyone -- I bought some super cheap ones at Wal-Mart awhile ago that we reserve for playing with magnets). Several packs of dollar store magnetic letters, some manipulative counting bears we've had forever, and a pack of dollar store ABC flash cards.
Each person liked playing, because, despite the fact that they are vastly differing ages, each one got to do something different. I held up a flashcard with a letter on it. They searched for the letter in the pile, found, and placed it on their cookie sheet the right way up.
Then for Wednesday we would ask, what letter is it, what sounds does it make, and can you think of a word that starts with that letter. She is working on learning her letters and sounds, so it was a good fit for her.
For Angus we would ask, the letter, the sound, a word that starts with that letter, and whether it was a consonant or a vowel. He's got most of his letters, but needs work on their sounds, and what category they fall into.
For Zhara, we would ask, what letter is it, what sound does it make, what's a word that starts with that letter, and how do you spell that word. She is wanting to work on spelling, so that is helpful for her.
When they got those things (or close, with help), they would earn a manipulative bear. It was a big hit, and will be played again for sure. We didn't even count the bears at the end, it didn't matter, they were basically just to keep Angus from angrily competing during the game (which tends to happen if he's not "earning things" as we go along). And it worked.
Zhara then made up a card game. Sometimes these games are more well received than others, but she was able to wrangle both Wednesday and I into playing.
Wednesday liked it. Can you tell?