* Prices may differ from that shown
I remember playing Kerplunk when I was a child and used to love it. I know own the travel version as I've been trying to get more and more games for travelling as think they will really help on long journeys for me and my children when they are old enough. I managed to pick this up for under £5 so not bad at all.
The idea of the game of Kerplunk is very simple in essence. You have to push plastic straws through the bottom of a plastic dish with many holes in it. They should be inserted in such a way that they are in a criss-cross type pattern and create almost a net effect. You then have a set of marbles. They are all placed on top of this net of straws. As you have inserted all the straws the marbles will not fall through as they are on top of the criss-cross pattern. Then the fun part begins and each player must take turns to pull out a straw without dislodging any marbles causing them to fall. This is the hard part as it goes on and you have to really think about which ones can be removed without allowing anything to fall. At the end of the game the player that has let fewest marbles fall is the winner.
I really love this game for a few reasons. Firstly, certainly for kids there's nothing worse than a game that drags on for hours. You want something quick to play, but also something that they will want to come back to time and again. This game is short to play and should only take about 5-10 minutes per game really. It helps in particular with children in their learning and movement skills. It is a game that really gets you thinking and great fun in the process.
The only drawback of this game and the travel version is that there are alot of fiddly parts that you have to put together to set up the game so you may get fed up with that at times. But once it is set up and you start playing it's quite addictive and very funny as each player sweats in turn about their go.
*I'm tallulahbang in other quarters but this is just for the Dooyooers, because you're special*
For anyone who didn't read my earlier review on Connect 4, I work as a special needs outreach teacher, which means I see children with a variety of conditions ranging from autistic spectrum disorders to dyspraxia. Generally, the children I work with have an IQ of 75 or lower.
For this group, games that can be played quickly between 2 or 3 people are invaluable. They are fun and support a wide range of development from language to fine motor control. Additionally, children tend to see them as a 'reward' so they are a good incentive to complete a written task.
Ker-Plunk is a time honoured classic that has been around since before I was a small child (and that's 30 years - eek!). The premise of the game is fairly simple: plastic straws are inserted though the bottom of a holed plastic dish in a criss-cross pattern to create a mesh. This is then placed on top of a short plastic cylinder, which, in turn, fits on top of a plastic base. When the mesh is made and the game is secured onto the base, a set of small plastic marbles (all blue apart from one 'golden ball') are placed on top of the mesh. Players take turns to pull out a straw trying not to dislodge any marbles. Any marbles that do fall are collected in numbered bays that are assigned to each player. Play continues until all the straws have been removed and the marbles have fallen. The player at the end who has knocked down the fewest marbles, wins.
Variations on the game can be played that involve:
-players being only allowed to pick a certain colour of straw,
-the golden ball can +/- 10 points to whoever receives it, or the order of play can reverse after it drops,
-the golden ball can mean an automatic win/lose to whoever receives it.
Don't be fooled by the relative simplicity of this game - it's a valuable addition to anyone's board games cupboard for the following reasons:
*Game play is short, lasting comfortably under 5 minutes. It is, therefore, great as a reward.
*It encourages the development of fine motor control, and, in particular, the pincer grip. Because the straws are quite small (about the thickness of cocktail sticks) and placed close together, children must grip them with their thumb and forefinger. This grip is a vital precursor to the three fingered tripod grip which children need in order to grasp a pencil effectively. Additionally, the fact that marbles often end up balanced quite precariously atop a network of straws means that dyspraxic children will need to slow their movements down and think carefully about their muscle control.
*The game can be a little fiddly to set up, as the straws must be distributed evenly through the holes. However, the children can help with this and it will assist even further with fine motor control development.
*The concept that most isn't necessarily best can be taught. For younger children this can be a tricky idea to explain, but it becomes much easier to grasp when they see it in action.
*Although the game can be played with up to four people, each person's 'go' is relatively quick - lasting only as long as it takes to pull a straw out and collect any marbles that have fallen - so children don't have to wait long for their turn. This is helpful for children on the autistic spectrum who may have difficulty taking turns/waiting for their turn.
*The straws are 4 different colours which can be useful in teaching children colour names. This can also be used to differentiate the game for more able children: players can be allotted a specific colour and may only choose straws of that colour, or they may be allotted a colour that they are not allowed to choose.
*For slightly more able children the game encourages the development of theory of mind and strategic thinking. To really do well at the game, children must consider which straws their opponent is likely to choose and whether it is better to choose a straw that will knock one marble down for them but also break up a clump of marbles that their opponent is then likely to knock down on their next turn.
*The development of basic mathematical skills and language can be developed. Children can count the straws as they are put in place, make estimates before the game begins about how many marbles they/their opponent will knock down, compare each player's score at the end and calculate the difference between each player's number of marbles. Concepts such as 'most', 'fewest', 'more', 'less' can be explored and demonstrated in a concrete way.
*The travel version is designed for everything to fit together in a very clever and secure way, which greatly reduces the risk of straws and marbles going missing.
This is another of the travel games which reside in my bag on a daily basis. It is light, portable, good fun and can be easily differentiated. Even though the concept is so simple, children of all ages and abilities really enjoy it. I play it against a five year old who squeals with delight when he wins, but also have a group of two very grown up 11 year old boys who aren't above pleading for just one more game of Ker-Plunk.
As ever, there are always a few words of caution:
I play it with children aged 5 and up, but would never leave them unsupervised with the game as the marbles are *just* the right size to be wedged up a nostril/choked on.
If your child's fine motor control is not developed to the point where they can pick up and lift a pencil using their thumb and forefinger, this game will not be suitable and is likely to leave them immensely frustrated. Large-size Jenga is a better place to start until they have established reliable muscle control in their arms and hands.
Whilst modeling desired behaviour - like good sportsmanship - is a good idea, try not to be too specific about your academic outcomes. Nothing puts a child off a game like thinking that you might try and sneak some learning in. The phrase 'right, we're going to play Ker-Plunk and learn how to estimate with numbers less than 20!' is the guaranteed cue for a very bored child. If the game is fun first and foremost, the child will absorb you talking about colour names or maths concepts almost subconsciously.
You can usually pick up the travel version of this game in Smyths or Toys 'R' Us as part of a '2 travel games for £5' deal. The larger size game will cost in the region of £12-13. As long as care is taken with the straws and marbles, the game is durable enough to last through many years of play.