We watched Back to the Future on my birthday because… well, do I really need a reason?

The plot gave me an idea for a simple game: Child travels back in time and she has to convince Mom and Daddy to make the right decisions so that she can be born. In the movie, Marty has to convince his mom and dad to get together before he disappears from the family photo. So, I wrote down Child’s name (3 letters, though your child’s name may be longer) and made the 5 cards below. The aim was to try and get the card with the date of Child’s birth before all of the letters in her name got erased.

A family member
recently succumbed to cancer of the esophagus.
Child had many questions about his life and his death which I answered
as best I could. She seemed to have some
very specific concerns: the first being the fact that he was so young when he
died, specifically, he was the same age as Child’s father. Child wanted to be reassured that her father
would not get cancer and wanted to know the causes. Then she wanted to know what happens inside
the body when one gets cancer. This
comes partly from a concern about our dog who also has cancer. Finally, she wanted to know about cures. Child already understands how the different
elements of the immune system react to harmful viruses and bacteria; but the
immune system doesn’t respond to cancer because it spreads through cell
division.

This game is meant
to explain the biological aspects of cancer: how it blocks healthy cells and
how chemotherapy kills off both cancerous and healthy cells. It is not a precise or detailed simulation,
but it is enough to give a child the basic idea of what sort of a disease it
is.

To play, you will
need a pencil, a hundred board (such as the one below), a set of cards numbered
1-100 (shuffled), and “cells” cards such as the ones below.

The game is
co-operative, though you may take turns to draw and play.

To play:

Shuffle the “cells”
cards and draw one.

If
it says “healthy cells”: draw two number cards and draw Xs on every number
between the two numbers. For example, if
you draw 63 and 71, draw Xs on 63, 64, 65…71.
However, if any of the numbers already contains a cancer cell, you write
no Xs, and lose your turn. If your
healñthy cell was laid down before you draw the cancer cell, then only the cell
with the number corresponding to the cancer cell is transformed from X to O.

If
it says “cancer cells”: draw 10 number cards and make Os on the corresponding
squares.

If
it says “chemotherapy”: draw a number card and erase any Xs or Os on all of the
numbers from 1 to the number drawn.

Keep playing until
the board is complete. If the healthy
cells outnumber the cancer cells, you win.

Sometimes small numbers are harder than big numbers. That’s because kids don’t necessarily learn
math in a linear fashion. Child can
easily tell if I try to cheat her out of $20 when I owe her $750 in Monopoly
rent, but still stumbles over 8+1.

To remedy this, I came up with a simple game I call “Adjacents”. Each player gets four cards, of which they
need to make adjacent pairs. The game is
short and each round will not take longer than 3-4 minutes, though you can play
several rounds.

For example: 4+3 and 2+6 make adjacent pairs (4+3=7 and 2+6=8; 7 and 8
are adjacent numbers).

To play:

Deal four cards to each player, which they spread face up before them in
any order. They take turns to draw from
the deck and discard one of their so that they always have four cards until one
player has two adjacent pairs.

Added
challenge:

The cards
are dealt face down in a row. Players
may peek at the two outside cards once, and they may obviously look at the
cards they draw before placing them face down.
This way, players have to remember what they have and mentally check the
math.

Hundred boards are an excellent way to help children develop number
sense. In this game, they have to work
out where a given number might be.

Write the numbers 1-100 on cards and have your child arrange them on the
floor. Hide a surprise under each
number: a coin, a candy, a card with silly instructions such as “hop on one
foot” or “kiss mom”.

Write two sets of the numbers 0-9 on cards and put them in a bag or
shuffle them in a deck.

The first player draws two numbers and arranges them as they choose, so
for example, if you draw a 2 and an 8, you can have 28 or 82. Find the number and see what’s underneath! Play to an agreed-upon stopping point, or play
until you’ve finished the whole board.

One simple DIY game is to make or find 4 dice-sized cubes out of paper or wood. On one die, write the numbers 1-6 and on the second, 6-12: these will represent the hours. One the remaining two dice, write 00, 05, 10, 15, 20 etc. If you have two players, each player takes one “hour” die and one “minute” die.

Choose a time at random,
draw it on an analog clock, and see if a single player can make the time or if
they need to work together to do it. If
the player does it alone, they get the point; if they do it together, they both
get the point. End the game when someone
reaches 12 points.

You need paper cut up into about 8 squares. On one of them draw a heart. You also need four dice.

We
were practicing four digit numbers, so the obvious game is to roll four
dice and write the biggest number you can to beat the other player.
But then you draw a card, and if you get the heart, you double your
number to win!