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Sudoku for Kids (10 Steps): Explain and Teach Your Child How to Play Sudoku

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Sudoku is often recommended as a fun game for kids to play when they’re bored. Besides being a good recreation option, it also serves as a learning opportunity. Parents or teachers can help children learn to identify and recognize numbers by telling them precisely which to choose and where to place within the grid. Even the youngest learners can learn to count and recognize numbers by using sudoku tiles. With age, kids start to understand patterns in the way tiles are placed rather than strictly following numerical order.

Sudoku can be incredibly beneficial for kids as they learn to rationalize, recognize errors quickly, and develop problem-solving skills. Through this practice, they also learn to make decisions and deal with their mistakes without stressing too much. It prepares them to be adaptable when dealing with challenging situations.

Making mistakes, anticipating outcomes, and paying attention to detail are essential skills that otherwise might be tricky to establish in children. Sudoku aims to determine which numbers fit in each empty square by using logic and the process of elimination. There is no right or wrong way to solve a Sudoku puzzle. This puzzle will challenge students to think outside the box and solve it in different ways.

These are ten ways you can teach children how to play Sudoku:

1. Show them the goal. 

It’s essential you start with the basics first, rather than solving the puzzle right away. In typical Sudoku, the goal is to find the proper placement for the numbers 1 through 9 in each row, column, and square. All nine numbers must be used, and none can be repeated.

2. Try using pictures instead of numbers.

If your child is intimidated by numbers, try using pictures instead. The goal will remain the same, and you’ll just be replacing the numerical figures with something more familiar to your child. When people see a game that involves numbers, they immediately connect it with math. However, Sudoku has nothing to do with mathematical theories.

3. Start with an easy grid. 

You can start with a 3×3 or 4×4 grid that is less complex than the traditional 9×9 grids. Be sure the child understands the difference between a row and a column, horizontal and vertical, how they relate to each other, and recognize and identify each number. Explain that they will only use numbers 1 through 3 or 1 through 4, respectively. They will need to figure out how to get all of the pieces on the board without having more than one of each number in every square, row, and column.

4. Choose a row that already has some numbers.

This step will show kids the process of elimination and narrowing down the possibilities. Show them that there are several numbers already in place, which will guide them toward solving the remainder of the puzzle. Look at the rows that already have one or two numbers in them, and then consider which ones might fit in the empty boxes. 

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Then, ask your child if they can recognize which number is missing from the row. Try not to help them right away. Allow them some time to think, analyze and come to a conclusion. Another way to help your kids recognize which numbers go is by placing the wrong one on purpose. See if they can correct you. If your child is still struggling after a while, suggest a few ways that they can find the missing numbers. 

5. Find the correct numbers by looking at the columns.

Take a close look at the column intersecting the empty box you are focusing on. Note which numbers appear more than once and explain that they can only be repeated once in each column, row, and block. It automatically eliminates one of the number options if that number already appears since, if you wrote it in, it would be repeated. By checking for other numbers that already exist in each cell, you will be reinforcing the concept of the process of elimination.

6. Analyze the box containing the empty space. 

Analyzing the empty spaces and the numbers around the cell you want to fill will give you clues. If one or more of the number options for a space is already in the box, they cannot be repeated and will therefore be eliminated as possibilities. Show your kids which numbers are already repeated and why the number options you have make sense.

7. Repeat this procedure for each row. 

Players may need to go back and forth when playing Sudoku. It is not always possible for them to fill out every row immediately. Sometimes it is necessary to move on to a different area and return to a row after missing numbers are discovered. If any columns do not have numbers on them, repeat the same procedure and use rows and boxes as clues. Show your kid how to locate missing numbers in the boxes, and use the rows and columns to figure out number placement.

8. Use the numbers you filled in as clues.

Once your children get their Sudoku momentum going, they will keep adding numbers to the grid, which will lock in numbers and reveal where other numbers should be placed on cells. This will also give your children a sense of accomplishment and encouragement to keep going.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

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Teach your children that mastering Sudoku takes time and practice. Encourage them to keep trying and progress to more complex levels as they feel comfortable and need extra challenges. It will keep their minds sharp and prevent them from feeling bored. 

There are several free Sudoku resources online, but you can also buy activity books that are affordable and come with hundreds of puzzles. There are even many apps that they can download on their phones and tablets, and easily take them everywhere they go. 

10. Use pencil and eraser to play Sudoku.

A pencil and an eraser allow the player to change answers. A child could also write down the possibilities and then erase them when the correct solution is found. Using a pencil helps children feel safe making a mistake because they know they can fix it later.

All in all

Sudoku gives kids the opportunity to learn logical thinking, a skill that has been demanded more and more each day. Analyzing and solving problems requires the ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. Knowing why specific effects exist and being accurate are essential life skills.

Besides, Sudoku is a very accessible game. Many Sudoku puzzle books are available on the internet; you can print many of them for free or by paying a small fee. You can also buy inexpensive puzzle books at a grocery or department store. Some versions contain picture clues that can guide beginners to more complex numbers grids for kids who don’t like numbers.