Dice Play for Toddlers and Preschoolers

July 15th, 2010 by Dionna | 12 Comments
Posted in Children, Eclectic Learning, Preschoolers, Toddlers

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2010-07-15 01

Kieran playing his favorite game - Yahtzee!

Kieran has been fascinated with dice since before he was two years old. He loves the combination of the sounds of clinking dice, the dots on them, and the colors (we have red, green, and white dice). I didn’t give him dice as an educational activity, but just for fun, here are a few ways that dice play can benefit toddlers and preschoolers.

Dice Play Can Help Develop Motor Skills

Before toddlers can count (but after they are past the danger of mouthing dice1), dice play can be a good way to practice developing fine motor skills. It takes some concentration to pick up, hold, and toss several small dice. These fine motor skills will continue to develop for the next several years, and handling/manipulating small objects like dice are an important part of that development.

Fine Motor Skills Dice Game: Moving Marbles

Items needed: one die (dice), marbles, an ice cube tray, a melon or cookie dough scooper

Advanced play: Take turns throwing the die. Count the dots. Using the scooper, scoop as many marbles out of the ice cube tray as are indicated by the die.

Easier play: For toddlers who can’t count yet, let them watch/help you count the dots on the die. You can put the marbles in a bowl if the tray compartments make it too hard to scoop the marbles. For toddlers who are not coordinated enough to scoop yet, let them use their fingers to move the marbles.

Gross Motor Skills Dice Game: Animal Planet

Items needed: one die, paper and pen, (optional) 6 different animal stickers or pictures to afix to the paper

Play: Assign a number from one to six to six different animals. I used an old children’s magazine and cut out pictures of a lion, a kangaroo, a fish, a cat, an elephant, and a monkey. Roll the die. The number on the die coordinates to an animal – everyone gets up and acts like that animal for a minute. Next person rolls, repeat.

Optional: instead of using a small die and paper, get a small box and tape the animal pictures to each side of the box. Act like whatever animal is up when they roll. The larger box and the “acting” will both help develop gross motor skills.

Dice Play Can Develop Math Skills

You can count the dots on the side of the dice even before your toddler is counting. And once he learns to count, you can expand your dice play. “Games with dice, or with tokens that progress around a path, help children learn number recognition and make the concrete connection to the meaning of numerical concepts. Children responding to “Move two spaces” or “Go back three” are actually learning simple addition and subtraction.”2

Easy Math Skills Game: Mountain

Items needed: one die, paper and pen (use this to draw a mountain, then  write the numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 up to the top of the mountain – 6 being at the very top – then 5 4 3 2 1 back down the mountain on the other side; or you can just print this printable)

Play: The object of the game is to get up and back down your mountain (each player has her own mountain). Taking turns, roll until you get a one – you can cross off the one or use a game piece to mark the number one. Then roll for a two, three, etc. The site I found this game on talks about “winners” and who can climb their mountain “first,” you can easily do this game without declaring a “winner” by just continuing on until everyone has had enough.

Dice Play Can Develop Language Skills

Using several dice, you can help your little one start learning patterns and sequences. Sequencing and ordering are building blocks of language development (think of how our brains have to arrange letters to form words).

Language Skills Game: Simple Yahtzee

Items needed: five dice, paper and pen (we usually use a large MagnaDoodle when we play – this is Kieran’s current favorite game)

Play: Here is a link to the traditional form of Yahtzee. You can modify these rules to your child’s level. We play to get 2 pair, 3 of a kind, 4 of a kind, full house, small and large straights (we used to just look for any kind of straight, now Kieran can differentiate), and Yahtzee. We do not try to get the most number of 1’s, 2’s, etc. We do the traditional three rolls. We do not play to “win,” we just play and see what we can get on each roll. So, for example, in traditional Yahtzee if you don’t get anything on your turn, you’d have to mark a “zero” next to one of your boxes. We don’t do that. We often have multiple full houses and 3 of a kind’s. It doesn’t matter – we just play until Kieran gets tired of rolling.

What kind of dice games do you play with your toddler or preschooler?

We Play

  1. Obviously only parents can make the call on whether their little ones are ready for dice, and it is an activity that should be supervised.
  2. Alvin Poussaint, M.D. and Susan Linn, Ed.D., Puzzles and Games for Preschoolers

12 Responses to:
"Dice Play for Toddlers and Preschoolers"

  1. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    Fun ideas! I especially love the animal game. Once my son is to a point I know he won’t eat the dice, we’ll have to try it :)

  2. Rebecca


    We have a game similar to this, that amelia LOVES loves LOVES, our’s is just the box with two wooden dice (though that little pad there for rolling on would be great). And she will play by herself and with us for hours.

  3. Melodie   bfmom

    Fantastic ideas. If I didn’t just realize all our games with dice in them are packed and in the city already I would have totally pulled this out today. Thanks for this for future reference.

  4. Catherine   adventureskids

    I see your simple Yahtzee in my future. My 4yo son has actually been asking me to teach him the grown up version for a while. He has always loved to play dice games – he makes up heaps of games. Most often he just rolls the dice and makes a tally of what number he rolled.

  5. Amber   AmberStrocel

    We actually threw our dice out, after fishing them out of my toddler’s mouth one too many times. He doesn’t tend to eat small objects, but for some reason he thinks dice are DELICIOUS. So weird.

  6. Melissa   vibreantwanderer

    These games all sounds great! I’m putting them in my bag o’tricks to try when my daughter is a bit older. Thank you!

  7. Melin

    These are great ideas! My son loves to play with dice. However, things still make their way to his mouth. I may try it the next time Yahtzee or Boggle are out. He would LOVE the marble game as he loves those too, but they are upstairs in the “Choking Hazard Box”

  8. great idea!!! that is something I have never thought of…I might have to go out and get some dice for my son tomorrow :)

  9. Being the eldest of 5 you can imagine what family Yahtzee games were like! They were mostly played when we were on holiday and in our caravan … the memories! :)

    I love the Animal Planet game! I am thinking of making a super-sized die out of one of recycling boxes and playing it at Princess’ birthday party. Nothing to keep kids occupied then letting them run around and scream like a bunch of monkeys! LOL

  10. Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)   ALotofLoves

    My preschooler hasn’t seen dice. I just can’t risk them being out since my toddler refuses to accept that you can’t eat everything you see. I hope she gets over this oral fixation soon but until she does no dice for him!

  11. Marita   leechbabe

    Lots of fabulous dice games. Thank you. I’m going to be bookmarking this page for future play with my girls :)

  12. Christie - Childhood 101   childhood101

    What a great compilation of dice games, I honestly have never thought to introduce Immy to a die yet (isn’t that terrible!).

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