Simple Games for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Kieran is big into games, and he has been ever since he was about 24 months old. Here are some of our favorites, appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers (and just in time for the holidays – what a fun family gift to give and receive!).
Items needed: nothing! But you could use animal stickers/pictures to help give you ideas if you needed them.
Play: Individuals (or teams if you have enough people) take turns acting like an animal, the other players (or team members) try to guess what animal the person is portraying. No sounds are allowed.
Remember: Be gentle with your little one, who will very likely either make the animal noise or actually tell you what animal he is acting out (um, yeah, Kieran does that. It’s pretty hard to “guess” when you know what he is.) Just act surprised and give up on the rules if your little one isn’t ready for them – she’ll have fun regardless!
Items needed: Matching cards – either homemade or bought
Play: Place pairs of matching cards upside down. Players take turns turning two cards over at a time to make a match.
Remember: Your little one cares much more about the matches than the taking turns part. When we play this game (with the traditional Memory cards), we all take turns, but as soon as we turn over a card where Kieran remembers its match, he takes great joy in finding the matching piece himself. I have no problem with this, because hey – it’s his memory that I’m trying to develop, not mine.
Hi Ho Cherry-O
Items needed: Hi Ho Cherry-O game
Play: Yep, it’s the Hi Ho Cherry-O from our youth. It’s a big hit with the 2-4 year old crowd these days too! When Kieran was still on the younger side of two, we did more free play with the fruit – taking it out (and counting), putting it back (and counting), spinning the spinner for fun, etc. Now that he is more “rules-oriented,” we do use the spinner. Our play is a little different from the official rules, each time that we the spinner lands on the dog or bird, it’s “try again” rather than “lose a turn.”
Remember: For toddlers and preschoolers, rules simply aren’t always on their radar. The point of playing games together at this age is to have fun, not to “teach them rules.” They’ll pick up the rules in good time, so relax!1
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 rules for 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.
Simple Numbers Dice Game
Items needed: one or two dice, paper and pen
Play: This is an easy and fun way to learn how to “read” dice and practice numbers. On a piece of paper, make a grid – on the top put the players’ names, on the left side write the numbers 1-6 (for one die) or 1-12 (for two dice). Players take turns rolling and making an “X” by the number that they roll. The goal is to get all of your boxes filled (to roll every number from 1-6 or 1-12).
Remember: You don’t have to play to “win” or “lose,” you can just make multiple “X’s” in your boxes and keep playing until everyone has filled up their squares.
Hungry, Hungry Hippo
Items needed: Hungry, Hungry Hippo game
Play: This game is a fun way to release some pent-up energy without tearing the whole house up. We don’t actually own this game (although I think he might be getting it for Christmas), Kieran plays it when he visits a friend’s house and loves it every time. The repetitive motions, the noise, the satisfaction of seeing a hippo eat a marble and poop it out (yes, it plays into a child’s fascination with bodily functions), all of it adds up to a pretty good time.
Remember: As with all games with small pieces, stay with your child if he is likely to put things in his mouth. I’ve also read some negative reviews about the new Hungry, Hungry Hippo game – parents are upset that the game falls apart too easily, especially since many kids will play roughly with it.
What are your little one’s favorite games?
- To learn more about how you can parent playfully – even in the context of “breaking the rules,” see Chapter 11 of Playful Parenting, “Learn to Love the Games You Hate.” An excerpt: “Sometimes children will want to use their PlayTime to be completely in charge of the rules. They may want you to follow the rules exactly, or they may want you to break the rules and be punished. Adult involvement is crucial here, because other children will never allow your child to have so much power.” ↩
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"Simple Games for Toddlers and Preschoolers"
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