Finding engaging games to play with toddlers and preschoolers that are not excessively tedious for the adults can be a challenge. Memory, Candy Land, and Chutes and Ladders are classics and likely in any collection with young kids. I can vouch that they are in my kids’ collection too! There are many more games to choose from that are engaging for young players. These games have are appealing, have cute themes, and you will enjoy playing with your toddler and preschooler.
Games for Two-Year Olds
By the age of two children are beginning to develop skills that allow them to begin playing board games designed for them. First they have some beginning fine motor skills. Those are skills involving the hands and fingers, such a building a tower of 4 blocks or scribbling with a crayon (hopefully on paper not your walls!) Besides their motor skills two-year-olds can follow directions with two steps (such as, go in the bathroom and get out your toothbrush). These early skills in following directs means they can begin learning games with just a few steps and rules. Other early skills they have that can be incorporated into board games to reinforce and build success include: sorting shapes/colors, counting up to three, simple puzzles, and early problem solving skills.
At this age, children have a very short stamina for activities and also struggle with sharing. The following games are geared for these youngest games and tap into their early skills as well as support skills that need to be developed.
Panda’s Picnic in the Park is a matching game for players age two and up. The game comes in a picnic basket and players take turns pulling items out of the basket and matching them with things on their plate. There are multiple ways to play. Learning skills include: Color and Shape. Pretend play, turn taking, gross and fine motor skills, and vocabulary building. Buy Panda’s Picnic here on Amazon.
My Very First Games: First Orchard
My Very First Games: First Orchard is a cooperative game where players are trying to collect all the fruit before the raven reaches the end of the path. The game has large brightly colored wooden fruit and a chunky wooden raven. The path and orchard are easy to set up and reinforces sorting skills. This is a simplified version of Haba’s Orchard game. Buy My Very First Game: First Orchard here on Amazon.
My Very First Games: Animal Upon Animal Jr.
My Very First Games: Animal Upon Animal Junior combines three animal games in one. With chunky pieces and only about a 10 minute playtime, it is a good fit for the very youngest gamers. Toddlers can develop their fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. These gameplay options also help develop observation skills. The rules allow for one to four players which can help provide experiences playing by the rules of the game. Buy My Very First Games: Animal Upon Animal here on Amazon.
Games for Three-Year Olds
Children at the age of three have gained some more skills. There are more options for board games that tap into their skills as well as reinforce skills that may still be challenging. Their play skills have advanced and they are more likely to join children playing rather than playing along side. Three-year-olds are able to follow two to three step directions.
Language skills typically have developed to the point where they can answer questions that include what, when, why, and where. By the age of 3 they are beginning to be able to name their emotions and can tell you if they are sad, happy, etc. Games geared for this age can help develop skills with opposites, matching, and problem solving. Many games for this age tap into their beginning skills and can foster strengthening those skills.
Bandit’s Memory Mix Up
Bandits Memory Mix Up is a game for two to four players ages three and up which challenges memory. This game has players take the spy glass and placed five garden tiles inside then shake it up. Then one player removes One garden tile secretly. The challenge: remembering the removed tile. The first player to identify the missing tile wins. There are also variants which support solo and large group play. Play reinforces the skills of turn-taking, visual discrimination, and memory. Buy Bandit’s Memory Mix Up here on Amazon.
Smoosh and Seek Treehouse
Smoosh and Seek Treehouse is a cooperative game for 2 to 4 players ages 3 and up. In this game players are working together to find all the different Woodland animals playing hide and seek in the tree before Mr. Prickles climbs the ladder. Players worked together to remember the location of the different seekers when they think they have located a seeker they state who they think it is pick up the disk and smash it into the smash to to reveal who’s hiding. If they successfully find a hide or they place a token to show that seekers has been found. Game play reinforces memory, simple strategy, cooperation and fine-motor skills. Buy Smoosh and Seek Treehouse here on Amazon.
Unicorn Glitterluck is a roll and move game with some added components for ages 3 and up. Players move their unicorns along the path and collect crystals. If they land on a crystal image they have to roll a special die to find out how many crystals to take. The player to reach the sun first ends the game and players count their crystals. The player with the most crystals wins. The back of the game board also has a counter track so players can lay out their crystals by the player and visually see who has the most. Buy Unicorn Glitterluck here on Amazon.
The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game
The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game is where you are collecting acorns to feed your hungry squirrel. At the beginning of each turn you spin the spinner and that dictated the color acorn you can take or if another event occurs. If a player lands on a storm cloud their acorns get blown back onto the tree. A sad squirrel means you lose a turn. The thieving squirrel picture allows the player to steal one acorn from another player. The first person to fill their log with acorns wins. Buy The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game here on Amazon.
Educational Insights have developed a line of games with a squeezer that also include: Hoppy Floppy Happy Hunt, Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game, Shelby’s Snack Shack Game, and Sophie’s Seashell Scramble.
“In this cooperative counting game, players work as a team to help the bunny pick the best carrots from the farmer’s garden. Each turn, one player picks a number of carrots from the garden and sorts them into two piles, one for the bunny and one for the farmer. At the end of the game, everyone helps line up the piles for comparison. If the bunny’s line is longer, the players win! The durable carrot pieces are firmly planted inside the box, so the self-contained game helps little hands develop fine motor skills.” Buy Happy Bunny here on Amazon.
Snug as a Bug in a Rug
Snug as a Bug in a Rug is a cooperative game for player ages 3 and up. The game is also designed with three levels of play to increase difficulty as players get older. The bugs in the game have multiple features. They are different colors, have shapes, have different numbers of shapes, and have large or small eyes.
The basic gameplay has the players roll the specialized die to determine the attribute they are looking for in their bug and then spin the spinner to specify the attribute. For example, if they roll the color attribute on the die, the spinner would tell them to find the blue bug. Once they find a bug with that attribute it goes under the rug (the game board). If there are no bugs that match that feature a stink bug is placed on the rug. The game ends when all the bugs are under the run, which means players win, or there are three stink bugs on the rug. Buy Snug as a Bug in a Rug here on Amazon.
Count Your Chickens
Count Your Chickens is a cooperative game where you are trying to get all 40 chicks back to the coop before the hen reaches it. On each turn, the player spins the spinner that has various pictures that correspond to picture on the path. The player moves the mother hen to the next space with that picture and counts the number of spaces they travel. The number of spaces is how many chicks they put in the coop. If the spinner lands on the fox one chick is taken out of the coop and put back in the farmyard. Buy Count Your Chickens! here on Amazon.
Games for Four-Year-Olds
By the age of four children have a lot of new skills and abilities which impacts what they can play for board games. Most children have better fine motor skills and can do more precise stacking. Their hands typically can hold a pencil or a crayon with the traditional grip. An important cognitive development for four-year-olds, is they can understand the difference between fantasy and reality, so games can take on a more fanciful themes. This skill also means children begin to pretend to be someone else (such as a chef) as they play. Another skill that can be key to certain games, is they are beginning to understand time. Helpful skills to develop and reinforce include using their imagination, counting simple thing up to 10+, and problem solving. Playing developmentally appropriate games can help with language development, sharing, and taking turns too.
My First Castle Panic
In My First Castle Panic players work together to defend their castle during this cooperative game. The game is for one to four players ages four and up. This is a much simpler version from the original. My First Castle Panic takes away the reading and instead incorporates the early skills of identifying colors and shapes, simple problem solving, and turn taking. The path to the castle is a single path protected by one wall. To defeat a monster a card must be played matching the location of the monster. If the players can defeat all the monster before the castle is destroyed they win. Buy My First Castle Panic here on Amazon.
Animal Upon Animal
Animal Upon Animal has slightly smaller pieces than the First Game version. This game is for ages 4 and up. Players are asked to roll to determine how many animals they are stacking or they may be asked to add a piece to the base adjacent to the crocodile. The dexterity involved is harder than it looks and can be a challenge even for the adults playing too. Buy Animal Upon Animal here on Amazon.
Spot It! Animals Jr
Spot It! Animals Jr is simple, inexpensive, and portable. Oh! And your Preschooler has a decent shot at beating you in it. This is a matching game with multiple variables of play. There is one matching animal on every card so you are trying to be the first to find the matching animal. This is great for even the youngest gamers and helps to develop their observational skills. Buy Spot it! Animals Jr. here on Amazon.
There are multiple variations of Spot It. Some of them are recommended for ages 4+ and some are recommending for 6+. Other Spot it versions that are for ages 4+ include:
- Spot It: 123 (recommended 3+)
- Spot It Paw Patrol
- Spot It! Frozen II
- Spot It! Pixar
- Spot It! Disney Princess
“Kitty Bitty is a remake of the beloved Blue Orange classic, Froggy Boogie. This adorable wooden game has little minds use memory and color recognition to help their kitten make it around the yarn balls and back to the basket. Each turn, players need to find the correct mommy cat. Then pick up one of her eyes; if it’s blank they can move on to the next yarn ball. If there’s a kitten printed on the bottom they stay put and it’s the next players turn. The first kitten that makes it around all the yarn balls and back to the basket wins!” Buy Kitty Bitty here on Amazon.
Hoot Owl Hoot
Hoot Owl Hoot! is a cooperative game to bring the owls back to the nest. The goal is to get all the owls back before the sun comes up. Each player has three cards dealt in front of them. Players choose a color card to pla, and draws a card to refill at the end of their turn. With a color card, the player selects an owl and move it to the next corresponding space of that color. If a player has a sun card they must play it, and the sun moves one space on the tracker. The difficulty can be increased by adding more owls to put back in the nest. Buy Hoot Owl Hoot! here on Amazon.
Zingo is a bingo game with a few twists by Thinkfun. The game is for players ages four and up and can play two to six players, and game play is quick and a game take 15-20 minutes. Zingo is a great game to have for young players. Thinkfun has also created multiple versions of Zingo published by Thinkfun. They include: Zingo 1-2-3, Zingo Sight Words, and Zingo Word Builder. These can be great ways to develop beginning reading and math skills, and for preschool and primary students the Zingo variations are a great fit. The random nature of the game allow for play with the whole family. Buy Zingo here on Amazon.
Build or Boom
Build or BOOM is a block stacking dexterity game designed to be played by even the youngest member of your family. Check out our review here. Your goal is to race your opponent to complete a tower out of uniquely shaped blocks. Then BOOM their tower to keep them from winning. This game is absolutely playable by everyone in the family. It is designed for kids 4 years old and over, but is still fun and playable by the more mature members of the family. The concepts are simple to understand and no reading is required. The plastic pieces are big enough for tiny hands to manipulate and the towers are challenging for all ages. Buy Build or Boom here on Amazon.
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