The Best Board Games for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Because there's nothing better than family game night.

by Ben Radding
Originally Published: 
four images of toddler board games on top of bright colored backgrounds

Family game night is fun. That is once you actually choose a board game to play that everybody happily decides on. Toddlers are particularly hard to please. Because they’re developing at a rapid rate, it’s not uncommon for them to throw tantrums over something they loved moments earlier. But the best toddler board games tend to bring people (and their moods) together in a way that other toys do not because they’re collaborative and fun.

There are a few things parents can look for when choosing a toddler game: It should be colorful (toddlers are really into primary colors), a little silly, and very simple. If a game is too complex and not completely intuitive to your toddler, there might be some crying and screaming. It’s rare for everyone to be excited about the same game, especially when more than one sibling is involved. But when it happens, you savor it and enjoy every last minute until an inevitable game-related squabble breaks out.

“You want something very simple,” says Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. “Simple is the name of the game.”

And board games, even simple ones, are best for older toddlers and preschoolers; infants and many toddlers are still a little too young, explains Julia Luckenbill, the infant-toddler program coordinator at the Center for Child and Family Studies at UC Davis and co-author of This Is Play: Environments and Interactions That Engage Infants and Toddlers.

“Board games require the ability to follow one-part and two-part directions and regulate strong emotions,” she says, “ things many toddlers are not yet solid at doing.” Three-year-olds, says Luckenbill, “have more tools in their tool belts, at which point introducing the materials — for example, picking up acorns with Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, or working together as a team to count how many cherries fit the holes in the tree — would be an entry point” to playing games. Competing is, at this age, not where it’s at. “When they show you they have an interest in games with rules,” she says, “you can gradually introduce the idea of turn-taking and what the rules are, but most threes only last one turn and wander off.”

The Best Toddler Board Games

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