The Best Educational Games for Preschoolers

Family game night just got a lot better.

by Elizabeth Alterman
Originally Published: 
The best board games for toddlers and preschoolers set against a blue background.

By the time they hit preschool, kids 3 and up can actually follow two-part directions and somewhat regulate their emotions. And that’s your moment to strategically deploy educational games and toys to keep them entertained while also, insidiously, helping them with their development as functional human beings. Sure, the best learning games for toddlers capitalize on their newfound ability to pay attention, but let’s make sure we keep expectations in check. Yes, preschoolers can play basic games. But this is not going to be an epic, hours-long Scrabble or Catan deathmatch.

“When they show you they have an interest in games with rules, you can gradually introduce the idea of turn taking and what the rules are, but most 3-year-olds only last one turn and wander off,” cautions Julia Luckenbill, the program coordinator at the Center for Child and Family Studies at UC Davis. “I had the most success with my daughter when she was 3, in the game of Count Your Chickens, because we were doing teamwork, and we made the odds good so that together we always won, meaning she didn’t need to both regulate strong emotions and follow directions at the same time.”

So pick games that are easy to follow, without complicated, convoluted directions that will frustrate young children. Make sure they feature engaging characters that kids love, like squirrels or chickens, or concepts that they can understand, like moving a ball around. And better yet if kids are not competing against each other, because losing sucks. Especially when you’re 3.

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