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.
A wonderful game that helps toddlers and preschoolers with their emotional development, this one explores 10 different feelings: Happiness, fear, sadness, shyness, love, disgust, laughter, jealousy, anger, and surprise. Kids match the emotion with facial expression.
Instead of competing against each other, kids work as a team to pick the fruit from the trees before the greedy raven reaches the end of the path and gets it. If they succeed, they've won by working together. A great concept for any age.
The goal of this sweet game: For the kids to lead the ladybug home to the rose garden, while avoiding the ants and the praying mantis. It's colorful and easy to follow.
Does this classic game ever get old? No, not it does not. Kids don't even have to know how to read to play it: They spin the spinner and move the pawn up the ladders and down the chutes. In doing so, they start learning about numbers and counting.
A beautifully-made game that will last years, this one lets kids play shuffleboard on one side and flick-the-disc on the flip side. It helps kids work on their concentration and develop their gross motor skills, plus they have to take turns. Also, it's just damn fun.
Kids love this game, for good reason. They learn about colors as they help squirrels find their acorns. Plus, they work on their matching skills and and the concept of taking turns. Children spin the spinner and scoop up matching acorns with a special tool; the first player to collect five acorns is the winner.
Almost (almost) too pretty to use. Players form two teams, maneuver the handles that match your team color, and twist and move the bars to score goals. It's indoor soccer, but elevated. Because just look at this thing.
Hairy pickles and furry donuts? Yes, in this game, which gives kids the chance to practice a bunch of different skills in a relaxed, cooperative way. Kids can play this game as three different levels (it's ideal for ages 3 to 6), which means they won't be bored. Kids learn about body awareness, plus they work on their motor skills, counting, and cooperation as they work together to feed the Woozle all manner of gross foods.
Kids collect Mother Hen's chicks and return them to the chicken coop. It's a fun and funny cooperative counting game for the whole family that teaches children about the power of working together to solve a problem.
This game is ridiculously simple yet ridiculously fun. Preschoolers spin the spinner and use the squeezer to pick up the food item that matches the shape. It's a great shape-matching game that also helps toddlers develop motor skills.
If your kids loved Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel, meet the rabbit version. In the hide-and-seek carrot game, the bunny needs help hunting colorful carrots. The game is super-engaging, really enjoyable, and easy to follow. And it also teaches preschoolers hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and much-needed social skills.
This award-winning game includes 48 cards which offer equal parts fun and learning opportunities. You roll the plush cube, choose a card with the corresponding color, and then act out the activity shown like making a happy face or roaring like a lion. This game is easy to follow and perfect for teaching turn-taking.
A classic that develops hand-eye coordination, this corn hole set is easy and quick to setup. Enjoy it outdoors or use it inside on rainy days. It reinforces simple math skills and builds team spirit. Kids can also play alone if they choose to do so.
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