Close out the apps and remove the elaborate board games from your shopping cart. When it comes to entertaining a 2-year-old, little is required. In fact, for this learning, exploring, constantly-on-the-go age group, less is always more.
Looking for ways to entertain a 2-year-old? Here’s what you need to know, along with expert suggestions for games you can buy or do for free!
Simplicity is key
Two-year-olds are still trying to figure out how the world works, so when you’re looking for games, skip ones with complicated rules in favor of activities that are simple and open for interpretation.
“The best games for 2-year-olds are ones where they create, usually with a parent, older child, or another adult,” says Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive.” “This can be engaging in imaginative play with a tea set, rolling balls around or building with blocks. Any open-ended items, such as blocks, give toddlers the opportunity to create without rules. Games shouldn’t have a right or wrong at this age; they should just be fun.”
Simple, repetitive activities may err on the side of mind-numbing to you, but to a toddler, they’re the epitome of fun — and they’re also a great opportunity for bonding.
“Toddlers learn the most from simple games that are engaging and interactive,” says Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, author of “The Tantrum Survival Guide.” “When parents and children play together, the point is to foster connectedness, which is the foundation for everything else — particularly learning. The most important thing a parent can do is encourage a sense of comfort and security when playing a game with their little one. This way, the child is free to work things out on their own.”
Incorporate life skills
For children who have yet to master the art of sharing (read: all toddlers) Lisa Clegg, author of “The Blissful Toddler Expert: The Complete Guide to Calm Parenting and Happy Toddlers,” suggests sneaking a few life lessons in during game time with the toddler.
“Toddlers don’t have a very long attention span and many haven’t grasped the concept of sharing yet, so playing games that involve taking turns can be helpful,” she says. “To avoid boredom, though, take care not leave anyone waiting too long.”
Ready to get playing? Here are 25 games for 2-year-olds that are sure to be a hit.
Best board games
1. Picture Lotto
“I love picture or number bingo because it’s easy and fast paced to play,” says Clegg. “Kids don’t have to wait long to have a turn, and you’re able to teach them things like colors, numbers, letters and pictures.”
Where to buy: Picture Lotto Game ($23, Amazon)
2. Roll & Play
Not only does Roll & Play help toddlers hone their memory skills and learn their colors, they’ll get a kick out of having to act out each of the activities. Roar like a lion? What 2-year-old ever said no to that?
Where to buy: ThinkFun Roll and Play Game ($20, For Small Hands)
3. First Orchard
In addition to being a quick game to play (about 10 minutes), First Orchard fosters a sense of togetherness and cooperation by having kids work together to pick the fruit before the raven reaches the end of the path.
Where to buy: HABA My Very First Games First Orchard Cooperative Game ($30, Amazon)
4. Bunny Bedtime
The always-relaxing Bunny Bedtime is one of the best games for 2-year-olds because it lets children make decisions, such as which bath toy the bunny should use and what pajamas she should wear, all while helping them develop social-emotional skills. Win-win.
Where to buy: Peaceable Kingdom Bunny Bedtime ($17, Amazon)
5. Funny Faces Game
The Funny Faces Game is fun and silly, and it helps little ones develop a multitude of skills, including fine motor skills, critical thinking and emotional intellect.
6. Happy Farm Game
The Happy Farm Game has 5-star customer reviews almost across the board on Amazon, and with good reason: It’s a great game that will hone numerous skills. And the best part? Parents can tailor the way the game is played for children ages 2-5.
7. Feed the Woozle
Feed the Woozle is a cooperative game that will have 2-year-olds in stitches. While fine-tuning her dexterity and counting skills, the little one’s belly will get a good work out as she giggles at all the silly snacks the monster eats.
Where to buy: Feed the Woozle Cooperative Game ($22, Walmart)
8. Hello Sunshine
Hello Sunshine is an adorably simple game for 2-year-olds that will teach children basic directions, as well as spatial awareness. It’s also the perfect game for a toddler to play with an older sibling.
Where to buy: ThinkFun Hello Sunshine ($25, Toy in Town)
9. Freeze Dance
Want to get a little one moving while showing her how to follow simple directions? Freeze dance!
“We’re big fans of freeze dance in our house,” says Kelly Goodman, of Toms River, New Jersey. “My toddler is always genuinely surprised when I stop the music, and I love watching her adorable moves!”
10. Simon Says
Simon says: Be adorable! OK, so they’ve got that down. But children will pick up so many new moves while playing this classic game — all while getting some giggles out, too!
11. Hot and Cold
Toddlers love being on the hunt, especially when it’s for something they love. Simply hide a stuffed animal or small toy, and warn them with a “hot” when they’re getting closer to the object and a “cold” when they’re moving farther away.
12. Pass the Parcel
Pass the Parcel is a classic camp game that’s a hit with multiple age groups, particularly 2-year-olds. Gather a group and have everyone sit in a circle while passing around a wrapped object to music. When the music stops, the person holding the package has to try to open it before the tunes start back up.
13. Musical Chairs
In a similar vein, musical chairs will have kids scrambling to find a seat before the music stops. This age-old game ticks off all the toddler must-haves: laughing, moving and being silly.
14. The Concentration Game
Liz from Love and Marriage has a fun twist on an old classic (the Memory Game). Arrange some of the toddler’s favorite toys on a table. Have him take a mental picture, and then have him leave the room while you remove one of the objects. See if he can guess which one is missing.
15. Hide the Music
Got a noisy toy in the house? What family doesn’t?! Instead of silently cursing the musical object every time it goes off, make a game of it! Have the little one leave the room, turn it on and hide it. The 2-year-old will love going on a hunt.
16. Hokey Pokey
You put your right foot in… Well, even if the child is yet to know their left from right, they’ll love dancing along with you to this catchy tune.
“My son loves playing — or, I guess I should say doing — the Hokey Pokey,” says Erica Randolph of Fairport, New York. “Whenever he’s on the verge of a tantrum, I start singing it and he’s immediately back in play mode.”
17. Run and Chase
“Run and Chase is one of my favorite games for toddlers,” says Klein. “When you’re playing, have the child lead, and it will give the message that no matter how far they run, you will always catch them. It’s a metaphor for life that lets them know you’re always there for them.”
18. Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is another game Klein highly recommends.
“Hide and Seek is great for 2-year-olds, especially when the toddler hides,” she says. “Each time they’re found, they’re utterly gleeful.”
19. Obstacle Course
Every toddler will love making their way through a mini (age-appropriate) obstacle course. Hula hoops, cones, makeshift tunnels — the configurations are endless. And so are the gross motor skill benefits.
There’s no need to stick to strict rules when playing hopscotch. No matter how you play, children will get a better grasp of numbers while working on their jumping at the same time.
Whether you have a real goal or a makeshift one, few 2-year-olds can resist trying to kick a ball toward a designated spot.
22. Scooping and Sorting Lids
Jenae from I Can Teach My Child had the great idea of filling up a small container with water, along with lids of varying sizes and colors. (Food pouch lids work perfectly.) Have little ones scoop out the red ones and place them in a red cup, and so forth. Ideal for a hot summer day.
23. Bean Bag Toss
All you need are some bean bags and a bucket for this one. See if the little one is able to toss the bags into a bin or bucket. And if they can’t, well, what 2-year-old doesn’t love throwing?
Where to buy: Tytroy Primary Color Nylon Bean Bags ($27 for 12, Walmart)
24. Hide the Object in the Sand
“Just as they love Hide and Seek, toddlers love to hide and find objects or toys in sand, in play dough and under cartons,” says Klein. “This makes for a great game — simply open and close a box with a hidden toy. They love finding it over and over.”
25. Chase the Bubbles
“When it comes to 2-year-old games, I’m old school,” says Hershberg. “I’d argue that a child is going to learn more at this age from playing an engaging game of Chase the Bubbles in the grass than they are from something billed as a learning game, per se.”
When it comes to this age group, really, there’s no need to spend a lot of money or overthink things.