Preschoolers love playing games — especially those that spark their imagination and leave them wanting more. According to Jessica Perkins, a toy designer and the owner of Mama May i Handmade Learning Toys, “Ideal games for preschoolers are those that help build skills such as naming and sorting objects by color, shape and size.” Games that involve gross and fine motor skills, promote exploration and develop social skills are also great picks.
Here are some of the very best games for preschoolers that will keep them entertained and engaged:
- The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game
Fill logs with colored acorns to feed the squirrels through winter. “This game scores high on my list because it teaches little ones to focus on identifying and matching colors, building fine motor skills and developing social skills,” says Perkins.
- Memory Game
For this game, recommended by Dr. Teresa M. Signorelli, the director of The Ruth Smadbeck Communication and Learning Center at Marymount Manhattan College and the host of the radio show Kids A to Z, print out eight pictures of animals from your computer, two copies of each. Turn the pictures over and mix them up. Have your child make matches by turning over two cards at a time. If there is not a match, turn both over and start again. If there is, put the match to the side and continue until all the animals are paired up! “Be sure to name the animals and talk about them as you play,” says Dr. Signorelli.
- Cranium Hullabaloo
This high-energy game really gets kids moving. “With easy instructions to follow, lots of movement in a small space and no real losers, this game is a great way to get a group of children playing cooperatively,” says Perkins.
- Crazy Eights
Hand out seven playing cards to each player and place the rest face down in a pile with one card facing up beside it. The first player must play a card from his hand that matches either the number or suit of the top card in the pile. If he does not have a match, he must pick up cards from the deck until he gets one he can play. Eights are wild and can be put down at any time. The first player to use up all his cards wins!
- Mama May i Nature Scavenger Hunt
This game is fun a twist on “Eye-spy” that encourages children to investigate their surroundings and collect treasures.
- Alpha Tots Mobile App
Little ones build robots, dig for treasure and zap alien spaceships — all while learning the alphabet.
- Spot It Junior Animals
This game includes 31 cards covered in bright, vibrant animals. The first player to find the match between two of the cards wins! “It builds on differentiation skills and early literacy skills,” says Perkins.
- Treasure Hunt
Write out some clues that lead to different places in your home, such as, “If you’re in a hungry mood, go here to find some food” (answer: the fridge). Each clue will lead to a new location up until the final clue that leads to the prize. You’ll need to help little ones read the clues, but let them figure it out on their own!
For more ideas, check out these 8 Scavenger Hunt Ideas for Kids.
- ThinkFun Hoppers Jr
This solitary game sparks exploration and critical-thinking. Kids need to set the frogs on the pond and jump one over the other until only the Red Frog remains.
- Bugs and Numbers Game Mobile App
This app has 18 built-in games, ranging from basic counting to early fractions. “With fun music and great graphics, this will keep kiddo’s attention while allowing for silent play full of learning opportunities,” says Perkins.
- Don’t Break the Ice
“This game is playful while working on kids’ fine motor skills, turn taking, waiting and counting as well as visual perception,” says Rachel Rudman, a pediatric occupational therapist who developed the Grasshopper Preschool Prep Kits.
- Sandwich Stacking Game
Kids have to build a giant sandwich according to the card they choose. They not only learn matching skills and improving their memory, they also stay active!
- DIY Laser Maze
Use crepe paper and tape and create a “laser” maze in your hallway. Your kids can help you tape strands of crepe paper high, low and crisscrossed every which way before they crawl through without tearing the paper.
- Burger Drop App
This fast-paced app, recommended by Rudman, lets kids stack their very own burger — complete with lettuce, pickles and tomatoes.
- Gumball Grab
Get your little one ready to write with this fun game, also one of Rudman’s top picks. Using tweezers, kids grab, sort and match gumballs.
Race the clock to fit shapes into place in this fun game.
- DIY Car Maze
Use colored masking tape to create a mixed-up and wobbly maze on your carpet. Kids have to drive a toy car on the masking tape to try to find the end.
This game is like bingo for kids. It teaches kids matching skills and early reading skills — that’s a win-win!
- Monkey Lunchbox App
This app, one of Rudman’s favorites, includes six educational games that teach kids counting, colors, letters and shapes.
Let kids build their very own bug while they learn fine motor and matching skills.
- Shape Puzzle App
In this game, kids put together jigsaw puzzles — a fun way to help develop shape recognition.
- Tennis Ball Creature
This game, as recommended by Rudman, requires a little parent prep. Cut a “mouth” onto a tennis ball, glue on eyes and have your kids turn the ball turn into a little “creature” by squeezing its cheeks. See how many pom-poms your child can place in its mouth for food. You can also make two creatures and have a race!
- Scoops App
Kids have to move their cone to catch falling ice cream scoops. It’s just like they get to build their own ice cream cone (without the added sugar)!
Play doctor in this classic game by using tweezers to take out all of the patient’s funny ailments. Just don’t touch the sides!
- Monster Hunt App
This game works on memory and matching skills, complete with funny, silly monsters that make kids giggle.
- Chutes and Ladders
Teach kids turn-taking skills and patience as they try to reach it to the top of the board without falling down any of the tricky pitfalls.
- Connect Four
Your kids will play this for hours as they learn counting and strategy.
- The Very Busy Spider Game
A spin-off of the quintessential book, this game teaches shapes and colors as they build a spider’s web.
“When I consult with families about providing games to foster development, I always encourage them to consider the five areas of development, including physical, intellectual, social-emotional, emotional and moral,” says Dr. Signorelli. Keep these areas in mind when choosing your little one’s next game.
Want more activities? Try these fun things to do with preschoolers.
Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics.