Easy-to-play games to encourage education, memory, imagination, and family bonding
Do you have a toddler singing like Rudolph that they never get to join in the big kid games? Then this round-up is for you. My daughters often asked to “play a game” at an age that seemed a bit too young for your traditional Family Game Night options. Thankfully, we live in the era of Pinterest, and there are some great ideas out there. Not only do these games make for family fun, but they also encourage math and language skills; memory and creative development; instruction-following and sorting; and, my personal favorite, bonding.
Here are our favorite games to incorporate playful learning into your toddler’s day.
At the toddler level, math boils down to number recognition, counting, and the ability to determine larger and smaller. This fishing game is a really creative way to work on number identification, similar to sorting numbers in these fun pockets. Want to work on counting to ten? Get those wiggly little bodies moving, and create an indoor hopscotch.
Sometimes memory exercises can be as simple as singing a long rendition of “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” recalling all the animal sounds in order. (Try it! It’s hard!) But to be more intentional for family game time, I love this easy muffin tin version of Memory. You’ve likely got everything you need in the house. Another use-what-you-have game is “What’s Missing.” I like to play this with my kids at restaurants while enduring that long wait for food!
Creativity and Imagination.
In this house, for creativity development, we almost always default to art projects. But there are some amazing games out there to generate imaginative play, especially useful on the days when commanding “Go play!” doesn’t seem to beat the boredom. These Tell Me a Story cards have been made for many giggly evenings around our dining room table. My daughters also enjoy guided productions—a stage for a finger puppet show or specific costumes to put on a play.
Instruction Following and Sorting.
One of the benefits of playing actual games with toddlers is how it helps them learn to follow instructions. Playground games like “Mother, May I?”, “Simon Says”, and “Red Rover” can be silly, but also teach kids to observe rules and wait their turn. And when a mistake happens, it’s a good chance to learn sportsmanship. In the same vein, I like sorting games for instruction-following (though they are equally great for color recognition and math development). These pipe cleaner kits are perfect for a quiet time activity; or for the same concept on a more active level, these wall-mounted tubes are so fun!
Sometimes the game night is just about spending time together, with more intentionality than free play or reading stories. My daughters love to flip through our old photo albums, and so we’ve made a game out of guessing who is who in baby pictures! There are toddler-appropriate collections of Go Fish cards, and Candyland also gives modified instructions for playing with younger children. These types of games require a bit of patience at the start of the learning curve, but the kids get a big kick out of playing a “real game.” Game night is a great chance to play “get to know you” games too. Write some questions on scraps of paper and toss them in a hat. Let your toddlers pull them out, and then take turns answering questions about yourself or what you like about each other. It’ll be a sweet time and also a chance to teach conversation and empathy.
What types of games do you play in your family?