Family game night is fun. That is once you actually choose a board game to play that everybody happily decides on. Toddlers are particularly hard to please. Because they’re developing at a rapid rate, it’s not uncommon for them to throw tantrums over something they loved moments earlier. But the best toddler board games tend to bring people (and their moods) together in a way that other toys do not because they’re collaborative and fun.
There are a few things parents can look for when choosing a toddler game: It should be colorful (toddlers are really into primary colors), a little silly, and very simple. If a game is too complex and not completely intuitive to your toddler, there might be some crying and screaming. It’s rare for everyone to be excited about the same game, especially when more than one sibling is involved. But when it happens, you savor it and enjoy every last minute until an inevitable game-related squabble breaks out.
And board games, even simple ones, are best for older toddlers and preschoolers; infants and many toddlers are still a little too young, explains Julia Luckenbill, the infant-toddler program coordinator at the Center for Child and Family Studies at UC Davis and co-author of This Is Play: Environments and Interactions That Engage Infants and Toddlers.
“Board games require the ability to follow one-part and two-part directions and regulate strong emotions,” she says, “ things many toddlers are not yet solid at doing.” Three-year-olds, says Luckenbill, “have more tools in their tool belts, at which point introducing the materials — for example, picking up acorns with Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, or working together as a team to count how many cherries fit the holes in the tree — would be an entry point” to playing games. Competing is, at this age, not where it’s at. “When they show you they have an interest in games with rules,” she says, “you can gradually introduce the idea of turn-taking and what the rules are, but most threes only last one turn and wander off.”
The Best Toddler Board Games
In this gorgeously colorful game, two to four players cooperate to help the owls fly back to their nest before the sun comes up. The game helps kids learn about shared decision-making, problem-solving, and of course, matching skills.
Kids match patterns to help Sophie the otter find shells to eat for dinner. They use Sophie's squeezer to get the shells, thus working on their fine motor skills, all while avoiding the machinations of Otto the octopus.
Anyone who's ever argued with a kid who tried to cut the line knows that turn-taking is a skill. This rabbit-themed game helps kids practice it, along with hand-eye coordination. Up to four players get a basket, and the object is to fill it up with carrots, which kids can pick up with the included rabbit squeezer. A spinner determines how many they can pick up or if, disastrously, they'll have to dump their basket back into the field.
Both a memory game and a motor skills workout, this one challenges toddlers to find matching cards that turn into game points. Whoever has the most ladybugs wins the game.
Someone is knocking on the door, but who is it? Kids have to ask questions to figure out the answer. Is it someone with paint? With a hat on? Who wears glasses? A fun, inquisitive, and engaging way to get kids to talk to each other.
A sweet cooperative game that has children helping other kids out, be it someone who's afraid of the dark or is getting soaked in a rainstorm. It's great for social-emotional learning as they learn to recognize and name what they're feeling.
This game gives kids the chance to practice a bunch of different skills in a fun, cooperative atmosphere. Kids can play this game on three different levels (it's ideal for ages 3 to 6), so they'll still find it challenging as they grow. Kids learn body awareness, motor skills, counting, and cooperation as they work together to feed the Woozle chocolate-covered flies, hairy pickles, and fuzz donuts.
Kids learn about plants and animals from this colorful and vibrant matching game. The 24 beautifully illustrated cards feature animals, leaves, birds, and fish, challenging toddlers and preschoolers to work on their memory and focus.
Players help Phillip the penguin chop some ice blocks so he can make a new igloo. But they have to do so without breaking the ice, or else Philip wall crash through it. It's for 2-4 players.
Children learn about colors, numbers, and symbols as they help the ladybugs find their way home. And they must do so by avoiding the unfriendly praying mantis and collecting aphids to feed the lazy ants.
Kids join Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm to look for hidden objects while racing through Busytown. It's a great way for kids 3 and up to learn to identify specific objects, and work together to achieve a common goal.
This classic remains a perennial favorite, for good reason. And because there's no reading required, younger kids can play. They spin the spinner and move the pawn up the ladders and down the chutes; the goal is to be the first to reach the top without sliding down.
They're called toddlers because they're learning to walk at this age. After walking comes dancing, and this game is a great way to inspire toddlers to move and laugh and run. To play the game, simply toss the included plush cube to get a color and choose a card with a matching color. Each of the 48 cards has a different direction on it, and there's no wrong way to do them. Kids get to use their imagination, improve their balance and coordination, and have fun while they're at it. Kids as young as 18 months and as old as 5 will love this one.
Players try to match hidden head tiles to the correct body tiles. If the head and body don’t match, players walk and talk like the mismatched tiles. Everyone will enjoy watching kids bark like a dog while walking like a cat. The player with the most matched cards wins. Hilarity for all ages.
Based on the beloved books starring the funky feline, this game has kids singing songs and identifying words and animals as they work together to get the missing cupcakes back from the wily toad.
This dog-themed game teaches toddlers counting and the fickle nature of chance. The object of the game is to get the most bones. Kids spin two wheels — one to decide if they'll collect, lose, or steal bones and the other to decide how many — to play. They pick up bones and put them in their bowl with a Shelby Squeezer, essentially a dog-shaped clip.
This classic board game is mostly a game of luck, but the whimsical characters and easy-to-follow concepts — kids only need to know colors, not numbers or counting, to move their own pieces — has made it a favorite for generations of toddlers.
This game has players moving six snails along the board, following their color path. The game isn't competitive, so there won't be any board-game bloodshed. In fact, every player follows their snail's path, until they reach the end of the board. Kids learn to take turns, and work at their own pace.
This is one of the best-selling preschool games for toddlers. Kids learn about colors as they help squirrels find their acorns, as well as matching skills and taking turns. Players spin the spinner and scoop up matching acorns with a special squeezer; the first player to collect five acorns is the winner.
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