Want to engage your child in some fun games this season? Check out some of our go-to games, including a lot of inside activities for rainy days.
When it comes to preschoolers and toddlers, playing games means more than just having a good time — it's an opportunity for your child to learn important skills. Those skills could be cognitive, emotional, physical; the opportunities are really endless. How can you as a parent engage your child in some fun games this season? Check out some of our favs (including a lot of indoor activities!).
1. Hide and Seek
It's a pretty simple childhood game that we all know and love, but if it's one your toddler has yet to discover, take some time to enjoy introducing them to it. Just keep in mind, if you're working with a younger toddler (closer to age 2), the hiding part might scare them. So, pair up with another parent or adult/older sibling who can accompany the toddler during their hiding or seeking. Alternatively, let one of your child's stuffed animals or toys do the hiding and help your toddler seek.
2. Simon Says
Yes, Simon Says is easy enough for you, but it teaches really valuable skills to your toddler. Following directions is hard at that age, after all!
In addition to teaching your toddler how to follow directions, Simon Says also teaches important listening skills (Did Simon say to do something? Or was that Mom?), as well as patience and repetition. You can even incorporate physical skills and body part identifications your child will need to learn ("Simon says to balance on one foot/Simon says to touch your toes") for added value.
3. Red Light, Green Light
Another very physical game for toddlers, Red Light, Green Light will teach your child to run to a target (you) while stopping as directed. The game teaches your toddler to follow directions and show some self-control.
4. Dress Up
Who doesn't love a fun game of dress-up? Even as adults, we still enjoy dressing up for costume parties, holidays or even just a fun date night. Introduce your child to the world of dress-up, imagination and putting on different characters and faces.
All it takes is some old clothes/materials that you probably already have on hand. A carefully crafted bed sheet becomes a toga. An old cocktail dress becomes a fancy ball gown.
Of course, you can buy a dress-up kit that comes with lots of inspiration and materials to get playtime started, too.
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For your younger toddlers, a classic game of chase might be more their speed. A game that's often accompanied by plenty of giggles, cuddles, tickles and hugs, chase gets your toddler moving and helps them better their balance as they run and dodge your friendly attack.
6. Balloon Volleyball
While you can't really impose actual volleyball rules when playing with a toddler, a fun game of balloon volleyball (where the only goal is to keep the balloon in the air) can be enjoyable for both of you.
All you need is a balloon and some patience. The physical game will get your toddler on their feet while nurturing their attention span, as well as teaching them information on how objects move, fall or drift based on air movement.
Another classic, hopscotch is a great game to teach your child numbers and counting, shapes, hand-eye coordination, drawing and balance — it's a total winner. If the weather's not right for outdoor play (or if you just don't have any chalk on hand), make an indoor hopscotch board using colored masking tape. Not familiar with the rules of hopscotch or can't recall them from childhood? Get a refresher.
8. Freeze Tag
Once your child has mastered a simple game of chase, make things a little bit harder with a game of freeze tag. A great game for the entire family, freeze tag will teach your child to follow directions, remain agile while avoiding a target (the "it" player) and even some much-needed patience as they wait for another player to unfreeze them.
9. My Little Mailbox
For toddlers that still aren't up for the running and jumping portions of some of these games above, you can have fun with sit-down games that help them develop their fine motor skills (like grabbing, pinching, tearing and ripping).
My Little Mailbox is fun and incorporates some craft elements. Using a cardboard box, create a miniature mailbox for your toddler, complete with a small slit in the top or front. Add some of your own junk mail to the slot for your toddler to open, inspect, and otherwise play with. You can also make the game a little more fun (though some toddlers will be perfectly fine with just the chance to rip open your mail) by "mailing" them a special surprise, like a card or drawing.
10. Ball Toss
Help your toddler learn how to throw and then how to aim by a good, old-fashioned game of toss. Ball toss is easy enough to set up with items you likely already have around the house. You can use small, plastic balls that your toddler may already have in their toy bin (or even rolled socks) and then throw them into laundry baskets or mixing bowls.
For an added challenge and more of a developmental slant, mix up the weight of your "balls" and add several different targets for your child to throw towards. You can also place your marks closer and further away, so your child learns how they might need to adjust their aim and force.
11. Indoor Bowling
Once your toddler has figured out the throwing, challenge them further with some rolling. Get a bowling kit or create your own miniature indoor bowling lane using water bottles as your pins and an indoor-friendly ball as your bowling ball. You can keep score if you want or simply have fun.
Pro-tip: Having your child clean up the pins after each round teaches them some balance and organizational skills.
12. Hot and Cold
Add another element of challenge to hide and seek by playing Hot and Cold. Hide your child's stuffed animal friend somewhere in the room, and then give them "hot" and "cold" clues to tell them when they're walking closer or further away from the hidden item. The game teaches your child patience, problem-solving, object permanence, opposites (hot vs. cold) and perseverance.
13. I Spy
The simple game helps your child how to be observant while also teaching them their colors. It's something you can play anytime, anywhere. Parents have used it to keep rambunctious kids calm during doctor's office visits, car rides, and other situations for years. In other words, it's an excellent toddler game to keep in your back pocket for use whenever you need it next.
14. Card Games
There are a few card games that are older toddler-friendly.
For example, three-year-olds usually have the cognitive skills needed to play a memory game. Take part of a deck of cards (you usually don't need the entire deck — it can be a little overwhelming), shuffle them and then line them up face-down on your kitchen table. Then, help your child turn over two cards at a time in order to find matching pairs. Whenever they manage to turn over a matching pair at the same time, they can remove those cards from the table and then keep going until all cards are gone.
If your toddler isn't quite at the level where they could play a memory game yet, no worries. There are still a few other ways you can play with cards and teach your child valuable skills.
Simple sorting is a fun way to play. Shuffle a deck of cards and then ask your child to sort them by color. If they can nail that, ask them to sort by shape or number.
15. Board Games
There are a few select board games that are suitable for older toddlers as well.
Candy Land is easy enough to learn, which is why it's probably one of the most beloved childhood games of all time. Rated for ages 3 and up, the game has received a few updates since you were probably playing it, but the concept is still the same, even if the characters have new looks.
Harvest Time is a cooperative game for older kids and toddlers to play together, and there aren't any winners or losers. It's a great game for introducing your child to the world of board games and board game essentials like dice and cards without causing them any extra stress. After all, no one wants to deal with tears at game time.
Games for Toddlers to Play Alone
Of course, you may not have all the time in the world to play with your toddler, and for that reason, you'll want to have some fun activities and super-easy games handy that they can play all on their own.
Often, you can equip your child with some tools to spark their imaginations and then let them run free. Whether you give them a costume kit for a game of solo make-believe, some toddler-sized kitchen tools for whipping up a tasty pretend treat or simply some crayons and paper to create their next masterpiece, it's easy enough to find ways for your toddler to play alone if you have the right tools.
If you find yourselves without toys on-hand, you can keep a toddler entertained (and entertaining themselves) in a few ways. Turn on some music and encourage them to show off their best dance moves. Set up a simple fort with a blanket and some pillows under the dining room table and declare it their castle for the day.
For younger toddlers, you might even find that you can take the magnets off the fridge and let them arrange them how they please, allowing you to get some work done in the kitchen while keeping an eye on them from just a few steps away.
Why Toddler Play is So Important
Playing with your toddler, no matter what the game or activity might be, is so important for child development. Beyond the learning component, toddler activities help build on the bond you already share with them while teaching them how to interact with another person in a playful or competitive environment. As that bond grows, your child will feel safer, happier and more content.
Additionally, as you show your approval of the various ways that they play, they'll gain vital confidence and self-esteem that they'll need more and more in the coming years as they enter unfamiliar territory, like preschool.
Of course, as you introduce new play items and concepts, they'll develop physically as well. Whether that just be improving their balance with a more physical outdoor game or teaching them hand-eye coordination through simple games like 'catch.'
Things to Keep in Mind When Playing with Your Toddler
If you've never really had much experience playing with or putting together activities for toddlers before, you may need to remind yourself of a few things before you get started with any game or activity.
First, let your child take the lead. You may be surprised where their imagination takes them. Don't force them into rigid structural activities (or, at least not all the time; structured classes and games are also important, though not during everyday play). If they want to go from playing pretend to drawing to dolls to playing outside, let them take the lead.
Second, don't rush things if your toddler doesn't feel rushed. Simple tasks may be a new challenge for your child, and their brains are still connecting all the dots. Take things slow and go at their pace.
Similarly, you may find your child wants to play the same game or revisit the same concept over and over again. This is normal and part of how your toddler develops cognitive skills. Even if you would rather tear your hair out than play Candy Land, just go with it.
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Fun Games To Play With Your Toddlers:
- Hide and Seek
- Simon Says
- Red Light, Green Light
- Dress Up
- Balloon Volleyball
- Freeze Tag
- My Little Mailbox
- Ball Toss
- Indoor Bowling
- Hot and Cold
- I Spy
- Card Games
- Board Games