12 Best Educational Games For Kids Under 5 That Make Learning A Blast
Entertaining a preschooler is no easy task since they seem to have a seven-second attention span. Knowing this, some of the best educational games for kids under 5 are quick, engaging, and actually fun to play. Some of them are even designed for solo-play, so you might actually get a chance to relax while they play (no promises, though).
When it comes to educating a preschooler, it's important to stick to basics and fundamentals. Teacher (and preschool mom) Joanna Heglar tells Romper that when picking out a game for your kid, "the most important thing to consider is: Is this game developmentally appropriate?"
"Simply think about if the game is going to frustrate your child or be way too easy for your child," she continues. "Make up a game that encourages them to build on [their] skills, but is not so challenging that your child will not succeed."
"When choosing a game for your child, try to focus on their interests," Early Childhood and Montessori Teacher (and toddler mom) Meagan Messuri says. "Children learn when they are having fun and they most likely will be having fun with something they're interested in." Messuri suggests games with colors, numbers, strategy, or counting.
There are a lot of ways you can educate your child through play, whether it's a board game, an online tool, or using things you already have at home. Just remember to focus on realistic educational goals for your child (most 3-year-olds don't understand multiplication quite yet) and let them enjoy the game for what it is... a fun game!
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1. Candy Land
Candy Land is a classic for a reason, it's whimsical and fun to play. It also has some educational components. Heglar says, "Candy Land is good for turn taking, matching colors, and learning how to follow rules of the game."
2. Simon Says
You can interact directly with your little one or have them play an online version of Simon Says. This will build their skills in listening, following instructions, and paying attention to details.
If you're looking for a game your child can play on a tablet or computer, Heglar suggests Osmo. She says, "Osmo is wonderful because it is hands on plus technology," so kids can still actively engage and learn technology skills. Note: it is a paid service; you purchase a starter pack and then can add additional games from there (one-time cost).
4. Cooperative Games
For in-person games Messuri loves "cooperative games," particularly from the company Peaceable Kingdom. She says these kinds of games allow families to "work together as a team to complete a task and win all together." She continues, "it is important for basic game skills to be taught like taking turns as well as feelings about winning or losing. If you win in a cooperative game, everyone is winning together and same if you lose."
Hide-and-seek is a childhood favorite, but it also has some hidden education in it. Kids will learn to count when it's their turn to "seek," will be placed in situations that require problem solving, and gain a better understanding of spacial awareness (such as, "just because you can't seem them doesn't mean they can't see you").
6. Hi Ho Cherry-O
Another board game the Heglar suggests is Hi Ho Cherry-O. She says the game "is great for counting with one-on-one correspondence." Like other games, kids will also practice taking turns, following the rules, and losing with grace.
7. Chutes & Ladders
If there's ever been a game that teaches kids about disappointment and good sportsmanship, it's Chutes and Ladders. The board is a grid of numbers 1-100 with ladders (that allow you to skip rows/numbers) and chutes (slides that bump you further back from where you started). It can be a frustrating game, so it's a great way to help your child work on emotional regulation and expressing their feelings.
8. Scholastic Kids
Scholastic is behind a ton of learning products for kids (remember those book fairs when you were a kid?!) and they have a website with games and content created especially for pre-k and kindergarten. There is a lesson for every day of the week for four weeks, which can be stretched out over time.
9. Sensory Bin Treasure Hunt
Heglar says sensory bins are her "favorite" thing to do with preschoolers (including her own daughter). She says you can make a sensory bin using just about anything in your home, like rice. Once you've done that, she says, "Add in some colors, shapes, numbers, or letters drawn or written on paper," then let your child "dig through to find [those objects] and tell you what they have found."
10. Matching Games
One game Messuri's two-year-old loves to play is memory, and that's partially because Messuri played to her daughter's interests. She says, "She loves animals and is incredibly motivated to play the game" because the cards they use have animals on them. This is an easy game to DIY, too. Simply print pictures of something your child loves and glue them to cardstock for a custom-made game.
11. Sorting Games
Little kids love to sort things and put them in containers. You can use this to your advantage by making a game out of it. Have them sort by color or size or assign a number to each container to have them work on their counting. Just remember to keep it fun!
12. Highlights Kids
Did you ever read Highlights Magazine when you were a kid? Well, they're still around and they have a great library of educational tools and games for kids. Your child can do puzzles and play games that encourage counting. In 'Hidden Picture', kids can search for objects hidden within a fun cartoon picture.
When choosing games to play with your preschooler, remember to keep things fun because that's what will get the engaged the most. It's amazing how much kids can develop when they are learning through play.
Joanna Heglar, B.S.W., Graduate Certificate in Special Education, and Certified Special Education and General Education Teacher
Meagan Messuri, B.S., AMS Certified Lower Elementary Guide