Experts agree, play is an important part of a child's social and physical development. Introducing your child to board games at a young age can help them practice skills such as identifying and matching objects, counting, sorting, and observing the world around them. The best board games for 4-year-olds are those that are both engaging and help them practice new skills.
Many board games designed for this preschool age are also meant to foster social and emotional skills, such as turn taking and patience. Games where children move, pick up, or point to objects can help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, while sorting and counting introduces them to early math concepts. It's also appropriate to introduce phonics at this age to help them understand the connection between letters and sounds.
The two main types of games for 4-year-olds can be narrowed down into two categories: cooperation and competition. Cooperative games focus on teamwork and how to work together to reach a common goal, while competitive games deal with the concept of winning and losing.
Keep in mind preschoolers tend to have a short attention span, so the shorter the game the better. Below, you'll find five of the best games for 4-year-olds that last just long enough for them to stay fully engaged.
1. The Best Introductory Board Game
Average game length: 15-20 minutes
This classic game has been around for generations and is a great way to introduce your child to turn-taking and following simple rules. Kids can work on identifying shapes and colors while moving their gingerbread man pawn across the board. The bright colors help keep children engaged, while the sweet theme is one any child can relate to. The goal is to race across the board to the castle at the end. The competitive nature of the game allows children a chance at understanding the concept of winning and losing. They can even practice fine motor skills when moving their pawn along the board. No reading is required to play, so children who have not learned to read yet can enjoy this exciting game.
What fans say: "My 4-year-old loves this game and it's a great introduction to board games. Taking turns, matching colors, following rules, and sometimes losing are all great skills he is acquiring by playing this game."
2 The Best Cooperative Board Game
Average game length: 10 minutes
Also a beloved classic, First Orchard has been around for 30 years and is great for teaching teamwork and cooperation. Everyone either wins together or loses together. Kids work together to collect fruit before a raven reaches the end of the path. The large, easy-to-grab wooden fruit and colorful die make it simple to follow along and easy for kids to play independently. Even setting up the game allows preschoolers the chance to practice sorting and counting out the pieces. Parents love how simple, yet engaging this game is. "It's very simple with large pieces and quick game play, all of which are a must with the short attention spans of little ones!" wrote one reviewer.
This game has also received high praise from The Wirecutter as "A Favorite Game for Preschoolers." The short, 10-minute rounds keep kids focused and working together to beat the raven. Children as young as 2 can enjoy this game, so if your preschooler has a younger sibling, it's a great way for them to play together.
What fans say: "We play this game with our 4 and 2-year-old sons. They love it! They scream when the crow moves and squeal with glee when they get to pick fruit."
3. The Best Game for Hand-Eye Coordination
Average game length: 15 minutes
Hand-eye coordination is important in developing fine motor skills, and the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game gives children ample practice. The object of the game is to collect colorful acorns by picking them up with squirrel-shaped "tweezers." The acorn colors are matched to the colors on a spinner, and kids can gain, lose, or steal an acorn from their peers. To win the game, children need to collect five acorns. The colorful tree-shaped game board doubles as packaging, making clean-up and storage simple enough for a 4-year-old. Counting, matching, and color recognition are all skills preschoolers can practice by playing this game. With 4.7 stars and over 2,000 Amazon reviews, it's a favorite among parents. It's also been named "Best Toy" by Good Housekeeping and is a Parent's Choice Award winner.
What fans say: "This is a game my preschooler (age 4) loves to play. He gets to practice hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, taking turns, and strategy."
4. The Most Educational Game
Average game length: 10 minutes
Early literacy skills can be practiced with Boggle Junior (a more simplified version of the classic Boggle). It encourages children to identify words associated with pictures. Children look at a picture and the corresponding word. Once the word is covered up, they have to find the missing letters by selecting the correct letter cubes to spell the word. Not only does this help with spelling, but it also helps with memory and understanding which letters are associated with which sounds. It's designed for one to two players so it's great for playing one-on-one with your child, or they can play it with an older sibling.
What fans say: "Bought this for my five-year-old granddaughter! She loves playing it both solo and with me. So far we have been playing it by covering up the words and her trying to figure out the correct spelling. She is so proud of herself when she gets the words correct. Great learning tool for children just learning to read."
5. A Game the Whole Family Can Enjoy
Average game length: 15-20 minutes
Richard Scarry's beloved Busytown characters come to life in this fun, interactive game meant to promote attention to detail. Preschoolers move across the 6-foot-long game board, identifying objects and shouting "I found it!" This is a cooperative game, so families can work together to find hidden objects along the Busytown streets. It's great way for children to practice teamwork while working on their observation skills. With so much going on, children can play over and over and still find something new. They can even work on oral language skills by talking about what they see in the game.
What fans say: "The educational value on Busytown n is high as the game is good at getting [...] kids to count the number of spaces they need to move, [...] searching for certain objects, and building vocabulary as we talk about the different objects on the board. [...] Highly recommended for 3-8 year-olds and for family play!!"
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Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, and the Committee on Communications, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (2007) The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. American Academy of Pediatrics, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182