I love playing board games with my preschool children. It’s a great activity that can be played with educators or small groups of children can play them independently. I also encourage parents to actively play board games with their children at home for the learning and benefits they provide. It’s so much fun too!
Generally, preschool board games can offer the following benefits:
- Matching, identifying and naming colors and shapes
- Observation skills by sorting and classifying
- Memory recall
- Resilience- e.g. accepting second place in the game.
- Matching and identifying numbers and letters.
- Visual discrimination – e.g. identifying and defining characteristics of shapes, such as distinguishing a square from a rectangle.
- Sequencing – e.g. continuing a repeating pattern of shapes
- Social skills – taking turns and sharing resources
- Mutual respect, courtesy and fair play
- Talking and conversing with other players – children need to work together to make the game enjoyable in a friendly, supportive environment
- Following directions –to comprehend the instructions for playing the game or using their imagination to reinvent the instructions
- Developing finger and hand muscles – e.g. rolling dice in a controlled way or moving the counters along
- Developing hand and eye coordination – e.g. a magnetic fishing game with moving parts
Below, I have outlined some of my favorite preschool board games. I’ve explained why I like them and the skills they address. You will find that they vary in difficulty and format to address all abilities. Just click on the picture if you’d like to view them on Amazon.
Magnetic Make A Shape Board
This game explores the concept of patterns as children copy the pattern from the picture. The children can be creative and imaginative as they are not limited to the prescribed pictures and patterns.
The following skills are developed:
- Sorting – children sort through the variety of shapes to identify the shapes required
- Matching, recognizing and naming shapes and colors
- Considering the attributes of the shape (even if it is unfamiliar)
- Social – Children can work together
- Language – Children can describe what they have made and answer questions. For example:“What shapes / colors did you use?” Some children may be able to include two attributes (e.g. “I used a red square”)
- Variety of difficulty levels
Shopping List Memory Game
This game enables children to relate to experiences they have shared with their family. It allows children to choose their shopping items.
I like the use of written words in this game so that children can become familiar with letters, making up words and visual cues. Language is also developed in this game as children are building associations between spoken words and the objects.
As a variation, this game can also be used as a memory game, turning cards over and revealing them one at a time.
This game promotes:
- Taking turns – between 2-4 players
- Healthy eating/foods
- Observation skills – what are the attributes of each item?
- Sorting and categorizing according to their own shopping list.
- Pre-reading skills
- Math skills– e.g. full/empty cart
- Language skills
- Memory and recall
Let’s Go Fishin’
I love the fun subject matter for this board game. There are also magnetic and non-magnetic versions. Movement makes the game more challenging and exciting.
This game is multifaceted in the skills that it develops:
- Coordination – eye/hand
- Teamwork – working together as a team in ensuring that rods don’t get tangled or stuck together
- Color – identifying and recognizing the colors of the fish
- Counting – Asking the children questions such as: how many fish did you catch? You can also break it down: how many red fish did you catch? How many blue? Which did you catch more of?
As an extension you could make a cardboard color wheel with a spinning arrow to make the game more interactive. Use a split pin to attach the arrow, spin it around and see what color you need to catch!
It’s no secret why this game is an old favorite! There are so many educational benefits too;importantly, this game develops strategy, problem solving and forward thinking. I use this game to address the following skills:
- Ability to listen and comprehend the rules and objectives of the game
- Taking turns
- Spatial awareness – building up and across
- Positioning – e.g. first, second, third
- Eye/hand coordination (dropping the pieces in from the top)
In an alternate activity, the equipment for this game can be used to make patterns. You can use it to introduce left-to-right, pre-reading skills and concepts such as identifying the pieces in order, like the children would in a sentence.
You can also teach sequencing: start with a simple sequence and build up to more complicated ones (‘yellow, red, yellow, red’ to ‘yellow, red, red yellow…’)
Thomas & Friends Tic-Tac Bingo
This preschool board game is visually stimulating and enhances visual discrimination as the children observe finer details. Plus, Thomas is an extremely familiar and well-loved character!
Offering Tic Tac Toe and Bingo; Bingo is more complicated of the two in terms of its potential combinations. There are many more characters on the board and considers the two attributes of color and character
Both games promote:
- Taking turns
- Eye/hand coordination
- Strategy – Future planning is required in terms of where the children place their tokens (especially in bingo).The game rewards those with a capacity to think ahead.
These games can be varied to suit children’s concentration spans. The action of these games heats up towards the end.
Old McDonald – A Pop n’ Match Game
This preschool board game is a simple matching game and a very basic version of bingo. It is ideal for younger children.
I like this game as it helps to develop finger and hand strength through pushing the popper down to roll the die.
Some of the other benefits of this game include:
- Taking turns (up to 4 players)
- Learning about farm animals
- Counting / anticipation / pre math – visualizing ‘5’and seeing how many there are left to go.
- Having the die inside has many advantages: you can’t lose it, children can’t swallow it, it’s novel and prepares for other games with a similar popper, like Trouble.
- Coping with frustration and developing resilience. The children may need to roll the die several times to gain the final animal.
You can make it more fun and interactive by varying the directions; e.g. making the noise of the animal when they roll it.
You can also integrate the book ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’ as an extension activity.
Snail’s Pace Race
This preschool board game is simple to understand, with fun colors. It helps teach counting and the children can also predict which one will come in first. This introduces the math concepts of first, second, third.
It’s a cooperative and non-competitive game.
Snail’s Pace Race introduces children to basic board game rules such as turn-taking, patience, dice-rolling and piece movement. Players practice their counting, color-matching, memory and social skills.
‘Dotty Dinosaurs’ improves manual dexterity and encourages social and observational skills. Children have to take turns with 2-4 players. It can be played competitively or cooperatively.
Children look at two attributes – shape and color – in either two separate games or at the same time. There are 2 dice – one for color and one for shape – thus the children are also learning dice skills.
Best of all, children love dinosaurs and these ones are really cute!
Giant Snakes and Ladders
This version of Snakes and Ladders comes with a floor mat which allows children to use their body as a game token!
They move their feet according to the die roll which brings physical benefits – the children are up and moving around.
Children use their whole body to get a different idea of counting, through stepping it out. As the die is so large, the children use their upper body and arm muscles to roll.
This version of the game offers novelty as it is very different to the traditional game. I also like that it offers the ability to be played outside in the fresh air – it is durable and has pegs to hold it into the ground.
Some of the other skills developed in this game are:
- Taking turns
- Counting from 1 to 6 (dots on die)
- Concept of going up and down
- Concept of long and short (snakes and the ladders)
This game can be played progressively as the children’s skills develop. Initially they start with matching the pictures to understand the concept of the game. As they become more aware of how it is played and as they learn numbers, counting can be included in the game.
They can play dominoes on their own or in pairs / groups. You can use a communal pool of cards to start with, so everyone gets a turn.
Children are encouraged to use their creativity in setting the direction of the game. It can have multiple directions or changing directions, etc. Alternatively they may need to adapt the game to a limited table space.
Dominoes are great for:
- Fine motor – picking up and placing carefully
- Ability to create own games using the tiles (for example, guessing games)
- Taking turns
- Cooperation – helping each other or drawing from a common pool of tiles
This preschool board game encourages healthier eating choices in a fun way. Children use the “healthy food” cards to create nutritious meals and feed the “junk food” cards to the gorilla to make him burp. Hilarity ensues!
This game develops:
- Personal and social skills
- Speech and language – talking about what foods are on your list and which are healthy and unhealthy and why
- Taking turns
The game can be used as a basis for a discussion on foods – what the children like, how the foods taste, etc. It also introduces the meaning of the words ‘menu’ and ‘recipe’. The game is relatable as it explores foods the children would eat as well as the concept of going shopping.
This game can be used for a progression of abilities; using the silhouette of the pictures for matching and reading the written words.
This game offers the opportunity to match up to three attributes in one game – size, color and numbers. The adaptable game card allows for a combination of difficulties; children can start matching first size or color and work their way to numbers. Two to four players can play at once.
Skills developed include:
- Number recognition- matching the corresponding number of bears to the written number
- Concepts of ‘big’, ‘medium’and ‘small’ (channeling Goldilocks and the 3 Bears)
- Learning how to use the spinner – and self-control by resisting the temptation to move the pointer onto the color they want!
Alternatively children can just play games with the little bear figurines – 3 sizes and 6 colors of bears. This will enable sequencing games, classifying and sorting.
I Spy Memory Game
This is a visual game which requires memory and concentration.
It can also be a guessing game – “Which card am I holding?” The child can have 4 cards to choose from and the educator or parent describes the one they have, letting the child guess as more clues are provided.
This game develops the following skills:
- Comprehension – describe a card by what the item does, rather than what it is (and have the child guess).
- Listening skills
- Language – expressive and receptive
- Sorting and categorizing by theme
There are 8 ways of playing, varying in difficulty, depending on your children’s abilities and the learning you are striving for. It could involve:
- Matching the pictures
- Listening to and solving the riddles
- A child leading the game
This game features 10 colors and six shapes, including 2 less familiar shapes; the diamond and oval.
The first approach could be concentrating on colors alone – e.g. “Who has a red shape?” Then the next game could be concentrating on shapes alone, progressing to a game using both color and shape. Another approach would be to adapt the game to the individual player. For example, “[Child 1], do you have a red shape?” but to Child 2 you may ask “Do you have a red square?”. The children develop their fine motor skills, such as using a pincer grip as the counters are small, flat and difficult to pick up.
During the game, the children need to listen respectfully and concentrate on the caller. Children can only answer when they have the required shape or able to call ‘Bingo’. The children need to follow directions, such as putting the counter down in the right place.
Touch and Match Color Recognition
This is a tactile game whereby the children need to identify shapes by feel only, while the shapes are in the bag. It is a sensory experience where the children use their language to describe the feeling and texture of the shapes.
You can play straight from the bag, or place the shapes on the matching cards.
The shapes have different patterns and colors encouraging visual discrimination. You can explore the different patterns and textures using sight and touch.
This game can be an individual or group game. It also provides the opportunity to invent games; for example, Bingo.
Alternate uses for this preschool game:
- Use the shapes for painting or printing – allows you to make comparisons to the card provided within the game.
- Turn these paintings into a matching game like dominoes, snap or concentration.
- Use the shapes as templates for tracing.
What are your favorite preschool board games? I’d love to know what your children enjoy.