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12 Awesome Learning Games for Kids

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Aug 14, 2019 12:00:00 PM

General Education

 

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Learning games, or educational games, are all about making learning, well, fun! They’re also about getting kids to see the practical nature of the skills they’re acquiring, whether that’s how to identify shapes in the world or how to spell difficult words.

In this article, we explain what kinds of skills children can learn through games and give you 12 examples of learning games for kids in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school.

 

What Skills Can Children Gain From Learning Games?

Learning games are entertaining, highly effective methods for teaching children valuable life skills. Here are some of the most important skills kids can hone through learning games:

  • Fine Motor Skills: Coordinating small muscles in specific movements using the eyes
  • Pattern Recognition: The ability to grasp and predict patterns in images, numbers, etc.
  • Visual Scanning: Using your eyes to look in a systematic, pragmatic manner, such as when learning to read
  • Visual Attention: Being able to focus on specific visual information and filter out irrelevant information
  • Short-Term Memory: The ability to recall images, patterns, or other qualities that have just been shown or said and then hidden or removed from sight
  • Reasoning Skills: The ability to process information, think critically, and solve problems
  • Social/Emotional Skills: Includes cooperation and patience as well as how to maintain eye contact, resolve conflicts with others, and communicate effectively
  • Public-Speaking Skills: Expressing yourself verbally in front of others both confidently and appropriately
  • Foreign Language Acquisition: The ability to learn vocabulary words, grammar, and other characteristics of a language that is not your native tongue
  • Active Listening/Listening Comprehension Skills: Giving your full attention to a speaker and understanding the message the speaker is trying to express
  • Language Skills: Linking together words to form proper sentences/phrases and improving vocabulary knowledge

The kinds of skills children gain from educational games can vary a lot depending on the game, the ages of the children playing it, and its purpose as a whole, such as reviewing a basic math concept or improving vocabulary knowledge.

For example, a learning game that works to improve kids' fine motor skills would be better suited to preschoolers and younger children than it would be for older elementary school students who have already mastered these skills.

 

Educational Games for Kids: 12 Fun Examples

In this section, we give you 12 examples of learning games for children in preschool all the way through upper elementary school. We've divided the games into three age groups:

  • Preschool Learning Games (Ages 3-5)
  • Early Elementary Learning Games (Ages 5-9)
  • Upper Elementary Learning Games (Ages 9-12)

 

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Preschool Learning Games

This first set of educational games is geared primarily toward preschoolers, or kids aged 3-5.

 

Puzzles

  • Number of Players: 1+
  • Time: 5-15 mins
  • Skills Learned: Fine motor skills, pattern recognition, visual attention, reasoning skills, social skills

Puzzles are great (not to mention fun) tools for preschoolers to practice their fine motor skills and pattern recognition. Some of the best puzzles for toddlers and preschoolers are those that teach simple concepts, such as the names of shapes, numbers, and alphabet letters.

Be sure you're using puzzles that are geared specifically toward young children and not adults (so as to prevent possible consumption of small pieces).

You can also have preschoolers solve puzzles in pairs or groups, or see whether they can solve the puzzle within a certain time frame. This should naturally be followed by a reward for the winners!

 

Hot Potato

  • Number of Players: 3+
  • Time: 5-15 mins, depending on size of group
  • Skills Learned: Fine motor skills, social skills, public-speaking skills

Hot potato is a classic game you likely played as a kid but perhaps never realized just how many skills you were learning as a result!

There are many variations on hot potato, but the most basic form, which is the easiest to do with extremely young players, is to have all the kids sit in a circle and give one of them a beanbag (or other soft "potato" substitute, such as a small pillow or a stuffed animal).

Turn on some music and then have the kids quickly pass the "potato" to the person next to them in the circle as fast as they can.

Once the music stops (you decide when to pause itremember, random pauses are key to the surprises in the game), the child holding the potato is out (or must do something as punishment, such as reciting the alphabet or counting aloud 1-10). Continue playing until just one child is left.

Here are a few other variations on hot potato you could try:

  • Allow the children to toss the "potato" to anyone in the circle (except for the person who just tossed it to you, unless there are only two players left)
  • Have each kid answer a question when given the potato before they can pass it to someone else (for example, you show them a picture of a shape and ask what its name is)
  • Use multiple "potatoes" to up the ante!

 

body_teddy_bear_softA teddy bear works well as a "potato." This one's even the right color!

 

Memory/Concentration

  • Number of Players: 1+
  • Time: 10-15 mins
  • Skills Learned: Short-term memory, fine motor skills, visual attention

Memory, or concentration, is a fun, easygoing game that improves children's short-term memory and fine motor skills.

There are several different ways you can set up this game depending on the resources you have:

  • Picture cards with matching pairs: With this method, you’ll take a deck of picture cards and spread them out face down on a desk or the floor. Each child will then take turns flipping over two random cards. If the two cards are different, the child must flip them back over and leave them in their original spot. If the two cards do match, the child places them in front of herself. Continue playing until there are no more cards left; the child with the most matches wins.
  • Puzzle pieces with pictures and matching pairs: Puzzle pieces with different edges and/or  shapes work well for young children because they’re easier to grab and provide clearer hints as to which pieces will likely fit together. Flip over puzzle pieces two at a time, and play in the same way as described above.
  • Pre-made memory game with windows: If you don’t want to set up your own concentration game with cards or puzzle pieces, then you might want to buy a pre-made memory game that comes with windows, such as this classic version by Melissa & Doug (for ages 5-7).

 

Four Corners

  • Number of Players: The more, the merrier!
  • Time: 10-15 mins per round
  • Skills Learned: Active listening skills, public-speaking skills, social skills

This classic game is great for burning off some energy.

Start by labeling each corner of the room with a different number (or letters, shapes, cardinal directions, or anything else you’re currently teaching your kids). For example, if you want to focus on shapes, you could label each corner a different shape, such as a rectangle, a circle, a trapezoid, and a triangle.

Choose one child to be "it" and blindfold them. The rest of the children will each pick a corner and move to it (without the child who is "it" knowing which corner has how many people in it).

Still blindfolded, the "it" kid says the label of one of the four corners. With the example above, this would be one of the four shapes. All children standing in the corner whose label is called must immediately return to their seats, as they are now out.

Repeat this process until there are four or fewer children left, at which point each kid must choose a different corner. The last person standing wins and becomes the "it" kid for the next round.

 

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Early Elementary Learning Games

These kids' learning games can be played with children in early elementary school (kindergarten to around third grade).

 

Fruits Basket

  • Number of Players: Best with 8+
  • Time: 10-15 mins
  • Skills Learned: Active listening skills, foreign language acquisition, public-speaking skills, language skills

Fruits Basket is a wild game often played to get kids moving and learning things such as foreign-language vocabulary, numbers, letters, and so on. The game is similar to musical chairs.

Put chairs in a circle so that there’s one less chair than there are children playing (e.g., if you have seven kids playing, you’d have six chairs). Make the chairs facing inward toward the middle of the circle.

Each child will wear a picture of something around their neck, such as a particular shape, alphabet letter, or animal. Limit the number of unique cards to three or four, depending on the size of the group. This means that there should always be at least two kids per picture card. So let's say you have a group of 12 children playing. In this case, it would be best to have four unique card types, such as apples, oranges, bananas, and peaches. Four unique card types means three cards for each category (in other words, three kids will be apples, three will be oranges, etc.).

One kid stands in the middle of the circle (also with a picture card around their neck) while the rest of the children sit in the chairs. The child in the middle picks one of the card names to say out loud. For example, if every child is a shape, the child in the middle could say, "Circle!" to make all the kids with "Circle" cards around their necks stand up and move.

Once a category has been said aloud, all children sitting down who have the card with this category on it must stand up and find an empty chair to sit in. Meanwhile, the kid in the middle will also look for an empty seat to try to steal. Whoever doesn't get a chair is now the new child in the middle.

Play continues until you decide to end the gamethere are no winners or losers.

Here are some additional tips for playing Fruits Basket:

  • If a child is having trouble finding a seat and keeps getting stuck in the middle, they can say, "Fruits basket!" to make everyone get up and move at the same time.
  • For an extra challenge, make it so that you can’t just exchange seats with the people sitting directly next to you (if they're wearing the same card as you).
  • This game works great as a foreign-language activity. Have your children practice saying simple words in the target language. I often used this activity to teach my Japanese students English.

 

Bingo

  • Number of Players: The more, the merrier!
  • Time: 10-15 mins
  • Skills Learned: Visual scanning, fine motor skills, active listening skills, pattern recognition, foreign language acquisition

Bingo isn’t just for the elderlylots of kids love playing Bingo, especially if it means winning a prize or two!

To play, you can either buy or make your own Bingo sheets. The traditional Bingo sheet looks like this, with each letter of "Bingo" representing a separate column with numbers in it (there's also a free space in the middle):

 

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The caller (usually the teacher or adult) will draw cards with numbers on them or randomly call out numbers. Each child takes a few seconds or so to look for the number and see if it is on their Bingo sheet. If it is, the child places a small token (or uses a pencil to draw an X or O) on the square with the number in it. If the number is not there, the child does nothing.

If a kid marks five squares in a row, in a column, or diagonally, they call out, "Bingo!" and receive an award.

There are many variations on Bingo. Here are some ideas for changing it up:

  • Use pictures or shapes instead of numbers—this is great for teaching foreign vocabulary
  • Get rid of the "Free Space" to make the game more challenging
  • Change the traditional winning pattern and instead require the children to cover spaces in the shape of a giant X, cover all four corners, or get a blackout (i.e., cover the entire board)

 

body_search_detectiveThis next game makes kids the detectives.

 

Scavenger Hunt

  • Number of Players: The more, the merrier!
  • Time: 15-20 mins
  • Skills Learned: Reasoning skills, foreign language acquisition, social skills

Scavenger hunts are great for not just getting kids to exercise and run around but also teaching them problem-solving skills and the value of teamwork.

There are tons of ways you can set up a scavenger hunt depending on the age, skill levels, and interests of the children. The basic idea of a scavenger hunt is to have children (usually in pairs or groups) search for specific objects or clues in a room or other closed environment.

Some scavenger hunts don’t require any preparation. For example, you could have children search for specific shapes in nature or colors of objects (especially useful if you’re teaching color names in a foreign language).

Slightly harder scavenger hunts can entail having the children look for math problems or riddles, which they must solve in order to get the hint to where the next problem is hidden.

Other types of hunts include providing children with a list of objects to find and gather, perhaps to put together later in order to complete something, such as a jigsaw puzzle.

 

Simon Says

  • Number of Players: The more, the merrier!
  • Time: 15-20 mins
  • Skills Learned: Active listening skills, language skills, foreign language acquisition

Simon Says is a great way to teach kids how to listen and understand a variety of words, thereby improving their language and literacy skills. It's also helpful for teaching vocabulary words and grammar in a foreign language.

To play, have everybody stand up. Make one person (usually the adult or teacher) be Simon. This person is the leader and is trying to eliminate as many players as possible. As Simon, you will say action phrases for the children to do, such as "Touch your nose" or "Raise your left hand."

If you use the phrase "Simon says" before the action, the children must do it. If you don’t use the phrase "Simon says," however, the children must not do the action. Any child who performs an action that does not have "Simon says" before it or who fails to do an action that has "Simon says" before it is out and must sit down.

The game continues until one child is left standing.

 

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Upper Elementary Learning Games

This last set of educational games is best for children in grades four through six.

 

Hangman

  • Number of Players: 2+
  • Time: 10-20 mins
  • Skills Learned: Language skills (spelling and reading), reasoning skills, public-speaking skills, visual scanning, foreign language acquisition

Hangman is one of those classic, simple games that requires no major prep and is very easy to learn. It’s best played with a larger group of people or in teams.

One person (usually the adult or teacher) thinks of a word and writes down a short horizontal line, or blank, for each letter of that word. Make sure to use a word that the kids will know and that is ideally relevant to what they’re learning. For example, if you chose the word "flower," you would write down six blanks, one for each letter.

Once you have a word chosen and have written down the blanks for it, draw a hook-like picture; this will be what the "hangman" hangs on. It’s similar to an upside-down L or J. Draw an empty box next to this as wellthis will be for recording wrong letters:

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Now, each student (or group of students) takes turns guessing a letter in the mystery word.

If the letter is correct, write that letter in whatever blanks it appears in for the word (so if there are multiples of that letter, write all of them in).

If the letter is incorrect, put that letter in the empty box and draw part of the hangman. Most people start with the head and then move on to the body, the limbs, and finally the facial features, such as the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. It's good to decide ahead of time what a full hangman looks like so the children can know at any point how close they are to losing.

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Anyone may guess the full word at any time. If the word is incorrect though, treat it as a wrong guess and draw part of the hangman. The players win if they guess the correct word or find all the letters in the word before the hangman is complete. You win if nobody guesses your word!

To make the game slightly easier for kids, you can give them a category beforehand from which you’ll think of a word. For example, if the category were "School Supplies," then they’d know to be on the lookout for words such as "eraser," "pencil," or "notebook."

 

Catch Phrase

  • Number of Players: 4+
  • Time: 15-20 mins
  • Skills Learned: Reasoning skills, active listening skills, language skills, public-speaking skills, social skills

Catch Phrase gets its name from a popular board game, which involves describing a certain word or phrase to people without using any of the words in that phrase or any rhyming words.

To play your own game of Catch Phrase, come up with dozens of words kids must describe to one another. If you have a large group of kids, divide them into teams (typically two).

Write out the words on individual pieces of paper and then put them in a hat or bowl from which one kid at a time will select a word. Check that every child understands the word they get, and be sure they do not tell anyone else their word!

There are several ways you can play this game; here are some of the most common:

  • The traditional method is to have two teams. Each team takes turns describing a word to their teammates. Once a team guesses the correct word, play passes to the other team. The game continues like this until time runs out. The team not in the middle of describing a word when the timer stops wins one point.
  • Time each group one minute and see how many words they can guess correctly. Have one child describe words one at a time (or have each child take turns describing one word). Give one point for each correctly guessed word.
  • Don’t allow children to "pass" difficult words—this will make the game even harder!

 

body_children_teamwork_handsTeamwork is a vital part of Catch Phrase and other kids' learning games.

 

Pictionary

  • Number of Players: 2+
  • Time: 15-20 mins
  • Skills Learned: Reasoning skills, visual scanning, visual attention, social skills

Pictionary is an exciting board game that encourages kids to practice their drawing and reasoning skills.

To play, divide children into pairs (or teams) and give them either a mini-whiteboard with a marker or a sheet of paper with a pencil. Each child will take turns drawing a picture of a word that’s been secretly given to them (written on a piece of paper and given to them or whispered to them by an adult). The other kid has a certain amount of timeusually one minuteto guess the word that is being drawn.

There are many options for changing up the rules. For example, you could have all the children who are drawing pictures illustrate the same word at the same time, or have every child take turns drawing a picture at the front of the classroom on the whiteboard so everyone can guess.

Here are the official Pictionary rules in case you’re interested.

 

20 Questions

  • Number of Players: 2+
  • Time: 5-10 mins
  • Skills Learned: Reasoning skills, active listening skills, language skills, short-term memory, public-speaking skills

20 Questions is an easy game to play that doesn’t take up much time and can be played with as few as two players.

The purpose of this game is for the players to correctly guess what one person is thinking of within 20 yes-or-no questions. The thing being thought of is usually an object, person, or place.

As the thinker, you'll come up with one word and then have the kids one at a time ask you yes-or-no questions to try to figure out what the word is. Questions typically begin broad:

  • Is it a person?
  • Is it something you can eat?
  • Is it something in this room?

If it’s the first time you’re playing this game with children, it'd probably be a good idea to go over some examples of basic questions they can ask you so they have a better idea of how to play.

As the yes-or-no questions get more specific, children can begin guessing the word. For example:

  • Is it a balloon?
  • Is it George Washington?
  • Is it the playground?

If players can figure out what the secret word is within 20 questions, they win! If not, you win.

 

body_children_learning_funThe one message we hope you take away from this article!

 

Review: The Importance of Kids' Learning Games

Learning might not sound like much fun, but the truth is that there are tons of ways children can engage in activities that are both fun and educational.

This list of 12 learning games is certainly not exhaustive, but it does manage to show just how many different types of (fun) educational games for kids exist. Most of these games can be bought at a store or created with simple tools, such as paper, markers, and colored pencils.

If you’re not sure what kind of learning games to use with your own kids, think first of the types of skills you’d like them to learn. For example, if you want your very young students to practice their fine motor skills, a hands-on game such as a puzzle would be a great choice.

Regardless of the games you decide to play with children, you’re sure to end up having lots of funperhaps more than you thought possible!

 

What’s Next?

Want more ideas for kids' learning games? Then check out our expert guides on spelling games (coming soon), alphabet games (coming soon), and toddler learning games (coming soon).

If you want to teach children, then perhaps an early childhood education degree is right for youOur guide goes over what this degree entails in terms of coursework, and gives you a helpful list of the best online BA in Early Childhood Education degree programs.

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.



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