Looking for games that your toddler will both enjoy and gain important skills from? We’ve got you covered! In this guide, we go over 11 of the best toddler learning games. These educational games for toddlers can be played with few materials, one or more children, and toddlers of varying age ranges. For each game, we explain what skills it will teach toddlers and give instructions on how to set up and play the game.
How Can Learning Games Benefit Toddlers?
Toddlers’ minds and bodies are undergoing huge changes during this time of their lives, as they learn to communicate, think, and move in completely new ways as they move out of babyhood. Games are one of the best ways for toddlers to develop these new skills because they’re easy and fun to participate in. Some of the skills toddler learning games can teach include:
- Gross and fine motor skills
- Language development
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Social skills
Learning games can help toddlers be prepared for when they start school by giving them a leg up on topics such as numbers, colors, and letters. The social skills they learn from these games, such as sharing and listening to instructions, will also make school, daycare, or even play dates more enjoyable because your toddler will have more experience interacting with other children and being a fair playmate.
11 Examples of Toddler Learning Games
Below are 11 examples of educational games for toddlers that can teach everything from counting to motor skills to following directions. For each of these toddler learning games, we give a brief description, an overview of the materials needed, and directions on how to play the game.
#1: Car Parking Numbers
This counting game takes only a few minutes to set up, but once it’s ready your toddler can play with it over and over again to practice their counting skills. This game also helps toddlers practice fine motor skills when steering the cars into the correct parking spot.
- Shallow cardboard box with lid removed
- Matchbox cars (plastic horses are also a good substitute)
- Permanent marker
- Small pieces of paper
Tape a number to the top of each car, then draw the same number of “parking spaces” in the cardboard box. Label each of the spaces with a number so that each numbered car has a parking spot with a corresponding number. Your toddler can then “drive” each car into the matching parking spot while you discuss numbers and counting with them. As your toddler’s counting skills grow, add more parking spots and numbered cars to keep them learning.
#2: Simon Says
A great game for teaching toddlers how to follow instructions, Simon Says can be played with any number of children. You can also tailor it to different areas of learning, such as a Simon Says game that focuses on moving different body parts, identifying different shapes, etc. In fact, studies have shown that young children who play Simon Says go on to have improved math and literacy skills, so this game truly has a whole host of benefits!
- None required
To play Simon Says, choose one person to be Simon (it’s best to start off with you or an older child being Simon until younger kids get the hang of the game). “Simon” then calls out commands such as “jump up and down” or “touch your toes.” The key is the other players must listen for the phrase “Simon says” before each command before they follow it. If they follow a command you didn’t preface with “Simon says” then they are out. The last person remaining in the game is the winner.
#3: Foam Writing
Many toddlers still struggle to correctly hold a pencil at this age, but you can help them practice their writing and drawing skills with foam writing. They’ll love playing with foam, and at the same time they can learn how to form different letters and shapes.
- Shaving cream
- Large, flat surface that can be covered with shaving cream
Spread the shaving cream in a thick, even layer across the surface. For younger toddlers you can start with just having them draw any patterns they like in the foam to improve motor skills. For older toddlers, write a number, letter, shape, etc. in the foam and have your toddler copy you. As they get more advanced, you can also have them write out letters or numbers on their own without you writing them first. After you’ve played for a while, the foam can be smoothed over with your hands to create a blank surface again.
Most toddlers love sorting things, from their toys to the food on their plate, and you can use this activity to help them learn. It’s also very easy to customize this game to focus on whatever you want your toddler to learn: colors, shapes, sizes, etc. This game will help your toddler recognize similarities and differences between items and learn the basics of categorization.
- Items that have multiple types of whatever characteristic you want your toddler to identify. (ex. If you want your toddler to learn about colors, gather items of several different colors)
For the sorting game, you can either ask your toddler to sort the items based on a specific characteristic (“show me all your red toys” or “can you group your toys together by color?”) or you can ask them to sort the items on their own, then ask them to explain how they sorted them. This is a great game for facilitating discussions with your toddler as you talk about the different objects and how they are similar to and different from each other.
#5: Board and Card Games
Board and card games can be a great way to teach toddlers how to follow rules, wait for their turn, and learn whatever skills the games are promoting. There are board games for toddlers that focus on the alphabet, other focus on counting, colors, etc.
- An age-appropriate board game for toddlers. Some of our favorites are:
- Go Fish
- Candy Land
- The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game
- Chutes and Ladders
Read the directions for the game, and start playing! If you’re looking for other board and card games, search for those meant for ages 2-4, as these will have rules and playing times specifically designed to help toddlers learn the game and have fun. Don’t be surprised if you don’t make it through the entire game, as toddlers have short attention spans and, even if they enjoy the game, they’ll likely want to move onto another activity fairly quickly. You can continue the benefits of the game by bringing it up a short time later. For example, at lunch you can say, “Remember the board game we played earlier where we counted how many fish you caught? Let’s count how many pieces of fruit are on your plate.”
#6: Story Time
Toddlers love listening to stories, and you can get them to practice their creativity skills by encouraging them to participate in the story you’re telling, as well as incorporate important lessons you’d like them to know. By age three, many children know roughly 400 words, and they love hearing words they understand, especially when words/phrases are repeated throughout the story so that they’re easier to remember.
- Children’s book (or you can make up your own story) Some recommendations:
- Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. By: Al Perkins
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. By: Bill Martin Jr.
- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. By: Dr. Seuss
- Dear Zoo. By: Rod Campbell
Read/tell the story, stopping every now and then to ask your toddler questions like, “What do you think will happen next?” or “Do you think [character] treated her friend nicely?” then listen to your toddler’s responses and either continue the conversation, continue the story, or alternate between the two.
#7: What’s Missing?
This memory game can be played in nearly any room of the house, and it helps toddlers work on naming and describing objects as well as improving their memory.
- 4-5 objects of any kind
- A tray to place the objects on
- Towel to cover the objects
Place the objects (toys, household items, foods, etc.) on the tray and look at them with your toddler. Name each item to help them remember it. Then, cover the items with the towel and ask your toddler to cover their eyes/turn around. Remove one of the items and set it aside in a place the toddler can’t see. Next, remove the towel and have your toddler tell you which item was removed. You can give them hints to help if they’re struggling to remember such as, “It’s a yellow fruit that’s sour.” To make the game more challenging, add more items to the tray and/or remove more than one item at a time.
This classic game is a great way to get toddlers moving, as well as teach them about listening to directions and learning the names of different body parts. Many older kids love the song as well, so it can be used to occupy children of a variety of ages.
- None required
Have the children stand in a line or a circle, and start singing! Lyrics are here, but feel free to substitute different body parts for different verses if you desire. Even if kids don’t know the song, they’ll pick it up after a few minutes and join you in the singing.
#9: Memory Game
Toddler’s memories are beginning to develop at a very rapid rate, and this is a great way to test their growing skills. Any version of the game will help toddlers hone their memory skills, and you can also make your own cards to focus on whatever you want your toddler to learn, whether that’s shapes, colors, animals, etc.
- About eight or ten cards with matching pairs. There are memory card sets available to buy, or you can also make your own with images, letters, numbers, colors, etc. you want your toddler to learn. Just make sure you make two of each image/figure. This game can also be played with several two-piece puzzles that children can match together.
- For an outdoor version, you can make oversized cards out of posterboard and spread them across the lawn, then follow the rest of the directions below.
Lay out the cards, face down, in a grid pattern on a flat surface. Each player takes a turn flipping over any two cards they choose. If the cards are a match, they get to remove them from the game. If they aren’t a match, the cards get flipped back over. The trick is to remember where they’ve seen cards from previous turns so they can eventually find all the matching pairs. The person with the most matched pairs wins. Younger toddlers may need some hints to play the game when they first start, and talking about the cards as they’re flipped over can also help children remember them more easily.
#10: Indoor Bowling
While most toddlers are too young for actual bowling alleys (it can be difficult for them to roll the ball with enough force it needs to make it to the end of the lane), you can set up your own bowling alley in just a few minutes at home. In addition to motor skills, this game can be used to teach toddlers the basics of counting, and even addition and subtraction (ex. If there are ten pins and you knocked four down, how many are left?).
- 6 or 10 empty containers of similar size/shape (soda cans work well for this)
- Tennis ball or small plastic ball
- Masking tape
Use the masking tape to mark out the bowling lane (a few meters should be long enough). Arrange the containers in a pyramid at the end of the lane, either (if using ten containers) four on the top, then three on the second level, two, then one, or (if using six) three, then two, then one. Your toddler can then roll the ball along the “lane” and see how many containers they can knock over.
#11: Count the Flowers
A fun springtime activity, Count the Flowers combines some arts and crafts with a counting game that will help toddlers learn their numbers.
- Fake flower pieces (about 10-20)
- Popsicle sticks
- Hot glue gun
- Several plastic containers that you can write or stick numbers to
Glue a flower to the top of each popsicle stick, then clearly label each container with a number, going up as high as you’d like to. When you’re ready to play the game, display the containers in a row, with their numbers visible. They can be in numerical or random order, depending on how difficult you’d like the game to be. Have each toddler choose a container, then ask them to put the proper number of “flowers” in it. So, if they chose the container with a “3” on it, they’d need to put three flowers inside it. Correct them if they make a mistake and use it as an opportunity to count together with them.
Tips for Teaching Toddlers
Toddlers aren’t always known for being the easiest people to keep occupied, but these three tips can help playtime remain fun and educational for everyone involved.
Keep Games Short
Toddlers have notoriously short attention spans, and trying to get them to play a long and involved game is a recipe for disaster. All of the games we discussed in this article can be completed in just a few minutes, which may be all the time your toddler is willing to spend on an activity some days. They can also each be extended if your toddler gets really into the game and is able to focus on it for a longer period of time.
When doing these or any other preschool learning games, let your toddler dictate how long (s)he wants to play, and don’t give up on a game if they aren’t that interested in it the first time they play it.
Use RepetitionToddlers love repetition, whether it’s a song with a repeating chorus or a game that requires repeated actions to play it. Toddlers experience so many new things each day that they love repetition, both because it gives them a sense of order and because it helps them improve their memory. There aren’t many instances when a toddler can predict what will happen next, so they love when it happens in their games.
Ask Them Questions
When you’re tired of reading the same book or playing the same game every day for a month, you can change things up by asking questions about the game they’re playing and why they make certain choices. For example, if your toddler is playing with cars, you can ask her which car is her favorite, why she likes that one the best, how it reminds her of the car she rides in, etc. Any question that gets your toddler thinking critically and engaged in conversation will help them develop key skills they’ll use throughout life.
Summary: Educational Games for Toddlers
Toddler learning games are a great way for young children to learn numerous skills, as well as engage in fun playtime. Each of the activities listed in this article can be modified to suit different ages, group sizes, and time requirements.
When playing educational games for toddlers, it’s important to keep the pre k learning games short, use repetition, and ask them questions while they play to ensure they get the most out of these games.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.