Our favorite games for little kids…and what skills they encourage

First I have to give a disclaimer:

We play games that are fun (or at least fun for my son), because they are fun. I take a dim view of “educational” games, which are generally heavy on the “education” and light on the fun and interesting. We also love playing games, I don’t recommend forcing games on your kid so they learn stuff. If you force someone to do something, they will be resistant to learning (or doing) whatever it is you wish them to learn (or do).

So I’m giving recommendations for our favorite games. Learning is a byproduct of these games, but not the intended goal.

I’ll start with the games for the littlest kids and work my way up. I linked to descriptions or rules for each game. There are probably thousands of games out there, but for our house, I’ve mostly stuck to the tried and true board games, add playing cards and some dice, and you have enough games to last you the rest of your life.

Almost all our games were bought at thrift stores. Especially for little kid games, that is the only way to go.

Candy Land

There is a reason this game is a classic. It’s super simple, uses colors instead of numbers, so any kid that can sit still long enough can play it. It helps kids get used to winning and losing, taking turns, and other game playing skills. And yes, it can take forever. If you are in a hurry, you can remove the special picture cards the second time through the deck so no one has to go backwards.

Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders)

This game has 100 spaces, with a spinner that goes up to 6 to tell you where to move. We started playing chutes and ladders when Caleb was about 4, and at that point he knew 1-10, but didn’t have a strong grasp of the other numbers. The more we played, the more he recognized and understood the numbers. The way the board is set up, it also reinforces the idea that our number system is built around 10’s.


This was one of the first card games we started playing. And I have to say that we always play “stack” rules. Which means that if you have four 9’s of varying colors, you can stack them up and play them all at once. We also play that you have to draw cards until you get one that you can play, so playing stack rules, it keeps the game from being torturously long.

Since there are only 2 of us, and Uno is a more interesting game with mulitple players (for the skip cards and the reverse cards), we often play with dummies. Buzz Lightyear and the sharp tooth dinosaur will play and we just choose their cards for them. The rule is we have to play the cards that would help them the most (not ourselves).


A note about card games with little kids:

We started playing card games when Caleb was four. At that point, he didn’t have the skills to hold his cards in his hands. For Uno, where it doesn’t matter much if everyone sees your cards, he would just leave them face up on the ground. For something like Go Fish, he would use a board or pillows or something to hide the cards on the ground. 

Go Fish

Go Fish is an easy game that introduces playing cards (jacks, queens, etc.). It’s good for little kids. The more they pay attention to the game and remember what people asked for, the better they’ll do.

Egyptian Ratscrew

This game you slap the pile when there are two of a kind in a row (two 3’s, two jacks, etc.). It’s an easy game that requires no skill to play, but the faster you are, the more likely it is that you will win.

The games in this post are for all ages, most of them have very little skill, and they are mainly for building the skills it will take to play more challenging games later. Those skills translate into good real life skills as well.

In my next post, I’ll move on to some games that take more skill or at least more thought.


4 thoughts on “Our favorite games for little kids…and what skills they encourage

  1. thanks for this post. I just recently introduced to games to my 4yr daughter: mini memo(memory match game) and the balance game. she loves both bet card games will be just as fun. will have to try the obes in you posting.

  2. Pingback: Games for Reading | Mama Made Them

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