Like all forms of children’s play, games offer opportunities for growth – physical, cognitive, and emotional. Games allow children to practice new skills and take risks in a safe, controlled environment. Most children really enjoy playing games with their parents, especially when the atmosphere is relaxed and non-competitive. The following is a sampling of fun, age-appropriate games for parents and children to enjoy together.
Birth to age two
The games of babyhood – patty-cake, rock-a-bye baby, peek-a-boo – give parents and children a rewarding vehicle for interaction. These games are a wonderful sensory experience as they involve movement, touching, and speech. Through these traditional baby games, children learn about turn-taking and the sounds and rhythms of spoken language and begin to see themselves as separate from their parents.
Two to three
As toddlers make gains in symbolic thought and language, their games begin to reflect these newfound skills. Follow the leader, simple finger plays like “Where is Thumbkin?”, and let’s pretend games all offer opportunities to put symbolic thought and language to good use. Games that involve fine and gross motor activities – sorting small plastic shapes, filling and emptying containers, and rolling a big rubber ball – are a big hit with this age group.
Three to four
Peer play is a fascinating discovery for 3- and 4-year-olds and encourages cooperation, problem-solving, and language skills. Imaginary play, hide and seek, ring around the rosy, duck-duck-goose, and puppet games are popular with this age group. Some threes and fours are ready for games with simple rules and minimal competition. Try introducing a memory game with just a few cards or a basic game of charades.
Four to five
Four- and 5-year-olds are very interested in games with rules and in interactive games with peers. Games that offer a chance to practice working with rules and provide some experiences with matching, sorting, and sequencing are good choices for this age group. Try simple bingo games, concentration, and picture dominoes. Pretend play becomes more sophisticated at this age, and children will enjoy using open-ended props like old clothing and empty cardboard boxes. Physical games that offer opportunities to practice gross motor skills – running, balancing, jumping, skipping, and throwing – are appealing options for 4- and 5-year-olds.
Five to Six
As 5- and 6-year-olds become more familiar with the concept of rules, they often enjoy developing their own games or changing the rules of preexisting games. Developing original games gives children the chance to negotiate and problem-solve with their peers. Simple board games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, as well as strategy games like Uno and tic-tac-toe, are good choices for 5- and 6-year-olds. As their observation and problem-solving skills improve, fives and sixes will enjoy games like I spy and hot and cold as well as simple card games like Go Fish. Physical play – running, chasing, skipping, and throwing, catching and bouncing balls – provide wonderful opportunities for releasing extra energy and practicing gross motor skills.