4 Ways Games With Rules Shape Your Toddler's and Preschooler's Development

Any sports fans out there? Board game junkies? (Or have you, like me, accidentally-on-purpose hidden that Chutes & Ladders game from Grandma….)

However you feel about games, here’s what you need to know: games with rules are awesome for your toddlers and preschoolers.

Why? Games with rules encourage that kind of deep, whole-mind-and-body play that our guy Piaget (remember him?) found to be so important for healthy development. Turns out it doesn’t matter whether you and your kids play boardgames or simple sports, competitive or collaborative games…as long as there are clear rules and a clear goal for winning or finishing, games foster high-quality playtime.

Not only do games encourage all-in play, but also they have these other developmental benefits:

Games offer organic opportunities for early learning.
Kids can count spaces, identify colors, build hand-eye coordination–the possibilities are endless! Research has even shown board games can boost reading skills and vocabulary.

Games lengthen your child’s attention span.
They require focus, but kids are motivated to stay focused on games. So they do. And the payoff is big.

Games teach all kinds of important emotional lessons.
Kids learn how to be a gracious winner and a good loser. They learn patience as they wait their turn. They learn the value of teamwork. They learn to strategize and deal with uncertainty. Games are just packed with natural opportunities for emotional learning!

Games are a great way to unplug with your kids…
…and we all know the importance of just being present, screens off.

Games don’t have to be fancy or beautiful to work their magic! Dig the ball out of the shed and play four-square on the driveway or pull out HiHo Cherry-o on a rainy day. Or even simpler–ask Alexa to play you Freeze Dance in the kitchen…or play I Spy as you wait in line. It all counts.

Below are a few of my favorites–all products my family loves. Have fun, parents! Games are a benefits-packed way to connect with your kids that can really be a good time for you too.

The first 2 listed we started playing with our girls when they were older 2, close to 3. Both girls at ages 5 and 7 still enjoy Candyland. In fact, we sometimes play a game of Candyland to unwind before bed instead of reading a book!

Candyland- a classic but great for children who are learning colors. Young children may struggle with landing on a square that moves them backwards but this can easily turn into a teachable moment for the grown-up who's playing with them. 

Hi Ho Cherry-O- another oldie but great for children learning to count. Beware of small pieces if you have a younger child around, they are choking hazards. 

Cooperation games are huge and I really like this trend. While I think there is a balance and we need to help our children learn to win and to lose, these games promote strategic thinking and cooperation. Peaceable Kingdom is a brand of cooperative games but a simple Google search for "cooperative games for young children" will yield many options.

Hoot Owl Hoot- You work together to move all the owls into their nest before the sun rises. You still win or lose, you just do it as a whole group instead of one person winning or losing. 

Tiny Polka Dot- I bet you haven't seen this one. I found it randomly on Amazon but I'm so glad I did. It has 16 games in one and they grow with your child! It also makes it where you can use the cards and the game with a younger sibling and an older sibling, just in different ways. Definitely check this math focused game out!