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Family Game Night with Toddlers and Preschoolers

Make Family Game Night Fun for All

Growing up, family game night was a staple in our household. We were a fiercely competitive bunch though, so it wasn’t uncommon for the quality time together to end in intense disagreement or sheer, unadulterated anger at losing. I swear to this day my brother is a master at manipulating the rules to his benefit. But no matter how intense it got, we loved playing together and it’s created some fun memories to look back on.

Now that I’ve got kids of my own and we’re trying to develop some fun family time habits that don’t involve screens, playing games together is quickly becoming a top choice (although baking together is a close second.) Since our kids are still very young, it can sometimes be difficult to find age appropriate games that 1. Aren’t boring for parents, 2. Aren’t too hard for the kids, and 3. Last more than 5 minutes.

Here’s a few of our family game night favorites! These are variations on typical games or new games we’ve discovered that seem to work great for toddlers all the way through early elementary, and are adaptable to the level of those playing. All of these naturally have learning-in-disguise elements too since they involve strategy, problem-solving, letter, color or number recognition, or matching!

Cooperative Games

These are quite possibly the best invention of the 21st century for families who want to game together. If your child is prone to meltdowns when they don’t win, cooperative games will give you a break from that battle because you work together to beat an imaginary foe. Pure genius, am I right?? 

A Family Game Night Favorite - Outfoxed! by GameWright

One of our personal favorites is Outfoxed! made by Gamewright. It’s technically for ages 5+, but we simplified it just a bit and our little ones absolutely love this. Don’t be afraid to skip a step that’s making a game boring or too difficult for your kids! In this one, we focused on rolling the dice, looking at clues and suspects, and watching the fox get closer to his escape.

Another one we love is Race to the Treasure made by Peaceable Kingdom. This game is also for ages 5+, though it’s simple enough for our little ones to participate. They do need some help remembering and sticking to the rules. Our kids call the ogre “Yogurt”, and I never want to correct them.

Card Games

Go Fish! was the first game we played with our firstborn, probably starting around when he turned two. Since Go Fish doesn’t require any particular type of cards, we used a set of movie character matching game cards to make it more fun for him.

We left all of our cards face up, and my husband and I were amused watching our son ask us if we had certain characters, completely clueless he could have just looked at our cards on the table and figure it out himself. As he caught on, we watched him start to master some of the strategy, and we began holding our cards while he left his on the table. At that point, my husband and I tried to manipulate the game so that the other would lose without letting our son win too easily, which kept the competitive fire alive between us even while playing a silly game with our kiddo.

UNO, the classic made by Mattel, is one of those awesome games that’s easy to tweak to whatever ages you’re playing with. Since our oldest was just learning to recognize numbers when we started incorporating this into family game night, we simplified the game at first to numbers 1-5 and one special card. He quickly learned how awesome special cards are and started begging for more of those, so we’ve added in more numbers and more special cards each time we’ve played.

Our 2 year-old was working on color recognition at the same time, so this was a fun way for her to practice matching colors, and we helped with number pairing and special card actions. We sometimes employ our 4 year-old to help her, which encourages sibling-to-sibling teaching, and of course makes him feel like a seriously smart dude.

For now, our kids lay their cards on the table, but there’s some pretty awesome hacks around online involving sliced pool noodles, Legos, and so many others that can help your child hold their own!

Hide-and-Seek

The oldest and the easiest, but often forgotten. It gets energy out, involves lots of snuggling in tight hiding spots for our affectionate one, and gives our independent youngest a chance to play a game she can win. Even daddy loves this one because he gets to show off his insanely good hiding skills that have left me completely dumbfounded on more than one occasion. Want to kick it up a notch? Play in the dark outside with flashlights!

Does your family have a favorite game to play together? What seems to be the key ingredient that makes it fun for everyone?

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