Ages and Stages: Games to Grow and Learn

In the words of Fred Rogers, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” From birth, every playful interaction is a form of teaching that helps your child grow. Playing games with babies, toddlers and preschoolers stimulates the brain and aids cognitive, physical and social/emotional development.

Here are some ideas for games to play from birth through age five:

Ages 0–1: Newborns take in everything from the tone of your voice to the care you give. After the first few months, babies are more able to engage in play. The first game many parents try is exchanging and encouraging smiles, funny faces or giggles! Try a variety of fun activities that engage the senses — singing and playing peekaboo, playing with rattles (e.g., a plastic bottle filled partly with beans), allowing babies to gum/ touch different textures or temperatures (such as soft stuffed animals or an ice cube), and singing and clapping games. Although your baby may not understand everything, he or she is developing language, problem-solving, social and other skills from your attention and responses to him or her when you play together.

Ages 1–3: Toddlers are ready for games that exercise growing brains and bodies! Explore concepts like “in” and “out” — show your child what “in” looks like by placing an object in a box, then explain what “out” is by removing it. Try sorting games, such as matching pairs or identifying an object that isn’t like the others in a group. Hiding objects for your little one to find can help your child build problem-solving skills. Clapping games, finger games, I Spy and Simon Says all help children develop language, memory, observational and physical coordination skills.

Ages 4–5: Preschoolers can develop focus and problem-solving skills with games that challenge them. Card games such as Concentration (lay multiple pairs of cards face down, take turns flipping them over and try to remember where each card is), Go Fish, War and Uno develop memory and counting skills. Puzzles — from simple ones you can make yourself to jigsaw puzzles — help build cognitive skills and teach patience. Simple board games such as Candy Land, Life and Chutes and Ladders develop counting skills and help children explore the concept of consequences. For many children, the best games are the ones they create themselves — try to make up a game with your child!

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