5 Board/Card Games for 2-4 Year Olds

Board and Card Games for Young Toddlers 

Our terrific neighbor came over a few months ago to loan us this German board game that she thought would be fun for our toddler. I’m embarrassed to admit that until then it hadn’t occurred to me that our 2-year-old was old enough to start playing games, or at least not the kind with rules and small pieces. Oops!

Board and card games are a great way to teach social concepts like taking turns, winning and losing, and cooperation. As an added bonus, most have some kind of inherent skill building, such as teaching colors, numbers, matching, comparisons, shapes, etc.

When to introduce games has a lot to do with your child’s interest, attention span and ability to follow instructions. Sometime between 2 and 3 years old seems to be a good guideline, but that will vary from kid to kid. Ready to try one with your tyke? Pick a simple game and pull it out at a time when your child is calm, well-rested and open to a new activity. Be patient and keep the rules as simple and loose as you need. If he/she isn’t into it the first time, give it a try again in a few weeks.

Here’s a round-up of four board games we now have in rotation, and another one that I’m keen to try out soon.

1// Haba First Orchard     2// Memory Matching

3// Bunny Bedtime           4// Alphabet Soup Matching

5// Set Jr.

1. First Orchard by HABA

I’m a sucker for anything from the European toy brand Haba and this game doesn’t disappoint. It features cooperative play (all of the players work together to the same goal, in this case picking the fruits from the trees before the raven gets there). With cooperative play you don’t have the issues of winners and losers and the meltdowns that can cause. Like most Haba toys, it has solid wooden playing pieces and a sturdy game board. While we played, my son practiced his colors and sorting, and we talked about where birds live and what they eat.

2. Memory Matching

Memory is such a classic game for good reason. It’s great for strengthening working memory and focus. Plus, it’s simple fun! I don’t know about you, but I find that a lot of memory games have too many playing cards for my young toddler. To make it work, I give my son a subset of the tiles (for example 6-8 pairs) and we play with those. That way, he has an easier time finding matches, which keeps him engaged longer. Another idea for young players is to give them the cards and let them create their own fun. We got this Frozen set when our daughter was two and she used them all the time. She’d stack, sort, line them up in long rows or pretend they were money at the bank. I’m all for off-label uses of a game or toy!

3. Bunny Bedtime by Peaceable Kingdom

Another cooperative game, Bunny Bedtime has kids roll a die and move across the game board while making choices to help Bunny get to bed. Yellow pajamas or green? Duck or bath toy? Our 2.5 year old wasn’t big on following the rules (“Bunny not go to sleep” he shouted) but he did love tossing the die. It kept him engaged for more than 15 minutes, so we considered it a success!

4. Alphabet Soup Matching Game

Our toddler is really into letters at the moment, so this version of a matching game was right up his alley. The cards are sturdy and have pretty, colorful illustrations. It’s a great alternative to a traditional matching game and tucks easily in my purse for a trip to the doctors. I also used it with my 7-year-old by having her put the letter cards in reverse alphabetical order. That kept her busy for a minute!

5. Set Jr.

We just received this game as a gift and haven’t played with it yet, so I can’t personally recommend it. I added it to my wishlist because because our little guy also has a fascination with shapes, so I thought that the pattern matching would appeal to him. Plus it got good Amazon reviews 🙂 I also like that there is a quick-play option and that it looks like both of my kids could enjoy this one.

Parenting Hack: Board games are one of my go-to gifts whenever we are invited to a birthday party. They’re easy to wrap (or toss in a gift bag) and foster great family time. Plus they’re pretty affordable and chance are high you can find one the birthday kid doesn’t already have. Any of the above games make a sweet gift for a 2 or 3-year-old.

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