It’s important to be intentional about playtime when children are at preschool age. Before they begin school, they need to develop certain skills. These skills include social skills, memory skills, critical thinking skills, and more. Each of these skills can be developed through classic preschool games.

The skills that we develop in early childhood affect the rest of our lives, well into adulthood. Childhood is the foundation on which we build everything. We can learn these skills later, but by starting with a good foundation, you can set a child up for success for years to come.

If you want to start playing games to teach useful development skills to your preschool-age child, try one of these activities:

Simon Says

The benefits of Simon Says are easy to spot. It teaches listening skills and focus. If a child simply follows every action, they’re going to lose. They have to listen carefully for those magic words, “Simon says,” before they make any action.

Listening skills should be developed early. It’s one of the most foundational skills for children entering the classroom. If they can listen well, they can start on the right foot.

Candy Land

Candy Land is a helpful game for developing key skills in early childhood. When kids play Candy Land, they learn the names of colors, they have to be mindful of the sequence on the board — you can’t just move to any blue square, you have to move to the next blue square — and they have to take turns with the other players.

Not only must they forego immediate gratification by waiting to take turns, children must learn how to lose a game too, and Candy Land is a good place to begin. Being able to lose the coveted top spot and remain emotionally steady teaches emotional resilience–one of the most important attributes a child needs to acquire. Candy Land can help children gain confidence. So meet them at their level!

Red Light, Green Light

In Red Light, Green Light, one person stands at one end of the field and all the rest try to get to that person. The trick is that you can only advance on the person at the end of the field when they have their back turned. When they face you, you have to freeze in place. If they turn around and see you moving, you have to go back to the start. 

This game encourages the development of patience and impulse control. These two social skills are essential in preparing for school. In the classroom, children need to be quiet when the teacher tells them to, they need to sit still and pay attention during lessons. Without well-developed impulse control, your child may struggle as they enter kindergarten.

Hide and Seek

Who doesn’t love a game of hide and seek on a cold or rainy day? Hide and seek is a valuable tool for developing essential skills like problem-solving, decision-making, and spatial awareness. Whether you’re hiding or seeking, you’re practicing some important skills.

When kids first start playing this game, their hiding spots are going to be fairly basic and easy to spot. But as they gain more experience, they’ll learn to pick out spots that are less common and more tricky so they have a better chance of winning. Because they have to hide before the seeker finishes counting, they also have to make these decisions quickly under pressure. All of these components work together for a game that is both fun and challenging.

I Spy

Whether you’re playing I Spy by looking at your surroundings or you’re using an I SPY book, this game does wonders for developing visual discrimination and building memory. 

Being able to spot specific details in a picture comes in handy when learning shapes, letters, and numbers. With good visual discrimination skills, kids can better spot the differences between two objects. This skill helps them learn more quickly and efficiently.

Since there are many different objects hidden in an I SPY book, it also helps build memory skills. When your child moves onto a new object, they might think to themselves, “Wait, I just saw that! Where was it?” Memory skills are also very important for school because it helps children better retain information.

Musical Chairs

Musical chairs is a classic game that’s been played in classrooms and at parties for decades. Musical chairs develops a few key social skills, like patience, dealing with disappointment, and avoiding conflict. 

As a kid, being the one person bumped out in a round of musical chairs can feel frustrating or embarrassing. What’s even more frustrating is when two people sit on a chair at nearly the same time, but the other person gets the spot.  When they can practice coping with these emotions in a low-stakes environment, children can improve those skills.

During the pandemic, it’s a good idea to maintain social skills at home, so try playing short rounds with your family if you have enough people.

Go Fish

Go Fish is a great game for building memory skills. The key to playing well is remembering what your opponent has asked for previously. Sometimes, a few turns go by before you get the card your opponent asked for and you can ask for it yourself.

This classic memory card game is a very useful memory tool for people of all ages, not just kids. Since it’s also fun and easy to play, it’s a perfect game to add to your activity rotation.

Improving and developing useful skills doesn’t have to be boring. Often, many of a child’s favorite activities are based around developing these skills. Try out a few of the activities on this list and see which is your child’s favorite. If you can, incorporate a few different activities that improve different skills. With a good activity routine, they will be prepared with all the skills they need to start school.

Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool, with facilities serving families at multiple locations in the Chicagoland area.

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