Two-year-olds are not logical thinkers. Their attention spans are short. They are known for epic meltdowns. Why would anyone promote playing games with two-year-olds? Isn’t there a reason why even the simplest board games are designated for ages 3 and up?
While it’s true that your two-year-old isn’t ready for Monopoly, carefully chosen board games can provide minutes, if not hours, of fun and learning. “Carefully chosen” is key. The best board games for your toddler will combine simple concepts, easy-to-handle pieces and streamlined rules. They will also be free of small pieces that could be choking hazards. That’s the main reason why you shouldn’t bring home a game labeled for ages three and up for your two-year-old, even if your child is super smart.
So what games might you choose for your toddler?
Best games for two-year-olds
- First Orchard
- Think Fun Roll & Play
- Think Fun Move and Groove
- Zoo Animals Match Up Game and Puzzle
- Where’s Bear: The Hide-and-Find Stacking Block Game
- Bunny Bedtime: The Make-a-Choice Game
- Here, Fishy, Fishy
- Acorn Soup: The Tasty Counting Game
*All product links in this article will take you to the latest prices on Amazon.com, scroll down for our in-depth reviews below.
Benefits of Board Games
You might be asking yourself if playing games with your toddler is worth the hassle and the chance of tantrums. Developmentally, the games are very worthwhile. They promote all of these skills:
- They increase school readiness. Children can learn to count, recognize colors, recognize numbers and letters through playing board games.
- They build physical skills. Manipulating pieces, even oversized ones, is good for manual dexterity and fine motor skills. Some games, those that call for a larger movement, are also good for gross motor skills.
- They call on social skills and build self-control. When children practice taking turns and following the rules, they are exercising patience and becoming more responsible individuals.
- They build higher level of skills. Games for two-year-olds are seldom sophisticated enough to teach strategic thinking, but they can develop other higher level skills, such as holding more than one piece of information at a time and practicing a two-step process.
- They improve vocabulary. Games can introduce words associated with the particular game that is being played and general game-playing terms, such as “turn,” “move” and “match.”
- They improve parent-child relationships. Playing games together can create bonds, as long as parents remember the age of their playing partners and don’t expect them to be mature beyond their ages.
- They improve attention span. A child who is interested in playing a game is motivated to stick with it longer than he or she would stick with other activities.
- They teach life lessons. While playing board games, children get to practice making choices and accepting the results of their choices. They can also learn how to accept losing. (More about that later.)
Hints for Playing Games with Your Two-Year-Old
If you want to make playing the game as successful, do as much prep as possible beforehand. Be sure that you know how the game is played. Even very simple games have rules, and some rules may seem counterintuitive but may have been put in for a specific reason. You should also check to make sure that no pieces are missing. If it is your first time to play a game, pieces may need to be separated or assembled. Do that ahead of time.
When introducing the game, use as few words as possible. Kids will pick up a game more quickly from playing it than they will be hearing an explanation.
Modify the game if it proves to be too difficult or cumbersome for your child. For example, some matching games can be simplified by removing some of the cards. If your child wants to quit before the game is finished, don’t insist that he or she complete the game.
Do involve young players in taking care of the game and encourage them to help you put the game away neatly.
A Word About Winning
Some of the games that are recommended for two-year-olds are cooperative instead of competitive. Some allow the child to play alone rather than competing against others. When competitive games are appropriate and you decide to play one-on-one with your child, you will face a decision. Do you play the game heads-up, or do you allow your child to win?
Most games for very small children are based on luck, so your child should win as often as not. Some games, such as memory games, do incorporate some skills. When your child is two or three, you should be able to win games of skill easily. If you want to spare your child the experience of constantly losing, you can give yourself a handicap openly, such as throwing one die instead of two. You can stack the deck or otherwise covertly alter the game to increase the odds of your child winning. Or you can allow yourself to win, explaining to your child that he will someday be able to beat you. That last strategy is the one most likely to make most children hate board games!
Of course, your child can also play board games with another child or multiple children. In such cases, you can play the role of facilitator. Unless the children are perfectly matched in age and abilities, one of them is likely to have an edge, but is unlikely to win all the time.
What to Look for in Board Games
Flimsy cardboard and paper board games are unlikely to hold up to multiple uses. Look for components that are made of sturdy cardboard or plastic. Some nicer games will have wooden parts. Rules that are printed on the box are less likely to be lost than ones that are printed on a separate piece of paper. Of course, rules to most games are available online, but still, it can be a pain to have to look them up each time.
With all of these points in mind, let’s take a look at a few specific games for toddlers.
8 Best Games for 2-Year-Olds
Haba, a toy company based in Germany, has a whole line of “first games,” and this one is a classic. A simplified version of the company’s renowned Orchard game, it is well-suited for toddlers, with a simple set-up and a short playing time. It is also designed for cooperative play instead of for competition. Players play against the game instead of against each other.
The object of the game is to pick the fruit off the trees before the raven shows up. The game comes with three green apples, three red apples, three plums, and three pears. It also has a raven token that players move down a pathway. A die is marked with the colors of the fruit, plus a fruit basket symbol and a raven symbol. If the die lands on a color, the child moves a piece of fruit from the tree to the basket. If the basket comes up, any piece of fruit can be chosen to move to the basket. If the raven symbol comes up, the raven advances one step down the walkway. Children get quite a thrill from trying to beat the raven!
Haba is a family-owned company that has been around for over 80 years. It is well-known for high-quality wooden toys. In First Orchard, the fruit, raven and die are all crafted from wood.
- A Good Introduction to Game Playing. This game teaches basic skills, such as how to set up a game, take turns and make moves (a two-step process).
- Quick to Play. The game can take as little as ten minutes to play, so children won’t get bored. Many will be ready to play again.
- Well-Made. The wooden pieces are beautifully made, and the whole game is well designed and executed.
- Not Particularly Educational. Children who already know their colors won’t pick up many academic skills.
- Won’t Appeal to All. Some children may be frightened of the raven and may find the pressure to beat the raven too intense.
Billed as “Your Child’s First Game,” Roll & Play features cooperative, not competitive, play that most two-year-olds will enjoy and learn from. The game is designed for two or more players, but some children enjoy playing it by themselves.
The game consists of a large plush cube or dies that your toddler will have great fun rolling. The next step is to pick a card that corresponds to the top color on the die. Cards come in six different color-coded categories. They are Emotions, Actions, Body Parts, Animal Sounds, Colors, and Counting. Each card directs the player to do something, such as “Make a sleepy face” or “Roar like a lion.” The cards use both words and images so that many times children can figure out the gist of the card without being able to read. The cards stow away neatly in a pocket on the cube.
Roll & Play was created by Think Fun, a company founded in 1985 by a married couple. Its motto, “Ignite Your Mind,” reflects the company philosophy. ThinkFun products are now available around the world and have been translated into 20 languages.
- Fosters Various Skills. This game teaches counting, color recognition and other basic skills.
- Promotes Movement. Because several of the categories involve movement, this game gives children opportunities to be active.
- Easy to Play. The game’s concept is easily mastered.
- Easy to Store. The game cube stores the cards, and the whole thing takes up little space.
- Sturdy. The plush cube is unbreakable, and the cards are made from sturdy cardboard.
- Builds Emotional Intelligence. This game is one of the few that teaches children to demonstrate and recognize emotions.
- Short-Lived. Generally speaking, children will outgrow this game fairly quickly, although some older children will enjoy playing it with siblings or other younger children.
- Rolls Unevenly. The pocket on one side of the die makes it roll unevenly, so that one side seldom comes up.
Modeled on Roll & Play, Move & Groove is another offering from Think Fun. This one is less geared toward learning and aims instead to be fun and promote movement.
This game comes with a washable plush cube and game cards. The categories for this game with examples are Workout (do jumping jacks), Classics (do the funky chicken), Let’s Pretend (paddle a canoe), Movement (walk backward), Body Parts (snap your fingers) and Silliness (play the air guitar). Some terms and concepts will be unfamiliar to children, so parents will have to do lots of demonstrations. But that’s part of the fun!
- Excellent for Movement. Since all of the categories involve some degree of movement, this game really encourages children to be active.
- Easy to Play. The game’s concept is easily mastered, although some commands will be unfamiliar to children.
- Easy to Store. The game cube stores the cards so that the game takes up little space.
- Well-Made. The plush cube is washable, and the cards are made from sturdy cardboard.
- Teaches Fewer Skills. Other than recognizing the colors on the dice, this game doesn’t teach academic skills, although most children will learn some new vocabulary words.
- Won’t Appeal to All. Generally speaking, active, outgoing children are more likely to enjoy this game. It may not be a hit with quieter souls.
- Rolls Unevenly. Like the cube for the Roll & Play, this die is off-balance due to the pocket on one side.
Memory or matching games are a childhood classic, and Peaceable Kingdom makes the format even more fun by making the matching pieces giant, so that they can be used to make a floor puzzle.
The game consists of 24 large rectangular pictures. One side has pictures of zoo animals, in pairs so that your child can play a traditional matching game. Very young children can match the images face up. Older children can place them face down for a memory matching game. The cards can also be used as a large floor puzzle. The pieces don’t interlock but are simply lined up to create the image.
Peaceable Kingdom offers around ten matching games that follow the same blueprint with small variations. It’s easy to find one that will appeal to your child’s special interests. Some of the motifs are trucks, princesses, pirates, fairies, unicorns, fire and rescue and farmer’s market. Most focus on teaching counting or color recognition. The zoo animals version teaches children to recognize animals commonly found in a zoo.
This game is designed for a child to play with alone or for children to play cooperatively. It could, however, be used as a traditional memory game where the players turn over two cards trying to make a match and the player who successfully matches the most cards wins.
A part of Mindware, manufacturers of educational toys, the Peaceable Kingdom division creates toys that “inspire cooperation and cultivate kindness.” Peaceable Kingdom has carved out a niche making games for very young children. Mindware is a Berkshire Hathaway company.
- Educational. This game teaches about zoo animals as well as developing matching and puzzling skills. It also includes prompts for parents to make the game more educational.
- Appealing Images. The animal pictures are well rendered, and the puzzle has a nice picture of animals in their zoo habitats.
- Well-Made. The cardboard puzzle pieces are sturdy enough to hold up to multiple uses.
- Can Be Confusing. Younger children trying to make matches may be confused by the puzzle images on the backs of the cards.
- Not Interlocking. Since the pieces don’t interlock, some children will be frustrated trying to put the puzzle together because the pieces easily slide apart.
Another offering from Peaceable Kingdom, Where’s Bear combines several concepts in a creative way. This game is based on a set of nesting blocks that can be taken apart, re-nested and stacked. It comes with a small bear figurine. The basic game involves placing the bear under one of the blocks and asking your child to find it. The six boxes are designed like rooms, so you can introduce some vocabulary: “Is Bear in the bedroom?”
The blocks can also be used for a finding game. Each block has pictures of several items on the top side, all of which can be found in the rooms portrayed on the other four sides of the blocks. You can point to an object and ask your child to find it.
Where’s Bear teaches the concept of object permanence – that items may still be there even though they can’t be seen. The game can also be used to enhance motor skills and other cognitive skills such as vocabulary, matching and spatial concepts (under, inside, top, bottom, etc.).
- Educational. This game teaches a variety of skills as well as giving parents many opportunities to teach vocabulary.
- Well-Made. The boxes are reasonably well-made, although they may not hold up to being stepped on or sat on.
- Appealing Design. The images are well done, and the little bear will capture your little one’s heart!
- Enhances Motor Skills. Stacking and nesting the blocks enhances both fine and gross motor skills.
- Versatile. An imaginative parent or child could easily invent other games with these blocks, or use them as the basis for a story.
- Won’t Appeal to All. Some children don’t find the basic games appealing and will simply want to play with the little bear.
This Peaceable Kingdom game has several different functions, and one or more is sure to resonate with your toddler. Here’s the blueprint. You fold out the Bunny Bedtime game board, which is a simple strip of panels. Roll the die and move the bunny figurine to the designated panel on the game board. There your child gets to make a choice. It may be about which bath toy to play with or which pajamas to wear. Or it could be whether to use the big potty or the little potty!
When a child makes a choice, the child turns the game piece so that the correct choice is facing up. Then the die is thrown again, and another choice is made.
This game is easily incorporated into your child’s nighttime ritual. It also reinforces the idea of a bedtime routine and lets your child practice making choices.
- Teaches Game Playing Skills. This game teaches children how to roll a die and move a token. If played with a sibling, it teaches turn taking.
- Enhances Pre-Reading Skills. The design of the game teaches left to right tracking, an important reading skill.
- Well-Made. The game pieces are sturdy enough to hold up to multiple uses.
- Appealing Design. The concept, the cute bunny and the other game pieces will appeal to most kids.
- Enhances Motor Skills. Moving the token and fitting the puzzle pieces into the game board require small muscle control.
- Versatile. The game pieces could be used for a different game or for story telling or imaginative play.
- Won’t Appeal to All. Some children may not catch on to the concept, while others will find it too simplistic.
Fishing games are perennial favorites, and this one is likely to be one of your kid’s favorites, too. Sometimes the thrill of catching a fish will override a child’s interest in playing the game, but that’s okay, too. Learning the rules can come later.
Here, Fishy, Fishy includes six wooden sea creatures to be placed in the bottom of the game box. Your child should roll the die so that it lands on a color and then use a rod with magnet to catch a sea creature of that color. A successful angler receives a puzzle piece to place in a collecting board. If the competitive version of the game is played, the winner is the first one to fill his or her collecting board.
Many children just enjoy catching the fish and don’t want to try for a particular color. They also may not want to stop fishing to put in the puzzle piece. In this case, remember that they are still enhancing their fine motor skills.
Here, Fishy, Fishy is another in the line of “My Very First Games” from Haba.
- Teaches Game Playing Skills. This game teaches basic skills such as how to roll a die and how to take turns, if played competitively.
- Teaches Color Recognition. The game requires that children be able to match colors.
- Well-Made. The sea creatures, fishing rod and die are made of high-quality wood.
- Appealing Design. The concept and the game pieces will appeal to most kids.
- Enhances Motor Skills. Catching the fish requires coordination and patience, and filling the collecting board requires fine muscle control.
- Can Be Hard to Understand. Some children have trouble understanding how the collecting board relates to the rest of the game.
- Toy or Game? Some children will only be interested in Here, Fishy, Fishy as a toy rather than as a game.
Before your child is quite ready to become a real-life chef, he or she can cook up some fun with Acorn Soup, another Peaceable Kingdom game. Here’s how it works. Your little cook is going to help Squirrel cook up some acorn soup or another tasty concoction. Toward this end, the game includes 24 ingredients crafted from wood, one wooden spoon and eight recipe cards. To carry out this assignment, your child will need to add the required ingredients to the pot, which is the round box that the game came in.
- Teaches Academic Skills. This game teaches basic skills such as counting and number recognition.
- Enhances Motor Skills. If the spoon is used to carry the ingredients to the pot, fine muscle control will be improved.
- Well-Made. The ingredients and spoon are made of durable wood.
- Appealing Design. The idea of cooking is attractive to many kids, and many will find humor in the idea of cooking with acorns and pine cones.
- Promotes Imaginative Play. Pretending to cook a meal for a squirrel requires that children use their imaginations.
- No Squirrel Included. Children are directed to cook for a squirrel, but there is no squirrel included.
And the Winner Is!
ThinkFun’s Roll & Play is the best all-around game for two-year-olds. It combines action and skill-building, plus it enhances emotional intelligence. It is ingeniously designed and built to last for many play sessions.
Two-year-olds are highly individual, though, and it may not be possible to anticipate which games your child will like most. Why not choose one or two to try? Having a fun bonding experience with your child is definitely worth it!