First Games for Kids: No Reading

It might surprise you that there are many games for kids that do not require reading, but of course, they do require adult participation. The first games for kids have many learning opportunities beyond the obvious objects of the game, such as matching or color recognition. And these learning opportunities can build the foundation for positive interactions for a lifetime.

How Do I Know They Are Ready?

When your child starts to play beside other children and share some toys, that is a good indicator that they have the social skills to play a game.

Two kids playing together and sharing toys. They are ready to play games for kids
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Game Playing Strategies

Some of the character-building opportunities of games are: 

  • the ability to share,
  • understanding and following rules
  • being a good loser or handling disappointment

Sharing: Games are the perfect opportunity for sharing. Usually, it is obvious whose turn is next, and with knowing this, a toddler can learn to wait their turn. It is most likely best to start with the toddler and one individual and then add more when you meet with success in the waiting period. You may have to give a running commentary something like this. “First it is Lee’s turn, then mommy’s turn and then Bailey’s turn. After that, it is Lee’s turn again. Lee knows how to share turns in this game.” You can use your hands to indicate the progression of turns as a visual reinforcement of what is going on. After each player has had their turn, you can reiterate the order. It takes many repetitions to establish a habit.

If your child is showing signs of anxiety, just continue explaining when it will be his or her turn next. A positive statement such as “Lee is waiting his turn nicely,” is a reinforcement of appropriate behavior. If, by chance, your toddler cannot wait for his or her turn appropriately, stop the game immediately and put it away, saying, “we’ll play this another day, when everyone can share.” Do not single out your child, but do stop the activity before any negative behavior is reinforced. In time, the sharing will happen. It is a skill that we all learn to do.

Rules: Games usually have very explicit rules beyond taking turns. Your toddler will see how it is normal for everyone to follow these rules. With this sort of practice in a game, where the rules are spelled out, this will help your toddler understand what rules mean. And when he or she for some reason wants to go up the down escalator you can reference the game you have been playing and say the rule for escalators, is that we use this one for up and that one for down (again with the pointy finger). Anytime you need compliance you can simply state “The rule is  . . . . ” You will be amazed at how this magic word “rule” will work with young children. Unfortunately, it won’t work with older children as they become more worldly-wise. But it may work longer with children who have some sort of exceptionality.

A Good Looser: Everyone in life needs to learn how to deal with disappointment, positively. At first, your toddler may not understand that there are winners and losers in a game. You can model the behavior for your toddler by saying something like this “ Oh, I guess I lost this time, but soon I will be a winner. I just need to play again.” Your child will hear this positive self-talk and hopefully repeat it to themselves in times of disappointment.  Positive self-talk can be a very motivating factor throughout a lifetime. Your toddler can learn positive self-talk early in life through a game situation. How effective is positive self-talk?

“Self-talk is something you do naturally throughout your waking hours. People are becoming more aware that positive self-talk is a powerful tool for increasing your self-confidence and curbing negative emotions. People who can master positive self-talk are thought to be more confident, motivated, and productive,” as reported by Healthline.

On the other hand, never use negative self-talk in front of your children. That is a learned behavior as well. And if another game player does not show good losing behavior, ask them not to participate for a round of the game until they can be more positive.

 These essential life strategies can make significant differences, if one learns to handle them in a positive manner.

Bring on the Games

Games allow you to practice social behavior in a contrived environment where you can teach life strategies. Here are suitable toddler games without any reading component for the players. You, of course, will need to read the directions or make up rules you know your toddler can follow. But most importantly, play the game to have fun.

Seek a Boo: This is a very simple game to play for children and is successful for children as young as as young as 18 months old. Parents scatter the cards about the room and then the toddler starts to seek the matching card that the parent shows.

Your child will develop vocabulary for the objects in the game as well as matching skills. Many parents who purchase this game rate it very highly as being both fun and educational. It also is a physically active game.

Roll and Play Game This is recommended for kids 18 months and older. They do need to know how to match colors. The action cards have a pictorial representation and words on the card. (mostly for correct interpretation) You can simplify the game for your toddler by reviewing the cards and removing what is too difficult for them.

This simple game has no board and is not set up as a win or lose game. You play its purely for fun. It is a perfect starting game. The cards will have your whole family falling over with laughter as each person acts out what is on the card such as “roar like a lion.”

Disney Matching Game: For kids who are in love with the Disney characters, this game is very motivating. You can play with the cards in a variety of ways and modify the game to suit your kid’s level of understanding. But be careful, their memory may be sharper than you think!

Although there are 36 matching cards in this game, you do not need to start with the full deck. Play Fish, Concentration or any other matching format you can dream up .

Acorn Soup: This is a very simple game for young children. There can be a winner and looser but you do not need to tally up the score to have fun. The object of the game is to put the ingredients into the pot to make the soup. Acorn Soup is for kids aged 2 and up. Some parents find that kids even at a younger age enjoy playing the game.

Can your toddler balance the cards on the spoon to add to Acorn Soup?

The recipes are pictorial so all can see what is required, when when it is your child’s turn to play.

Castle Panic is a game with no words for reading, but you need to be familiar with the images in order to play. It is reccommended for age 3 to 6 and takes only 20 minutes to play. There are a series of similar games in a series from which to select.

One way of teaching the game to a young child is to have the child play along with you as you take turns with your child in the game. Gradually you can give less and less assistance until independent play is achieved.

Bears in Pairs: Part of the charm of the game is the hunt for the hidden bears. It is suitable for a child as young as 18 months but it will also keep older children engaged when playing with younger children.

The game is simple. Hide the bears and then start.There are 3 ways to play the game that have instructions but you can change the rules to make it more challenging as your child matures.

Hannah Honeybee: This game is recommended for 2 years old but younger kids can play with assistance.

Kids roll a die that has pictorial symbols to collect flowers to make honey. You can also play a game of concentration with the cards. The game pieces are very sturdy as they are made of wood.

Bingo: This is a very simplified version of the game you know and love. There are 4 boards for 4 players. The age on the box says from 3 to 5 but younger players will be able to take part with assistance.

The die have representations of the animals on each side with player boards with pictures of the same animals. There are many ways to win. Rows, columns, criss-cross or the entire board for mix it up fun.

Tidy Up! These are words that are dear to a mother’s or father’s heart. In this game the kids learn how to organize their toys when the challenge is time to tidy up before dinner.

Roll a die, look at the picture and start your tidy up mission after a long day of play. You need to find the right shelf for each toy. With some conversation you can apply the game strategy to real life.

Toddler Scavenger Hunt: Your toddler will be kept active searching for items in the typical home.

The cards have words but the pictures are very self explanatory. After your child becomes familiar with the game you can renew your child’s interest by including an egg timer, for a beat the clock version. This game is easily portable to a friend’s home, perfect for a new scavenger environment.

Tumbleos: What could be more fun than knocking down a tower in a game situation!

Sometimes you build the tower and at other times you remove a block. Then in one glorious swoop you knock down the tower, all as part of the game.

Magnetic Matching Game: This innovative game is about matching but it also uses the magic of magnets. It is a winner for kids aged 3 to 8 years old.

Flip the card to match the colors on it. The person with the most cards wins.

Play the game using its rules or make up your won rules to suit the players in your family.

Little Detective Card Game You are the detective looking for the exact pictures on the board.

Kids as young as 3 years old can play the game. This game encourages logical thinking, requires players to expand their attention span and has you practice memory skills, yet it is fun to play as the format is different from most board games.

Bull’s Eye Bounce: This very active game can be played with young children as the bean bags are light and the right size for little hands. You can keep score by the numbers or just play for the fun of being successful

If you have an active toddler this may be the first game you want to start with to encourage turn taking. When matching older children with younger ones, even the playing field by extending the distance from the board for the older children.

Sequence for Kids: This is similar to Connect 4 in that 4 in a row wins the game. It promotes attention to detail as you need to match the animal picture to the one of two on the board.

You can play with 2 to 4 players. For younger children you can start with just the rule of connecting 4. Then you can add in the rules for the unicorn and the dragon cards.

Sturdy Bird: It a game of balance. It is rated for 5 years old but by reducing the number of cards and with help counting, younger children can play the game.

Select simple poses for younger children and add in the more complicated ones as they progress in their capabilities. Help you child count the seconds that they must hold the pose.

Bowling Set: This is played just like the game of bowling. Your child will most likely love the game, but will need help in setting up the pins as they tend to fall over easily.

You may need to teach your child how to roll the ball first before starting the game. The ball is a great size for a child and is very light. This game can also be a review of counting 1 to 10 or you can ignore the numbers all together.

Which Game is Best?

You know your child the best. Take a look at the games and try to figure out which one will attract their interest. If this is the first game, pick a simple one such as one of the first few on this list. And for vey active kids, select games where they need to move around to play.

The important thing is to

have fun

while practicing those all-important social skills.

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And for your kids that are a little older . . . .

Playing Games Together: Do you have kids of different ages? Help them learn to play cooperatively together through games. Parent Testimonial:  McKenna Jerman –  I clue lol it’s screaming and fighting with each other all day. But the moments they share together are so special.

Reading Games   Are you trying to think of engaging activities for your kids? Here are some games to promote reading skills. 

Mathematical Games: Here are some games to make academics FUN. Instead of mathematics assignments,  try games.       

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