Okay, so if you are anything like me, board games were a significant part of family bonding in your childhood. We were the nerdy ones studying the Scrabble dictionary to know what word to play if you have a Q and no vowels (it’s “QAT” by the way). So when our girls hit the preschool age, we were super excited to introduce them to the world of board games. And of course, what better game to start with than the classic Candy Land, right? Wrong! Boy were we in for a rude awakening when we pulled out that “beloved” game and learned how mind-numbingly boring it was to play as an adult. Not to mention that the first time we played it, Brooklyn literally drew the ice cream cone on her first turn securing herself a victory less than two rounds later and leaving Blakely in a heaping ball of tears over how the game could already be over. Needless to say we were scarred and disappointed. But we picked ourselves back up off the floor, dusted ourselves off, and vowed to find some new board games that we and our girls would actually enjoy. So after reading various blogs myself, consulting several trusted homeschooling mamas with older children about their favorite games and then trying them out ourselves, we have put together a list of 10 board games / card games that you’ll actually enjoy playing with your 3 – 5 year olds.
Before I dive into the list, I wanted to go ahead and rave about these amazing card holders we found! When we first started playing card games with the girls, we quickly learned that they cannot hold a hand of cards like we can. Trying to was frustrating for them, and the alternative was to let them lay the cards out on the sofa or table and then we always ended up seeing their cards. We scoured the web and looked at all sorts of card holders. We really like these because they are hands-free for the kids, sturdy enough to not fall over, curved to keep their hand hidden, and large enough to hold a bunch of cards not doubled up (because consolidating the cards by overlapping them is not a concept your preschooler is going to catch on to). Having these card holders has completely upped our card game play. I highly recommend them!
Okay now for the list in order of Brooklyn & Blakely’s favorites. You can also check out my Amazon Idea List for Game Nights with Littles which include these along with other games we own.
- Disney Eye Found It: There are different variations of this “I Spy” type game, but since our girls love Disney princesses, the Disney version was definitely the one for them. Eye Found it is a cooperative game, but we don’t really play it that way. The object of the game is for everyone to get to Cinderella’s Castle before the clock strikes midnight. We play whoever gets to Cinderella’s tower first wins. A spinner is the main decider of game play with either numbers that designate how far you can advance (which they get to practice number recognition and counting), a clock tower which moves the hands of the clock towards midnight, or Mickey ears which indicate that everyone collectively searches the 6′ long game board for hidden objects (as dictated by a card drawn).
- Hoot Owl Hoot: This is another cooperative game (which seems to be common among preschool games) that we have turned competitive. I read the descriptions for dozens of cooperative games and this one seemed the most strategic out of the options. The object of the game is to work together to get all the owls to the nest before the sun rises from drawing and playing colored (or sun aka lose a turn) game cards. This may seem reminiscent of Candy Land, the differentiator here is that you have a hand of colored cards and get to make a choice on what to play to advance the owls the farthest. Another neat feature is that owls can’t share nests so you can make a lot of forward progress by advancing to the next available color if played correctly. In the original rules everyone works together to get all six owls to the nest before too many sun cards are revealed. We modified the rules by taping colors on the owls pairing them off so that three people can compete to be the first person to get both of their owls to the nest. We also added a rule that you have to hoot like an owl as you are moving your owl, which the girls think is hilarious.
- Sleeping Queens: This is such a fun card game and is my personal favorite for playing with the girls! Now fair warning there are a lot of rules and reading them may make this game seem impossible for your little one to play (my husband thought I was insane for trying to teach them). But I have some strategies for simplifying the introduction and before you know it, you’ll be playing the full game. So the basic concept concept is that you are trying to “wake up” (turn over and place in front of you) sleeping queen cards. The first person to wake up four (in a four person game) or five (in a three person game) queens wins. Note the rules will also say “or reach 40/50 points…” but we personally ignore those rules because we don’t think they are necessary and just add a further complication to the game. To wake up queens you play kings from your hand (everyone is dealt five cards to begin) or you can steal other people’s queens with knights or put other people’s queens asleep with sleeping potions. There are defensive cards as well (dragons stop knights and wands stop sleeping potions). As a matter of practice, we also ask the girls “Do you have a ________ to stop the _________?” to help them with utilizing the defense cards. There is also a jester, which has a unique chance card type of play. We left the jesters out originally and added them back in when the girls fully understood the rest of the game. The remaining cards are numbers, and they can’t help you get queens, so your best bet is to exchange them on your turn (anytime you play a card on your turn you pick up more so that you always have five) for new cards off the deck. This can be done as a single cards, pairs (we also accept three of a kind), or simple math equations. We originally left off the option to play math (for example a 3,2,& 5 card because 3+2=5) but have added it in as well. Typically only mom and dad have been playing the math cards, but we have found it’s been a great concept to familiarize the girls with. I always lay the pair on one side and the sum card alone and let the girls double check that each side match. They’ll identify the sum card (in this case the 5) and then add up all the images on the other cards to see if it equals the value of the other card. (: 1, 2, 3 : 4, 5). There are also nuances to what certain queens can do, which we added in later as well.
- Memory Match: This is a classic board game that is enjoyable, and it’s the first one we played consistently with the girls. We really like the Eeboo varieties Life on Earth and Never Forget a Face. In case you aren’t familiar, the premise of the game is that a set number of pairs of tiles are shuffled and placed upside down in front of you. You can only turn over two at a time on your turn. If they match, you get to keep them, and if not, then you have to flip them back upside down. Remembering what other cards have already been revealed helps you on future turns to match matches. Starting off, we only used a handful of pairs to play (like four pairs when they first turned 3) and have slowly added more pairs as their memory skills improve.
- Sequence for Kids: Adapted from the original game of Sequence, this version is great for kids as young as three. Instead of playing cards, everything is animals, so it’s really easy for them to follow along, and the girls love playing it. Unlike grownup Sequence, in this version everyone works independently to achieve one sequence (four in a row). When we started playing the game we often reminded the girls that they wanted to try to gauge their hand for animals that were near each other. Now they have completely caught on to trying to get four in a row. I do still point out when someone is about to get a Sequence (even myself) so that they have the opportunity to block if possible, because I find that otherwise they are too focused on their quest for a sequence to notice it.
- Hisss: This is a color matching tile game that is super easy to learn, but a lot of fun to play. Everyone takes turns drawing tiles and trying to build snakes by matching the pieces by their colors. Each snake needs a head, at least one body piece, and a tail. The person who completes the snake by adding the missing piece gets to keep that snake. Play continues until all cards have been played. If you can’t match up a tile, just start a new snake. At the end, whoever has collected the most tiles wins. Not only do the girls love playing this game with us, but they also play it often by themselves.
- Rat a Tat Cat: This is a card game where the object is to have the smallest score at the end of the game. Every player has four cards upside down in front of them with point values between 0-9. 0s are the best and 9s are the worst. Images of cats on the lower valued cards and rats on the higher valued cards reinforce this. Game play is drawing a card and deciding whether to swap it out for a higher valued card in your hand or simply discarding. So it’s really great for the girls to start thinking about number sequencing; which cards are higher or lower in value than others (made easier by the cat/rat images). Also, you are only allowed to peek at your hand at the beginning and if you draw a peek card, so there is an element of memory as well. When someone thinks they have the lowest combined score out of their four cards, they call out rat-a-tat-tat and everyone finishes out one more turn. Then everyone turns their cards over and discovers who really has the lowest point total and wins (we do the totaling for the girls at the end).
- Sushi Go: Now this is actually an adult game, but the girls love playing it with us. It’s not really a fun game to play with two people, so Brad and I introduced it to the girls thinking at worst they could serve as live “dummy hands,” which the game actually recommends including. Yet, even though they totally don’t understand the strategy to pick a winning hand, they really enjoy playing the game, can follow along well with the directions, and are slowly picking up on strategies for their hands. In this game, everyone is dealt a large hand, picks on card to keep, and then passes that hand to the left. Play continues in this way until all the cards are gone. There are several different types of cards, which accumulate points in different ways. The card holder I mentioned is especially helpful in this fast paced game. We all place all cards for our hand on a card holder and then pass the cardholders around, so the girls never have to fumble with the cards. To ensure that their hands aren’t complete rubbage at the end, I encourage them to stick to one card type (by color) and especially focus on dumpling and sashimi cards. Their favorite to collect though are the pudding cards, which are pink.
- Outfoxed: This is a cooperative game that is reminiscent of Clue. Everyone works together to reveal potential suspects and clues as to what the thief is wearing to narrow down the suspects to which fox stole the chicken pot pie. I definitively think the cooperative part is important because we’re able to steer the conversation around who could and could not be the thief based on the clues we uncover. Game play is done with dice, so that’s another skill the girls are learning and practicing.
- Goblet Gobblers: This game is a twist on classic tic tac toe, which has easy-to-follow directions, is quick to play, and has endless strategic options. In this version, there are three sizes of players to place on the tic tac toe board, and you can use larger players to cover smaller players. You can also move your players around on the board to suit current needs. These two additional rules make for a lot more variety in the game play. Plus it’s fun to manipulate a 3D version of tic tac toe. The girls will even play this game between just the two of them.
- BONUS Go Fish, Old Maid & Crazy 8s: These classic card games are a great introduction to gaming with your kids. And this is how we discovered the need for the card holders because there was no way our girls could hold all the cards secretly in their hand.
These are our ten+ favorite games to play! What other board games do you enjoy playing with your preschoolers?
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