The holiday season is here again, the time my husband and I cringe at the thought of how many toys will be added to our home over the next month. A few years ago we made a point to ask the grandparents to try and limit the toy gifts and instead focus on items that would be a little more enriching and long-lasting. While we really would love our kids to receive things like zoo memberships and to have their extracurricular activities paid for, we know grandparents especially want to be able to see kids open something (and love it).
Over the past 2 years, we have focused on suggesting board games as gifts. There are so many options available and lots of them are appropriate for a wide variety of ages. We love family game night in our house. We all get in our jammies and take turns picking which game we will play. When the kids get a new game we have an opportunity to cut back on what might otherwise be screen time and really get some quality bonding in.
My youngest is now 4 and still in preschool. He is learning his letters but is still a year away from learning to read. Sometimes we have to partner up with him so he can participate in family game night. There are a lot of games that require reading or logic that is just too much for little ones. While we are happy to do that, we really love when he can exercise his independence and play a game on his own.
Below is a list of our favorite board games that pre-readers can fully participate in too. If you want to put some non-toy gifts under the tree (and still get a better reaction than clothes), check them out!
1. Busytown, Eye Found It – We love, love, love this game. My son got it when he was just 2 years old after I heard from several mom friends how much they liked it. It has quickly become a favorite of the whole family. This game is unique with its 6-foot long board, but the directions are easy to follow and the challenges are both fun and appropriate for all ages. Near the end of the game you have to work as a team to cross the finish line. It is nearly impossible to ‘lose’ and not make it to the picnic, but if you do you all lose together so no need to worry about hurt toddler feelings.
It isn’t often you find a product with 85% 5-star reviews from more than 1000 customers on Amazon.com. This is a great game to give or receive.
2. Memory Match Game – There are a wide variety of match game options out there, featuring all sorts of different popular characters if your kids are into that. We proudly own a Caillou version 😉 I remember with my older daughter my mom got the match game out when she was 2 years old. I totally blew it off because I knew she wouldn’t have the patience or comprehension to last through a game like that. Boy was I wrong. She picked it up right away and mastered it very quickly. Now at 8 years old, she can still be easily convinced to join her younger brother in card matching and of course there are lots of electronic options that can come in handy when you get stuck out somewhere waiting (like say any restaurant this time of year!).
The version we have at home has thicker cardboard cards and has lasted over 6 years while being played a lot. Somehow we even still have all the pairs! I know there are many low price thin playing card editions available, but it is worth it to get a little more substantial one that will last.
3. Yahtzee Jr – All of the Hasbro “Junior” games are great, but Yahtzee especially lends itself to younger kids. The directions may seem overwhelming at first but they are quickly understood. Everyone has a set number of turns so the game won’t go on past little attention spans. There is something about shaking that little cup that makes Yahtzee more fun than other dice games.
4. Zingo – Any picture based bingo game is a hit with preschoolers, but Zingo has a cool tile dispenser that makes it super fun and adds a little competition which helps to keep kids engaged. You may get some arguing between siblings as to who gets to control the tile dispenser, but there are plenty of chances to let everyone give it a few swipes.
As kids get a little older there are other versions to help learn numbers, sight words, even time telling. Zingo is one of those great games that actually does a great job educating kids while they still think they are just having fun.
5. Yeti in My Spaghetti – This is basically a new school version of pick up sticks, without the sharp pointy prongs we played with as kids (seriously, who thought that up?!). You balance a plastic Yeti on a pile of spaghetti strings all on top of a bowl. Then take turns removing the spaghetti one at a time until the yeti falls into the bowl.
It’s fast, it’s fun, it teaches cause and effect and strategic thinking, all big pluses that make this game worth your time and money. Another big advantage is that even little kids can play this game on their own from start to finish. It is easy enough for them to set up by themselves.
Honorable Mention – Spot It – While you probably will have to fake losing on a few rounds simply because you comprehend things faster than your kids, and very young kids might not totally get the concept, we still love this game for several reasons. It is simple yet engaging, it is available in many versions focused on all sorts of learning reinforcements (letters, numbers, colors).
Most of all it’s small size and solid carry tin make it a great game to have on the go. When my kids were younger we kept Spot It in the diaper bag where it was easy to break out when we got stuck waiting pretty much anywhere. In fact, the reason I bought it to begin with was to keep in my carry on bag during a flight to Florida. My kids still ask to play Spot It frequently when we are out. Although we don’t maintain a diaper bag anymore so I might have to keep it in the glove compartment.
Any of these great board games would be a worthwhile addition to your household. And NONE of them take any batteries! How about you? What board games do your young ones love? We are always looking for new suggestions.