Play for preschool-aged children undoubtedly benefits preschool-aged children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, regular play improves a child’s ability to problem-solve, regulate their emotions and better connect and socialize with others. (Not to mention, preschoolers playing independently can offer parents and caregivers some welcome respite from their duties.)
What’s more, when it’s learning-centric, play can help bolster a preschooler’s problem-solving, math and language skills, according to a Cambridge study.
From games that help educate youngsters on the beauty of nature to learning the alphabet, here are 15 free games for preschoolers.
Best free online games for 3- to 5-year-olds
1. Best online games for music-based learning: Starfall
This website, which has been around since 2002 (so you know its methods have stood the test of time) provides an enriching musical experience for both preschoolers and kindergarteners. It was founded by Stephen Shutz, who struggled to read as a child and wanted to reshape traditional curriculum for preschoolers and kindergarteners like himself.
2. Best online games for little explorers: National Geographic Little Kids
Available on desktop devices
Although the National Geographic Little Kids site features a number of educational videos and printable crafts and recipes, its selection of games should be an enormous draw for families. Preschoolers can match images and names of animals, learn the fundamentals (and benefits) of recycling and take personality quizzes (like “Which sleepy animal are you?”).
3. Best online games for variety: Sesame Street
Available on desktop devices
There’s a reason why Sesame Street has been an educational staple for preschool-aged children since 1969. In fact, a 2015 University of Maryland study noted that preschoolers could absorb as much knowledge about key subjects by watching Sesame Street as they would in school. That same level of education lives on its website for games, which includes fun, interactive ways of learning the alphabet, solving problems and understanding patterns.
4. Best online games for real-world education: PBSKids
The PBS network contains a trove of shows, like “Arthur” and “Daniel the Tiger,” designed to help little ones navigate new life scenarios, like the first day back at school or being observant (and respectful of) nature. Similarly, their game website and apps share a similar purpose, with popular varieties like Wonder Red’s Rhyme Racer (which can help little ones with phonics) and Clifford the Big Red Dog’s All Around Birdwell (a game that spotlights the importance of helping others).
5. Best online games for mathematics: Turtle Diary
Available on desktop devices
For caregivers and parents searching for a site that offers mathematics-oriented games in an easy-to-understand, colorful format, Turtle Diary’s collection of preschool math games is a top choice. Tap into “I Spy Numbers” or “Find the Number” to help preschoolers hone in on essential counting skills.
6. Best games for animal-lovers: Switch Zoo
For preschoolers whose first word was some type of furry creature, Switch Zoo will be their new favorite educational (and entertainment) pastime. Little ones can go on scavenger hunts to find certain animals based on their description, learn where certain exotic creatures live and build their own (sometimes hilarious) animal hybrids.
7. Best games for science: Thinkrolls 2
A 2016 Google Play award-winner, this inventive app game teaches children the basics of physics, from the concept of gravity to how objects float in water. Navigate through mazes and work through scientific concepts as a family (or by themselves).
8. Best game site for learning the alphabet: Endless Alphabet
In preschool, your youngster will be in the process of learning (and memorizing) the alphabet and some of their first words, so it won’t hurt to tack on some extra practice at home. Endless Alphabet uses engaging digital animation with fun characters to help illustrate words and letters.
Bonus: The same folks who produced Endless Alphabet also made Endless Spanish for bilingual families (or for caregivers and parents who simply want the child in their life to know another language).
Best free social games for 3- to 5-year-olds
9. Best social game for phonics: Pass the Rhythm
As Early Impact Learning notes, “Pass the Rhythm” helps preschool-age children improve their phonics in addition to memory. (Bonus: It’s also fun and likely to produce ample laughter.)
- An adult comes up with a quick rhythm using different body parts. (Think: Tap the head once, the thighs twice and the head once again.)
- The person sitting next to the adult copies the rhythm followed by another child until the end of the group is reached.
- To make the game more challenging, have children add on rhythms to the first rhythm.
10. Best social game for vocabulary: Touch and Feel Box
From Empowered Parents
A fairly simple, straightforward game to be played in a group, “Touch and Feel Box” helps to develop a child’s vocabulary (specifically adjectives) as they attempt to describe a series of mystery items within a box.
- Fill a box or bag you can’t see through with an assortment of items, each with its own unique texture. (Think: A soft stuffed animal, a puzzle piece, a lego.) Make sure they are items that the children playing the game are familiar with.
- Allow each child in the group to attempt to identify the items within the box, pausing to note how each item feels to the touch.
11. Best social game for working together: Here Comes a Bluebird
Ideal for larger groups of children (at least five to six), this active, musical game helps to build a child’s coordination and ability to work collaboratively with others.
1. In a group of children, identify one “bluebird.”
2. The rest of the class then forms a circle, raises their arms and holds hands.
3. Children sing the “Bluebird” song (see YouTube video above) as the single bluebird weaves in and out of the raised arms.
4. Once the lyrics “pick a little partner” arrive, the bluebird takes the hands of the nearest child and brings them out of the circle. They move to the center of the circle and the other children rejoin hands.
5. The children continue singing the same song, with the additional children weaving in and out of the raised hands. The game continues until there is no circle left.
12. Best social game for counting and following instructions: What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?
From Childhood 101
With a focus on counting, listening and working as a team, “What the Time, Mr. Wolf?” offers multiple learning opportunities in a single, fun game.
1. Choose one child to be the wolf. That individual should stand roughly five to 10 feet from the other children, who should stand side-by-side in a line. The wolf faces away from the children.
2. All together, the children (except for the wolf) say, “What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?”
3. The wolf responds by calling out a particular time (between 1 and 12 o’clock). Depending on the time, each child takes that many steps forward toward the wolf.
4. The wolf can repeat calling out times, or if they choose, can say “Dinnertime!” instead. When this happens, the players must turn to race back to the starting position as the wolf chases them and attempts to tag them. The player who is caught becomes the wolf, and the game repeats.
Tip: Ensure an adult is playing in case whatever wolf is playing might not be able to catch up to the rest of the children to tag one.
Best free indoor games for 3- to 5-year-olds
13. Best indoor game for color-matching: Paint Chip Hunt
From What Moms Live
Head to any home improvement store (or grab a stack of colored papers) for this low-cost take on scavenger hunts. The task is simple: Give a child (or children) a single, or a few, paint chip cards and have them search for items within the house that match each color. For paint chip cards with multiple shades of a certain color (say, sky blue versus royal blue), children will have to work extra-hard to match objects accurately.
14. Best indoor game for storytelling: Tell Me a Story
From Mom Junction
This game taps into a child’s creativity and storytelling abilities. The premise, have a child recite a story that is new or one they already know, is ultra-simple. For younger children, have an adult or older child start a story and allow them to finish. Another variation: Give the child a specific word that must start the story or be the central focus of the plot.
15. Best indoor game for balance and hand-eye coordination: Tape Games
If you have a roll of colored tape in the house, you have the makings for a multitude of fun, educational games. Here’s a handful of activities/games to build:
- Balance Beam
- Driving Course for Toy Cars