Like board games? Have toddlers in your life? Want to share that love of competition and collaboration and teeny wooden Meeples with the next generation? There are some really, really fun toddler board games out there, designed for children as young as 2. They’re simple enough to teach to kids who have a limited vocabulary, but they’re not insipidly stupid, so parents won’t lose their minds playing along.
We’re lucky enough to have a group of gamer friends whose kids have been playing since they’re teeny, and they introduced us to some of the best toddler board games out there. These three are our favorites, and taken together they’re a solid three-step process to getting your toddler (or someone else’s) into the basics of board games – both the rules and the fun.
Step 1: Go Away Monster
(Cardboard pieces. Recommended for toddlers as young as 18 months, depending on temperament.)
This is more of a puzzle than a true board game, but it’s excellent for teaching toddlers the important concepts of turn-taking and placing pieces on a game board. There are four eclectically decorated flat cardboard rooms, and a small canvas bag of assorted bedroom furniture. Players take turns picking a piece out of the bag without peeking, and hope to pull out something that they need – a teddy bear, maybe, or a lamp. But there are monsters lurking in the canvas bag, too! Any player who pulls out a monster gets to throw it into the game’s empty box, saying “GO AWAY MONSTER!” This is, by far, my son’s favorite part of the game.
When you first start playing, it’ll be a challenge to get the kid to give up the bag for someone else’s turn, and to keep them from peeking into the bag to find their favorite pieces. In theory, the game ends when one player completes their room’s decor, but it’s okay not to push the concept of winning or losing just yet. It can be a good lead-in to discussions of sharing: “Mommy just got a bed out of the bag! But Mommy already has a bed in her room, what should I do? Does anyone else need a bed more than I do?”
Step 2: My First Orchard
(Cardboard with painted wooden pieces. Recommended for toddlers 2 and up.)
This could also be called “My first Co-operative Board Game,” because this game pits players against a hungry crow who is trying to get to the orchard to steal our basket of fruit.
The shiny fruit pieces sit in their cardboard “trees,” waiting to be picked when a player rolls the right color. Yellow? Pick a pear and put it in the basket. Blue? Pick a plum. The basket symbol is a freebie – you can pick whichever fruit you want. If you roll the crow, then the bird moves one more step along the orchard path. If he gets to the orchard before you’ve filled up the basket, the game is over!
The orchard game reinforces turn-taking skills and teaches children to roll a die and follow up with the appropriate action. My 2-year-old still has trouble with the basket symbol and how to proceed when he rolls it, so we’re currently using the basket as though it meant “roll again.” Younger kids also won’t understand the winning/losing aspect of moving the bird along the path, but they’ll get there. I love that this game starts out as a simple roll-and-match game for the youngest players but grows with the kids as they grasp more concepts.
Step 3: Snail’s Pace Race
(Cardboard game board, wooden pieces. Possible choking hazard, so I recommend age 2 1/2 and up, depending on your child’s propensity to stuff things in their mouth.)
This is another one that’s not really a game, as there are no winners or losers. Six bright wooden snails are lined up at the starting line for a race, and are moved ahead depending on what the dice say. Players take turns rolling two dice, and moving the snails that correspond to the colors they’ve rolled. This introduces the idea of moving pieces along a board according to what dice tell you. Because sometimes you will roll the same color on both dice, kids will learn how to decide whether a piece needs to move one or two spaces.
Full disclosure: we don’t have this one for our son yet, but we’ve played it at a friend’s house, and it’s on our wishlist for the holidays. He’s asking us to play both Go Away Monster and “the apples game” almost every night, and it’s time to add this one to the rotation.
If you’re looking to get some games for the holidays, definitely consider these. They’ve brought us hours and hours of fun. They’re well made, and can stand up to grabby toddler hands. Absolutely worth the cost.
Note: links above are Amazon affiliate links, and you can learn more about that here. I only link to items I like enough to recommend to actual friends.