Game on!

Entertain your toddler—and the entire family—with these six great games.

Learning Stages

By Melissa Catalano


Melissa Catalano is a schoolteacher and runs My Play Place, a play-based parent-participation toddler program where kids learn, create and socialize in a fun and safe setting. She holds a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Education from Stanford University. In a day filled with teaching and running a business, parenting is the job that still provides the most challenges and rewards.

To a toddler, anything can be a game. If it makes him laugh and you can do it over and over, it’s a game. For example, you may play the towel-over-the-head game or the oops-I-almost-dropped-you game. Toddlers are almost always ready for a good time. Here are a few ideas for playing games with your toddler that may also entertain the non-toddlers in your house.

Red Light, Green Light

Help toddlers learn about opposites. “Stop” and “go” are particularly fun because they can be acted out. Teach your toddler the simple phrases, “Red light” and “Green light”; red means stop and green means go. Introduce this game just by walking around the house or in an outdoor area. First you can be the one who says “red light” or “green light”. Model how you stop and go as soon as the words are spoken. Once children understand the rules, let them take the lead. You can play this game while doing all sorts of gross motor activities such as running, hopping, rolling, skipping and clapping.

I'm a Little Teapot

Here’s another simple game that gives toddlers practice balancing on one foot. Sing the song, “I’m a Little Teapot.” When you get to the line, “Tip me over and pour me out,” lean to one side and lift one foot off the ground. Challenge toddlers to see how many seconds they can balance before tipping over. Applaud any and all efforts. Balancing is tough for little ones!

Partner Hide and Seek

This is a favorite for many age groups. Toddlers can play a simple version of hide and seek with adult help. Start by pairing a toddler with an older child or adult—they will be the seekers. Seeking together helps toddlers come up with ideas for places to hide. When it’s the toddler’s turn to hide, offer a partner again if this is more comfortable. Most children this age don’t like the feeling of being “lost,” which explains why they usually give themselves away so quickly. If you are seeking, talk about wanting to find your child. “I wonder if he’s hiding in the dresser? No, he’s too big! I wonder if he’s in my closet? There you are!!!” Besides being fun, playing hide and seek helps toddlers learn about turn taking.

Hokey Pokey

Who doesn’t love a good round of Hokey Pokey? Your toddler will love imitating your moves and seeing you have some silly fun. Hokey Pokey helps to reinforce the names of body parts as well as left and right!

Ring Around the Rosie

This simple and timeless game delights toddlers for many reasons:

  • It’s short and predictable.
  • Toddlers know what will happen next—and they love this.
  • It only works when the group coordinates their movements, holding hands and moving in the same direction at roughly the same speed.

From a toddler’s point of view, it’s fun to look across the circle and see other people doing exactly what you are doing.

Walking, Walking

Sing this simple song to the tune of “Frere Jacque”:

Walking walking
Walking walking
Stomp, stomp, stomp
Stomp, stomp, stomp
Running, running, running
Running, running, running
Stop, stop, stop
Stop, stop, stop

This game allows toddlers to work on some basic gross motor movements while learning to follow directions and coordinate their movements with their words. You can change the movements to anything that your child enjoys doing (clapping, hopping, spinning).

It may be a while until Family Game night with your child involves rolling dice, counting spaces or even turn taking. Enjoy the simplicity of this stage of development and don’t forget to keep it silly and fun!