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Games for Preschoolers

Whether at a party or a play date, preschoolers love games. No longer toddlers, they have a growing interest in playing with other kids. Physically, they're now steady on their feet and learning to hop, skip, jump, and even somersault. Preschoolers are ready for games with simple rules — and don't be surprised if they're sticklers about following them to a "T."

The games below can be used for birthday parties, rainy day get-togethers, or anytime you find yourself with a bunch of energetic preschoolers on your hands.

You'll remember some of these from your own childhood. In some cases, we've recommended new twists on old favorites, but feel free to come up with your own variations.

Game: Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Number of kids: Any.

How the game is played: The group sings the song while touching the body parts as they are named.

Head and shoulders, knees and toes
Head and shoulders, knees and toes
Eyes and ears and mouth and nose!
Head and shoulders, knees and toes
KNEES AND TOES!

Tips for adults: On the first couple repetitions, sing slowly to allow kids to get the hang of things. Then, speed up to make it more challenging. Change it up by substituting different body parts. Try: Ears, mouths, pinkies, and elbows; or eyes, bellies, thumbs, and nose.

What the game teaches: Musical awareness and rhythm, body parts.

Game: Duck, Duck, Goose!

Number of kids: Any.

How the game is played: Everyone sits in a circle on the floor. One person is the "goose" and the rest are the "ducks." The goose walks around the outside of the circle, patting each duck on the head and saying "Duck." The player touches someone's head and says, "Goose!" The tagged duck gets up and chases the goose around the circle. The goose tries to get back around to the empty seat and sit down before being tagged. If successful, the goose rejoins the seated ducks and the new goose now starts the game again. If the first goose is tagged, he or she sits in the center of the circle as the game goes on. As more people get tagged, the circle gets tighter and the chase gets tighter! The last person standing is the goose.

Tips for adults: This game can be played indoors or out, but if you're inside, make sure the room is safe for running kids. Although this can be a competitive game, keep the mood light by asking everyone to quack like a duck (or honk like a goose) and waddle like a duck. Try different animals and practice their sounds and walks while playing.

What the game teaches: Taking turns, listening, and large motor skills.

Game: Obstacle Course

Number of kids: Any.

How the game is played: Transform your yard or living room into a free-for-all obstacle course. First, remove unsafe objects from the room (tables with sharp edges, for example) and clear out clutter that someone could trip on. Then place piles of cushions, sturdy chairs, laundry baskets, or other items around the room for the kids to romp over, under, or through. A large cardboard box, if you have one, can become an excellent tunnel.

Tips for adults: Put on some music to encourage moving around.

What the game teaches: Motor skills and problem solving.

Game: What Time Is It, Mister Fox?

Number of kids: Any.

How the game is played: The kids gather on one side of the space and the adult (Mister Fox) stands on the other side. The adult gives a signal and the kids say, "What time is it, Mister Fox?" Mister Fox says, "It's time to hop!" The kids hop toward Mister Fox until he gives the signal to stop. Repeat this, substituting different movements (skipping, crawling, walking backwards) until kids draw near to Mister Fox. As the kids near Mister Fox and ask the question, the last answer he gives is "It's midnight!" At this point, he pretends to chase them all back to the other side of the room. The game can then start again.

Tips for adults: You don't have to be Mister Fox! You could be Sleepy Bear, Grouchy Grandma, Big Baby, or another character that kids might like. Also, get creative with the movements. Kids love to be silly with their bodies. Say, "It's time to walk with one finger on your nose and one on your belly button!"

What the game teaches: Listening, following directions, and large motor skills.

Phew!

If you're planning an afternoon of fun, choose a mix of activities — some active and some quiet. Also be on the lookout for kids who take too many turns and those shy kids who don't get their rightful turns.

After you've been playing a while, be aware of the group's mood. Are they getting tired or cranky? You'll have a more successful party or play date if you catch the kids before they get too worn out. When weariness sets in, respond with a quiet activity, like you reading a book aloud. And no matter what the mood, a snack is always a welcome break for preschoolers!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2014