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Let's Play! Kinds of Games for Preschool Classrooms

written by: Kara Bietz • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 9/11/2012

Don't worry about those store bought games; use your imagination to create teacher made games children will love. You don't need any fancy equipment to play the outdoor games explained in this article, either. Get out there and play!

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    The Importance of Games

    It has been said that play is the work of children. Play is how children learn about the world around them, and their role in their environment. Games can teach children how to follow simple rules, how to work together as a team with other children, sharing, as well as provide physical exercise. While not all games are developmentally appropriate for early childhood students, there are several ways to modify games to make them appropriate for preschoolers.

    Games can also instill a healthy dose of competitive spirit in children, but it is a teacher's role to make sure children do not get carried away. When a game stops being fun and becomes only about winning, it may be time to find something else to do. Specific learning games are great ways to reinforce skills. When children enjoy a game, they often want to play it repetitively. Repetitive play only reinforces these skills at a faster rate.

    There are several different kinds of games for preschool students. Many can be played without any special equipment and cost almost nothing to create and maintain.

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    Teacher Made Games

    File Folder Games: Preschool children are capable of learning to roll a die and count the dots on the die. With that in mind, create a simple file folder game based on your weekly or monthly theme. For example, if you are studying farm animals, create a game where children need to lead a horse to the barn. Create a game board on a file folder using colored squares, as in the game CandyLand. Make game pieces of your own out of paper or playdough, or use small plastic animals. Laminate the file folder so the game will stand up to many uses. Using the die, have children roll a number and count the dots. Children will move their game piece the same number of spaces as they counted on the die. For a challenge for older children, create wild card spots where children will have to go back two spaces, or perform another task before being able to move on.

    Sorting: Use an old muffin tin for this simple counting game. Print a number that preschool children will recognize (usually 1 - 10) on the bottom of each muffin hole in the tin. Display this game in your math or manipulatives area with a bag full of poker chips or even tiny pom-poms. This is usually a one person activity.

    Birthday Candle Game: This game set-up requires a few tools, but is great fun for preschoolers. Using a circular piece of thick plywood, drill ten holes in the top. Cut dowels to resemble large birthday candles and be sure they securely fit in the holes you have drilled. Sand and decorate the plywood circle to resemble a birthday cake. Do the same for the dowels. Laminate or use clear contact paper to cover some old birthday cards that display the age (1-10) on the front. Have children draw cards from a pile and put that many birthday candles on a cake. This game can be played alone or in a small group.

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    Outdoor Games

    Simple outdoor games can provide great exercise and gross motor development for preschoolers. It is best to play group games with very simple rules. Preschoolers can often feel overwhelmed in a large group and having to remember a long list of rules can be difficult in that situation. Here are a few kinds of games for preschool motor development.

    Snowman Tag: Have one or two children act as "It" and try to tag the other children. Once tagged, the runners must "freeze" or "become a snowman" until the sun melts them. A teacher can act as the sun and "melt" the snowmen as they freeze. Give each child a chance to be "It" even if this means that three or four children have to be "It" at a time.

    Dragon's Tail: Have children line up in a long straight line and hold onto the waist of the child in front of them. The first child in line is the dragon head, the children in the middle are the body, and the last child is the tail. The head of the dragon must try to catch the tail without the body breaking or splitting up. Once the tail is caught, the head becomes the new tail and all children move up one space.

    There are several different kinds of games for preschool classrooms. You do not have to spend money on store bought games or have any special equipment. You only need a good amount of imagination and a few willing participants!


    "Group Games in Early Education: Implications of Piaget's Theory"; Constance Kamii and Rheta DeVries; 1996