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The Purpose of Games for Toddlers

written by: Patricia Gable • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 7/12/2012

Games are one valuable way toddlers process information, build on learned skills and gain new ones. Learn how your toddler develops and how you can help them in the process with a variety of games.

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    You already know that games and playtime are very important to the child’s development. But what do games teach? To toddlers it provides a time to develop physical skills, balance and coordination. Social skills are being developed as they mix with peers. Cognitive skills are improving as they learn the rules and workings of the game.

    Learn the components of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains to make sure your games are addressing developmental needs of the toddler. It’s not scary! Honest!

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    Three Types of Learning

    In the 1950’s Benjamin Bloom and committee determined that learning has three types:

    • Cognitive - Recalling previously learned information; mental skills.
    • Affective - Attitude; growth of feelings and emotions.
    • Psychomotor - Physical and manual skills.

    Each of these learning types has degrees of development within them. For example, cognitive learning begins by remembering, and builds upon that to understanding, applying, analysis, evaluating and finally creating.

    Obviously toddlers will be working on the beginning levels of each learning type. They will remember words, places, people and activities. With the Affective learning type the little ones will be learning how to listen and actively participate. Psychomotor skills are developing when the toddler can detect non-verbal and sensory clues. They will begin to understand where a ball will land when thrown and they can imitate another person.

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    Building Cognitive Thinking

    Cognitive learning’s knowledge category means that the toddler will be able to remember names of objects, match things that are the same, list things like family members and remember previously learned information. What toddler games could you use to teach in this category?


    • Ask the child to bring an object to you before you count to 10. “Please bring me my purse."
    • Play a game with the child asking him to find all the red blocks in a pile of blocks.
    • Learn nursery rhymes and finger plays.
    • Play age and ability appropriate online computer games with the child. See the list below.
    • Place different colors of construction paper around the room. Choose colors that the child may have learned or still needs to practice. Name a color and ask the child to find it.
    • Play a memory game using pairs of matching pictures: colors, shapes or alphabet letters. Start with 3 pairs of pictures turned face down. The child needs to pick two cards to see if they match. If they do, they keep the cards. If not, they are placed back in the same position so that the child will learn to remember where they are for the next turn.

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    Building Affective Thinking

    In the affective area toddlers will be aware of the surroundings and react to things with a variety of emotions. They greet people, answer questions and engage in conversation. They learn to listen with respect.


    • Play games like Simon Says.
    • Ask children to make faces to show how they feel if: they were going to a party, if a friend won’t play with them, if they fall down, when they get a present, when mom or dad leaves for work, when they are afraid and so on.
    • Animal Charades.
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    Building Psychomotor Skills

    These types of learning games for toddlers involve motor skills, coordination and physical movement. You will be able to see the growth in this area as the toddler gets better at walking, running, standing on one foot, catching a ball and so on. They will learn to adjust their movements and know the area where a thrown ball will land.


    • Hitting a balloon back and forth.
    • Play the Hokey Pokey.
    • Games of pitch and catch.
    • Run Squirrel Run.
    • Set up a safe obstacle course for the child to move through involving stepping over, going under, climbing, balancing.

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    It All Works Together

    Most games do not just involve one type of learning. To play the hokey pokey you need cognitive skills to follow the directions and psychomotor skills to perform physically. So when you are thinking about what do games teach to toddlers, think in terms of developing the whole body and mind. Plan active games and thinking games. Plan partner games and group games so that the toddler can begin to learn the feeling of losing, succeeding and working with peers.

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    Extra Resources

    Online Games to Build Cognitive Learning:

    PBS Kids:

    Nick Jr.:

    Fisher Price Online Games:

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    Learning Domains:

    Toddler Learning: