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Fun Category Games for Young Kids

Playing category games with young children is a great way to extend their vocabulary and develop listening skills, concentration, memory and even cognitive skills such as finding common relations, grouping, sorting and classifying.

Children around four or five can start playing simple versions of these games with easy categories like animals or fruits. Older children can play more complex versions and even written versions.

Here are some simple ideas for category games. They can be played with a group of children or even just with one child.

Tweak them and change the rules to suit the age and maturity of the kids.

There’s a handy printable of educational game ideas in the Free Activity Pack below, so don’t forget to sign up for that too!

Categories Game

The simplest version of the Categories Game is to pick a category and go around the group adding a word each that fits into the category. 

It could be a list of examples of a certain thing, such as vehicles (car, truck, bus, etc), or it could just be words you’d associate with the category, such as the hospital (nurse, bed, syringe, etc).

If someone repeats a word, the round ends and a new one begins, with a new category. See how many words you can string together.

This is a wonderful carpet game. If you’re playing alone with a child, take turns adding a word each until you run out of ideas.

Some variations:

  • Set a timer and see how many words you can think of in that time.
  • Set a challenge to reach a certain number of words without repeating any and attempt to reach the goal.
  • Go around the group, each adding a word, and see how long the round takes. Then challenge the group to beat the time in the next round.

Guess the Category Game

In the inverse of the previous game, you say a string of words and the children must tell you what the category is.

Challenge older children to be more specific if the category is “things you wear in winter”, not just “clothes”.

Winter clothes - hat, scarf, coat, boats, gloves, etc.

Odd One Out Game

The Odd One Out Game is a fun way to introduce children to categories. 

Simply say a string of 4 or 5 words and ask kids to tell you which is the odd one out. They must then tell you what the rule is, which basically means they are identifying what the criteria are for fitting into a particular group.

For example, in the string of words “carrot, pumpkin, cake and potato”, the word “cake” is the odd one out because the rule is that it must be a vegetable.

Memory Game

Pick a category and play a game of “I went to the zoo and I saw a…” or “In my lunchbox, I have a…”.

Build kids’ memory by going around the circle and having each child repeat the phrase “I went to the zoo and I saw a…” and adding an animal onto the list while remembering all the previous animals listed by other kids.

If the first child says “I went to the zoo and I saw an elephant”, the next child says “I went to the zoo and I saw an elephant and a giraffe”, and the next child says “I went to the zoo and I saw an elephant, a giraffe and a monkey”, and so on.

Animals you'll find in the wild

I have had a class of 5-year-olds remember the entire list. They learn to associate the animal with the person who said it, especially if the child took their time choosing an animal or did something that made them stand out – like laughing or making a funny gesture.

I Spy With My Little Eye

Play a game of I Spy with My Little Eye by choosing a category – such as furniture – and giving clues such as:

  • I spy with my little eye something you can sit on.
  • I spy with my little eye something that holds our books.
  • I spy with my little eye something that has wooden shelves and draws.
Bookshelves and storage racks with toys on them

Keep the theme going for a while until you change to a new one.

You could also play a version where you ask children to find multiple things in a group, such as in the following examples:

  • I spy with my little eye five things that make a noise.
  • I spy with my little eye three green things.

Teach Colours and Other Concepts

Use the categories game to teach kids concepts such as colours or shapes.

Paint blobs of different colors

Play the classic version by asking children to each name a colour (once the easy colours are done they will have to start thinking of less common colours such as maroon or violet), or rather choose a colour and list items that are typically of that colour.

Movement Game

Incorporate some movement by playing a gross motor game while listing categories.

Sit in a circle with the children and hold a large ball. Choose a basic topic and list a word from that topic. Roll the ball to someone on the other side of the circle, who must then add another word to the list.

Continue and keep the chain going as long as possible without repeating words or rolling the ball to someone who has already had a turn. Then, pick a new category and start another round.

If you are playing with your child, roll the ball back and forth to each other while adding words.

This game will develop kids’ listening skills and concentration.

Written Games

There are several ways you can play category games with older kids, including those where children write down their words.

One game I remember from childhood was called General Knowledge, but it goes by several other names also and is a version of the modern-day Scattergories.

Each child draws columns on their sheet of paper with headings like names, colours, animals, places, etc. Kids pick a letter of the alphabet and everyone has to list a word in each category that begins with that letter.

The first person to find a word in each category calls out “time’s up” and everyone puts down their pens. 

Everyone then calculates their score by calling out their answers one at a time for the group to verify (abbreviations and nonsense words aren’t allowed) and allocating one point per correct word. 

If more than one person uses the same word, a half point is allocated, which encourages children to list unique and unusual words to avoid having the same as someone else.

You can tweak these rules or play a simple version without points or time constraints.

Are you a preschool teacher or working in Early Childhood Education? Would you like to receive regular emails with useful tips and play-based activity ideas to try with your children? Sign up for the newsletter!

Ready to try out these ideas? Here is a list of categories for games to get you started, as well as more cognitive games for preschoolers.

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