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26 Fun Cognitive Games and Activities for Preschoolers

A child’s cognitive development is just one part of their holistic development, along with their social, emotional and physical growth. As with all skills, the best way to boost cognitive development in childhood is through play.

Here are 26 simple cognitive games and activities for preschoolers. Many of these games can be played with kindergarteners and older children, or simplified for younger kids.

1. I Spy With My Little Eye

I Spy With My Little Eye is the perfect game for young children as it teaches them to listen and think. 

Give clues for children to guess the object you have spotted, such as:

  • I spy with my little eye something round that we use to tell the time.
  • I spy with my little eye something wooden that we eat our lunch on.
  • I spy with my little eye something that starts with a “b”.

Use this game to teach children concepts like colours, shapes and initial sounds of words.

2. Matching Cards Memory Game

A picture memory game helps children develop visual memory, which is the brain’s ability to remember what it sees. It’s an important pre-reading skill

Place pairs of matching picture cards face down on a table and shuffle them. Take turns to turn over two cards at a time. If they match, you keep them, if they don’t match, turn them back over. 

The point is to try and memorize the placement of the cards to find more matches.  

(Get your own set of printable memory card games here!)

3. Hopscotch

Physical games like Hopscotch can also be a great way to build number skills. 

Children playing hopscotch

Draw a basic Hopscotch court with 8 to 10 blocks and get children to hop into the blocks, calling out the numbers as they go. 

4. Kim’s Game

Build cognitive abilities with a brain game like Kim’s Game. This game also builds visual memory.

Place a few toys or household items onto a tray and challenge kids to remember the items on the tray. Then, remove one of the items and see if they can identify the missing item. 

5. Magic Cup Game

This simple game will teach kids to maintain their focus.

All you need is three cups – turned upside down – and a small coin or other object. While the child is watching, place the object under one of the cups and shuffle the cups around on the table. Can they identify which cup the object is under?

6. Shape Hunt

Teach kids about shapes while playing a game. Get them to explore the environment, finding and naming different shapes. They can also point out shapes of objects indoors, such as a round clock, rectangular rug or square window.

7. Puzzles

Puzzles are one of the best cognitive activities. They build problem-solving skills, fine motor skills and visual perception

Image showing child's hand building a puzzle

Offer age-appropriate puzzles, starting with simpler puzzles with larger pieces and gradually increasing in complexity. The right puzzle is challenging but doable.

(Get your own set of printable puzzles here!)

8. Sorting and Categorising

Matching, sorting and categorising are important cognitive skills to learn and can be practised in a fun way.

Provide a variety of objects (blocks, beads, toys, etc.) and get kids to sort them by colour, shape or size. Or find the match with matching pairs of socks while packing away the laundry.

9. The Telephone Game

One of the best ways to build attention span is with a listening game such as the Telephone Game, also called Broken Telephone.

Kids sit in a circle and the first person (or adult) whispers a short phrase into the next person’s ear. The phrase gets passed around the circle until the last person calls it out, to see if the correct message was delivered around the circle.

Here are some fun Telephone Game phrases.

10. Make Patterns

Teach children to make simple patterns using items such as building blocks, coloured leaves, beads threaded onto a lace, or pegs around a paper plate. 

Start with simple A/B patterns like red block, blue block, red block, blue block, etc. Then move on to more complex patterns such as two red blocks, one blue block, two red blocks, one blue block, etc. 

Teach pattern recognition skills by laying out a pattern of blocks or objects and asking children to tell you what the “rule” or pattern is. 

You could also try clapping patterns and have children copy the simple patterns that you clap.

11. Telling Riddles

Telling riddles is an excellent way to build thinking skills

Here are a few examples of animal riddles:

  • I am a large animal and I drink water with my trunk. What am I?
  • I am tall and pink and I like to stand on one leg. What am I?
  • I have spots, I run fast and I sometimes sleep high up in trees. What am I?

You can make these basic or complex, depending on the age of the children.

12. Parking Cars

Parking Cars is a fun number recognition game. Label toy cars with the numbers 1 to 5 and create numbered parking garages out of boxes. Kids can race their cars and park in the garage with the corresponding number.

13. Simon Says

Simon Says is a wonderful educational game for the preschool years. It’s a listening game that also builds language and concentration.

Give a series of instructions for children to follow, each time beginning the command with “Simon says”. When you don’t begin with “Simon says”, the children must not follow the command. 

They therefore have to pay attention to what the instruction is, as well as deciphering whether or not they should do it.

Some examples: 

  • Simon says turn around three times.
  • Simon says jump and clap your hands twice.
  • Run and touch the door. 

For the last command, children should remain still. Here is a list of Simon Says commands.

14. Hide and Seek with Objects

Play a game of Hide and Seek by hiding toys or other objects around the room and giving clues about where they are hidden. Whoever finds the object can hide it in the next round.

Use preposition words like over, inside, next to and beside.

15. Categories Game

The categories game is a fun way to build vocabulary and auditory memory

With younger children, choose an easy category like food or animals. Kids sit in a circle and go around, taking turns to add one word that fits into the category. A word may not be repeated.

Words in the animal category could be, for example, different kinds of animals (lion, monkey, cow) or even words associated with animals (food, farm, zoo, claws). Here is a list of categories for ideas.

16. Make up a Story

This is a challenging creative activity for preschoolers but they can give it a try. Let them go at their own pace and don’t worry if the story gets very off track!

Tell the children you are going to make up your own group story. Start with an opening line, introducing one character, and then prompt them, one at a time to add what they think happens next. The story should change direction and become very interesting as they add their ideas.

With older children, they go in order and each child adds just one line to the story, taking it in any direction they choose.

17. Would You Rather?

Play a game of Would You Rather to build children’s critical thinking and logical reasoning.

Ask a series of questions with a choice of two alternatives and they must choose one and explain their choice.

A few examples:

  • Would you rather be an ant or an elephant?
  • Would you rather have a holiday at the beach or in a new city?
  • Would you rather be a superhero or a villain?

Young children might find it challenging to put their reasons into words. Coax them to think about their reasons by asking them questions and guiding them.

18. Numbered Bean Bag Toss

Build number recognition skills at the same time as hand-eye coordination while playing with bean bags

Use large boxes or laundry baskets as the targets and place a large label on each one, with numbers up to 5. Children must aim and throw their bean bags into each basket, starting from basket number 1 and continuing up to basket number 5.

19. Nature Scavenger Hunt

Send kids outdoors on a fun nature scavenger hunt. 

Draw a few simple pictures on paper of items found in nature, such as a leaf, stone, twig, flower, blade of grass, etc. Challenge kids to find all the items and place them onto their page, over the corresponding images. They can work in teams or individually.

20. Odd One Out

Play a game of Odd One Out to teach children the concept that items can be grouped according to characteristics or that they can share a “rule”.

With younger children, play this game with physical objects. You can play the game verbally with older children.

Place four or five items on a tray, such as an orange, a banana, a strawberry, a carrot and a pear. Ask children to identify the odd one out (the carrot) and then ask them “What’s the rule?” (It must be a fruit).

21. Card Games

Teach kids to play simple card games like Snap, Slap Jack or Go Fish.

Kids playing cards on the floor

Here are the rules of Snap!

Playing card games improves concentration, number concepts and thinking skills.

22. Dominoes

Playing with Dominoes is a great way for children to learn the numbers, and develop their concept of one-to-one correspondence

Dad and kids playing with dominoes

Younger children don’t need to play strictly by the rules and can simply take turns with an adult, adding a tile with a matching number of dots on it.

23. Charades

Charades is an enjoyable game for all ages. Play a simple version with preschoolers by having cards with images on them. They choose a card and have to act out the image on their card.

Pick words that are easy to portray, such as animals or people at work. Whoever guesses the word, chooses a card to act out in the next round. 

24. Number Hunt

Practise number recognition by hiding number cards (with numbers 1 to 5 or 10) around the room or class, and having children search for them. 

Once the group have found all the numbers, they need to place them into the correct order.

25. Songs and Rhymes

One of the best ways to develop language skills in early childhood is through singing songs and nursery rhymes. Learning songs builds vocabulary, memory, auditory perception and more.

Children should be exposed to songs and rhymes every day. Here’s a great list of 40 classic preschool songs.

26. Board Games

Build intellectual as well as social skills by playing board games with kids. Preschoolers should start with simple games such as Snakes and Ladders, and be guided by an adult. It can take a while for them to get used to things like following set rules, moving counters the correct number of spaces or waiting their turn. 

Here are some suitable board games for preschoolers.

These are just a few cognitive games and activities that preschoolers will enjoy and learn from.

For more ideas, here is a list of classic games for kids.

Young children holding their hands to their chins in thought, with thinking bubbles above them. Text reads: 36 simple cognitive games for preschoolers.

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