Our Top Games for 3 Year Olds and Why!

Feature image for starfish blog - our top games for 3 year olds and why

As parents and teachers, we understand the importance of fostering early development in our little ones.

Playing board games with friends and family is not only a fun activity, but it also provides numerous developmental benefits.  From improving social skills to enhancing cognitive abilities, board games offer a well-rounded learning experience for children.

Join us as we explore the benefits of playing board games with 3 year olds and share our top picks for games that are perfect for this age group.

Children learn vital social skills such as, how to:

  • Play by the rules
  • Take turns
  • Interact with other players
  • Cope when things don’t go well (sliding down a snake)
  • Be a good winner
  • To lose (without losing their cool)
Child sitting on floor and playing hoot owl hoot board game


Good games also have valuable developmental skills embedded.
Games might involve physical skills such as fine motor (e.g. using tweezers, or moving small pieces), gross motor (e.g. charades), visual perception (e.g. memory games).

Games might require more “academic” skills such as knowing colours, numerals, or counting.

When a child is around 3 years of age, they definitely can start playing games.  Enjoy the fun and bonding time together.  Capitalise on the opportunities that games provide for your child to develop key skills.

It's also a great way to incorporate screen-free play into your activities.  Children who do spend more time in front of a screen have been proven to have reduced thinking/reasoning power and language processing ability, as well as other developmental issues.


Hoot Owl Hoot - a cooperative game


product image of peaceable kingdom hoot owl hoot board game

Premise - a race to get all the owls into the nest before the sun comes up.

No word of a lie, this was the game that FINALLY taught our granddaughter “how” to play board games.  We tried loads of games, but she could not cope with the whole turn taking process and constantly switched the game play (rules) around to suit.  It was Hoot Owl Hoot that helped her turn the corner.

p.s. If you’re new to cooperative games, we have a brief description at the end of this post, or click here to learn more.

Knowledge/Skill - Colours and taking turns

Info - For 3yrs+ and 2 to 4 players 


Monkeys Forest Feast - a cooperative game


product image of Mudpuppy Monkey's Forest Feast

Premise - work together to help the monkey eat the rainforest fruits before the fruit bat does!

This is another wonderful cooperative game for young children.  It is such a cute and different concept.  A game for beginners that introduces just a little strategy as well.  Your little ones will love it.

Knowledge/Skill - Counting and colours

Info - For 4yrs+ (but definitely works well for most 3 year olds) and 2 + players


Spin to Play Build a Robot - a traditional game


a child playing Spin to Play Build a Robot on a wooden table

Premise - spin to get each part of the robot.  Winner is the first player to assemble your robot. 

The perfect game for beginners, as it doesn’t take long, and straightforward to play.  This one is a beauty for introducing children to standard game play (where there are winners and losers).  If your kiddo didn’t win first up, play another round.  It is also easy to modify the rules to favour your kiddo.  I like to do this, when needed, by saying that the adults have extra rules (a bit like a golf handicap).  With this game, we make it that the adults have to spin the “tool” before they’re allowed to start.

Knowledge/Skill - Sequencing, numeral matching

Info - For 3yrs+ and 2 to 4 players


Avalanche Fruit Stand - a traditional game


two children playing the avalanche game

Premise - use tweezers to carefully collect your fruit, being careful not to dislodge the rest of the fruit on the fruit stand.

This game is quick, easy to learn and involves using tweezers.  Kids of all ages love it.  We often bring it out at the end of our tutoring sessions.  It is a popular game amongst paediatric occupational therapists.

Knowledge/Skill - fine motor skills, hand strengthening, visual-motor planning

Info - For 3yrs+ and 2 to 4 players


Shopping List - a memory card game


Premise - flip a tile over, if you have it on your shopping list then pop it into your shopping cart.  First player to fill their cart with all the items on their list wins.

This is Orchard Toys best selling game (and has been for 30 years). Children LOVE it and it truly is a fabulous game.  Even your older children will happily play this one with their younger siblings. 

Knowledge/Skill - Memory

Info - For 3 yrs+ and 2 to 4 players


Bandits Memory Mix Up - a classic visual memory game


A young child playing bandits memory mix up

Premisechoose 3 picture tiles to pop in “magnifying glass”, shake and remove one of the cards.  Who is the first to recall which picture card is missing?

Oh my goodness, speech therapists LOVE this game, and so do we at our Starfish tutoring centre.  It is the sort of game that you can play for as little or as long as you like.  You can even just “do” a couple rounds at the dinner table, just for fun.  We love how easy this game is to adjust to suit the ages and abilities of the players.  Start out with just 2 or maybe 3 picture cards (for the players to remember).  

We love that this game can be played with just two people, or a whole group.

Knowledge/Skill - Memory

Info - For 3 yrs+ and 2 or more players


Where’s Squeaky - a hide and seek game


product image of Blue orange where's squeaky?

Premise - press the button on squeaky (the mouse) before hiding it around your home.  The other players have to try and find squeaky.  The longer it takes, the louder squeaky will become.  Yes, squeaky makes intermittent call outs!

The best bit about this game is all the giggles. Children absolutely adore playing it.  It is pure fun.  It is also fabulous as you can play just two players or a small group.

Knowledge/Skill - Taking turns gross motor and persistence 

Info - For 3 yrs+ and 2 or more players


Pass the Bomb Junior - a language & speed processing game


A group of people playing pass the bomb junior

Premise - Choose a card (e.g. at the beach), start the bomb (the timer) and take turns calling out a word to do with that card.  You can’t say a word that someone else has said.  When the “bomb” goes off, whoever has it at the time gets stuck with the card.

This game is designed for older children.  We’ve included this one for a reason.  It is a fabulous game to play as a whole family.  Especially if you have a crowd.  It means your family can play a game and your little ones won’t be left out.

For 3 year olds, with Pass the Bomb, the hot tip is to give them a chance to look at the card prompt (maybe keep it in front of them) and have a quick chat about related words - things you might see or do, touch or smell etc in that card’s context (eg on a farm: think of animals).  This will give your kiddo several words to save up for when it is their turn.

Knowledge/Skill - Vocabulary and speed processing

Info - For 5 yrs+ (but younger children can accommodate) and 2 or more players (up to large groups)


Cooperative or competitive games?


Cooperative games remove the “pressure” of winning or losing.  Cooperative games give the opportunity to model vital game playing behaviour and skills in a friendly non-competitive way.

Because cooperative games have all the players working collaboratively, they are a wonderful way to build relationships and promote positive time together.  In a nutshell, in a cooperative game, every player is on the same team/side. 

You still take turns, you still play by the rules.  But everyone works together to try and beat the game (or the villain character).  If one wins, everyone wins.  And, if we lose, everyone loses.

On the other hand, competitive games shouldn't be outlawed.  They are great for improving self-esteem, bringing people together, developing skills and challenging yourself especially when matched with your peers or to those with similar ability.

As humans, we also get pleasure out of learning, and competitive games give an honest measure for this.  Getting better scores and winning more games is a clear indication of this.

In summary, we believe there should be a healthy mix of competitive and cooperative games in the games cupboard.  It's good to mix it up from time to time, to see what works for you and your children.


Finishing up..


Have you played any of these games with your 3 year old? What did you think?

Do you have any other favourite games for 3 year olds?  We’d love a heads up - if we don't stock them, maybe we need to! 

If you also enjoyed this post and found it helpful/interesting, we'd love for you to let us know and for you to share it with your friends and family.

We have big plans for our blog posts. By sharing, you truly help us grow. So, thank you.


Kirstie and The Starfish team.



Kirstie Wishart M.Ed (Special Education).
Owner and founder of The Starfish Store.  Kirstie’s professional life has included: teaching (in both public and private schools in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand), lecturer and subject coordinator at the University of Wollongong, Educational consultant (working with children and young people with a trauma background), OoHC Case Work Manager, and Specialist Tutor (working with children and young people with significant learning difficulties and/or disabilities).

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