Start Them Young: First Games for the Geeky Parent

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If you are a tabletop geek and a new parent then you might be aware that most kids games are recommended for ages 3-4 or older. Seriously, who wants to wait 3-4 years to start playing games with their kid? Not this Dad!

What I’ve found with a lot of kids games is that there is a choking hazard in there somewhere. (“Hello dice, what do you taste like??”) Remove the hazard and you might be surprised how many of these games can still be played.

Here’s a list of games that are recommended for ages 4 and up that I have found can still be played by 1- to 2-year-olds with adult supervision. I’ve listed the games from simplest to most difficult.

Crocodile Dentist and Gooey Louie

Image Credit: Crocodile Dentist/ Hasbro, Gooey Louie/ Goliath Games

In Crocodile Dentist, take turns pushing on teeth in the crocodile’s mouth. Eventually the croc will gently chomp down on someone’s hand.

Gooey Louie is a slightly more advanced variation of Crocodile Dentist. Instead of pushing teeth, you pick boogers out of a giant nose and Louie’s brain pops out of his head. Gooey Louie comes with a die that is a choking hazard and adds complexity that a 1-year-old won’t understand. If you take turns instead of rolling the die, then you eliminate the complexity and the choking hazard.

Skills DevelopedTaking turns, fine motor skills.

Hungry Hungry Hippos

Image Credit: Hungry Hungry Hippos/ Hasbro

In Hungry Hungry Hippos, players push levers to make their hippos eat marbles. Whoever eats the most marbles wins. The marbles in this game are clearly a choking hazard so keep a close eye on the little ones when playing this game!

This is a good game to help kids learn how to do something with their hand while looking somewhere else. If it’s been a while since you’ve played, remember that there are also little marble catapults built into the game. These add another element of fun when button mashing starts to become boring.

Skills Developed: Hand-eye coordination, counting.

Let’s Go Fishin’

Image Credit: Let’s Go Fishin’/ Pressman Toys

Let’s Go Fishin’ is a motorized fishing game. Players must drop their fishing line into a fish’s mouth while it remains open in order to catch the fish. Whoever collects the most fish wins. This is another game that has a choking hazard due to the small pieces. I recommend buying the largest variety of this game you can find to reduce the temptation to nom on the little fish and make it easier to play for the youngest players.

Toddlers will have the most success with this game if you encourage them to aim toward the center of the pond (try putting their favorite color fish there). The fish move around less in the middle so it’s much easier for them to plop their line in a fish mouth at the right time.

Skills DevelopedHand-eye coordination, colors.

Animal Upon Animal: Here We Turn!

Image Credit: Animal Upon Animal/ HABA USA

Baby’s first German board game! In Animal Upon Animal players take turns stacking wooden animals on top of each other. The first person to get rid of all of their animals is the winner. In the Here We Turn! version, there is a spinning log that players occasionally need to move. If the log moves by an animal, the player must also make that animal sound.

To make this game playable by a one- or two-year-old, ditch the die and take turns stacking animals on top of each other. As your child gets better at balancing the animals, add the spinning log and ask them to move it once in awhile. This will be a game that gets played for many years because it will take that long to fully master all of the elements of this seemingly simple game.

Skills DevelopedFine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, animal sounds.

Go Fish

Image Credit: Go Fish/ Wendy Boccuzzi

Traditionally, Go Fish is a card game played using a standard deck of 52 cards and a player must gather four of a kind before they can discard matches from their hand. To make this game work for toddlers, buy a Go Fish deck with actual sea life printed on its cards instead of suits and numbers.

Start playing with just two players: you and your kid. Deal four cards face up to each player. Tell your kid they have to find matches by asking other players for cards on their turn. If they make a match (of two cards, not four), ask them to put the matching cards away. If they are told to “Go Fish” then they take a card from the stack.

You can further simplify this game by turning it into a simple matching game or even Memory.

Skills Developed: Matching, handling cards, learning rules.

Feature Image Credit: Erik Gillespie

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