Benefits of playing games with kids

4 min read   •   April 15, 2021
Jacqui Smit – Copywriter

Children of all ages learn through engaging with many different forms of media, including games. Games include board games, video games, and even online games, despite what you may have heard! Playing games help children develop many core skills like mathematical or language skills, social skills and healthy interaction, and logic and problem-solving skills.

We all know playing is fundamental for young children’s development, but this is true for pre-teens and adolescents, too! Of course, the type of games children play at different ages will differ depending on their cognitive ability and interests. Still, play and games remain fundamental for a child’s development regardless of their age.

Infants: 0 – 18 months

Babies respond to visual and audio stimuli, including bright colours, movement, and sounds. Consequently, they respond best to singing and other music, holding and playing with bright toys, and looking at colourful pictures. Games recommended for this age group include:

  • ‘peek-a-boo’ (visual stimulation), and
  • singing rhymes and songs (auditory stimulation).

Imitate the noises your baby makes to engage in a ‘conversation’ and let them crawl to discover their world. Of course, at this age, the parent or caretaker is doing most of the playing!


Toddlers: 18 months – 3 years

Children of these ages can usually talk and move by themselves to some degree, meaning the complexity of games caregivers can play with them increases a bit. Toddlers love exploring their physical environment, so touch becomes a big factor in how they learn. They also begin using their imagination and combine their cognitive skills with their knowledge of the external world to create a world of their own.

Caregivers can encourage children’s use of their imagination by pretending to drink out of an empty cup or offering toys that enable pretend play. Read to them and develop games based on stories. At this age, recommended games include:

  • building blocks and stacking toys,
  • easy puzzles, and
  • basic art and crafts activities like finger painting.

Pre-schoolers: 3 – 6 years

By now, children are starting to socialise with each other a lot more, so they need to start developing their social skills. Many children of this age play fantasy games with one another, like ‘cops and robbers’. This kind of ‘pretend play’ is highly recommended for this age group as it allows them to develop:

  • muscle coordination,
  • fine motor skills,
  • language skills, and
  • cooperation skills.

Story time remains important – read your child a story and ask them questions about the plot and characters. Because they can now read and write to a certain degree, even simple card games like ‘snap’ are recommended. Other recommended games include incorporating objects like balls in games such as ‘catch’.

Read more: Raising Readers: Tips for Parents


Middle childhood: 6 – 12 years

At this age, children are increasingly verbal and literate and can communicate with one another and adults. They interact with each other to a much greater degree, and their interests become more pronounced. By this stage, many children have started playing online and video games. While these certainly have their benefits, children must continue to play with one another outside of more formal activities like sports and cultural pursuits.

It is recommended that caregivers continue to facilitate play among children indoors and outdoors, like playing ‘dress-up’ and hide-and-seek. It is also recommended that children now begin playing more mentally challenging games such as:

  • more advanced puzzles,
  • chess and other board games, and
  • slightly more difficult card games like ‘go fish’.

Arts and crafts continue to be encouraged.

Read more: Video games: good, bad, or both?

Teenagers: 12 – 18 years

We all know teen years are difficult ones. Teenagers face many obstacles like changing bodies and moods and discovering who they are as independent and autonomous beings. Many teens can become reclusive or even self-isolate due to bullying, so it’s important to encourage them – very gently – to continue socialising with other teens who are kind and caring.

Recommended games for teens now veer from traditional games to:

  • sports,
  • cultural activities, and
  • social events like music concerts and parties.

Teens are also encouraged to join clubs that align with their interests, like debate or ‘glee’ club, or outdoor adventures like hikes or rock-climbing if that is more to their taste.

Remember, every child is different – nurture their passions through the activities in which they engage.



Sources: ACTP Southern Africa manual;