Babies are born ready to learn, and they depend on the people in their life to help them develop the proper skills and independence to lead healthy and successful lives. Critical brain development is strongly affected by their experiences with other people and the world. Growth and learning is of course best in a safe environment where there are plenty of opportunities for play and exploration.
Optimal learning happens when caregivers take turns when talking, playing and building on their child’s skills and interests. Nurturing a child by understanding their needs and responding sensitively helps to protect their brains from stress. Speaking with children and exposing them to stories and songs helps strengthen children’s language and communication, which puts them on a path towards learning and succeeding in school.
Due to how much a child’s brain develops between the ages of 18 months to age 6, the complexity of a game designed for ages 2 and up is much less than a game designed for ages 3 and up, or even 4 and up.
Games designed for 2 year olds tend to work on basic skills for life such as communication, fine motor, memory and cooperation. As well as cognitive skills, like colors, counting, speech, grabbing/holding, social skills.
For example, My Very First Games - First Orchard for ages 2+ is one of HABA’s most popular toddler games because the brightly colored, chunky wooden pieces are designed to make it easy for kids to really grasp, both physically and mentally, the idea of playing a game. First Orchard also encourages conversation about colors, fruits, trees, counting and quantities. Game-play, much like life, requires taking turns, winning and losing, communication and so much more.
For 3 and 4 year olds, game play focuses more on pre-K and Kindergarten skill sets. Counting, reasoning (in a few different types) and simply following directions are the main purpose of those games. This age range offers games with more active participation of the players, both in co-op and competitive games, but there’s still a good amount of the game making the decisions. For example, Barnyard Bunch for ages 3+ doesn’t really have a decision most turns – you roll the die and react and sometimes the die roll lets you select. But then Critter Cruise, which is for ages 4+, has the player making all of the decisions, such as moving the figure or not, and then selecting the tile to turn over. Both games have everyone working together, but the agency changes drastically in that age progression.
For games that are for ages 5+, we really settle into just simple games with agency and skill being needed, with some luck to even the playing field out between adults and kids. Rhino Hero and Animal Upon Animal are great examples of dexterity games that you can improve on, because you’re playing them repeatedly. Both games reward experience in the specific game over experience in life in general, which is different from games for ages 4 and under, which are meant to help encourage and leverage skills gained elsewhere in life. For games in the 5+ age range, it’s just about experience – all of the cognitive skills needed are (on average) developed, and that’s why games for 5+ tend to be so much more enjoyable for adults.