Children of preschool age, typically between 3 and 5 years old, are rapidly developing their language skills and emerging reading skills. You can help to encourage this development by engaging in some fun vocabulary games and activities. As a Kindergarten teacher for many years, I have developed a large collection of games that help to foster children’s development. Here are some of my favorite vocabulary games for preschoolers.
#1 – Sorting games
These games are super easy and fun to do, and they help to build vocabulary and understanding. You can use pictures, objects, crafts supplies, or whatever else you have on hand. Simply put, sorting games are just having your child sort different items into predetermined categories.
It could be having different colored buttons and asking your child to sort them according to color. Or perhaps your child loves animals, you could have them sort the different types of animals (i.e., which ones have fur, which ones swim, which ones live on a farm, etc.). You could also have them sort the groceries into fruits, vegetables, and breads. Once your child is accustomed to thinking about different categories, you could also make lists together; brainstorm how many farm animals you can think of, or list as many color words as you can, or try to come up with as many types of clothing as you can. You get the idea!
#2 – Imaginary play
Set up a pretend store or a pretend farm with animals, and simply play with your child in their imaginary world. By introducing different words to your child as they play, they will learn about specific vocabulary related to the topic. For example, if you are playing farm, they would learn about the different types of animals, where they live, how farms operate, which animals go together, what sounds animals make, and how people care for animals. Many different opportunities to introduce new words to your child.
By setting up a pretend store, as another example, you would be introducing concepts around money, purchasing items, social skills, making change, and more. You could model how you would go about purchasing something at their store, modelling good manners and nice customer service as the cashier. Many life lessons can be taught and modelled through pretend play.
#3 – Letter of the week
This is a wonderful, open-ended “theme” you could do with your child. Choose a letter of the alphabet each week, and do some activities around that letter. Look around the house with your child to find things that begin with that letter. Have your child practice writing the letter in fun ways – writing it in sand, shaving cream, Jello-o, using sidewalk chalk, different types of markers, etc.
As a fun conclusion to your weekly letter study, you and your child could make a food that begins with your letter of the week. This was always the favorite day of the week in my Kindergarten class, as the kids were all excited to find out what we were cooking that day! From applesauce and butter to yogurt and zebra cake, trust me there’s a recipe out there for every letter! Extra bonus is that your child is also getting to practice their early cooking skills. Print the recipes, snap some photos of your child in action, and make it into a keepsake cookbook!
#4 – Alphabet Bingo
There are many different printables online that you could use, or you could make your own game boards. Even better, have your child help to make them, which would give them extra printing practice. Either way, Alphabet Bingo is a fun and simple game to help review letter names with your child.
Each player gets a game board with letters on it, and the caller randomly calls out a letter of the alphabet. If you have that letter on your board, you cover it with a game piece. The first person to make a row, calls out “Bingo!”, and is the winner. You can add an extension on to this game once your child has mastered the letter names; when they identify that they have a particular letter on their board, they have to think of a word that begins with that letter before they’re allowed to cover it.
#5 – What Am I?
This is a fun guessing game that can be played literally anywhere you go! Have your child cover their eyes (no peeking!) while you choose a random object from the room and hide it behind your back. You give clues to your child about what the object is until they guess. Be descriptive in your clues, as this is where your child will build their vocabulary.
Also, you can allow your child to ask you questions about the object, incorporating a little bit of the “20 Questions” game. But, they can’t just ask yes/no questions, they have to try to be descriptive as well. The younger your child is, the simpler the clues should be. However, as they get good at this game, make the clues trickier and harder to figure out.
#6 – Treasure Hunt
One of my all-time favorite games! Kids love going on treasure hunts (or scavenger hunts, whatever you want to call them), and this is such a fun way to introduce vocabulary and early reading skills. Hide a few things around your house, and give your child descriptive clues to help them find the treasure.
This is a great opportunity to practice prepositions, such as in, on, above, below, and under. For example, you could give them the clue that the treasure is on the bookshelf, or perhaps the treasure is under the couch. While most adults find prepositions easy to understand, these words can be confusing for little ones, so this is a great way to build that understanding.
#7 – Rhyming Words Poster
Get out the craft paper, markers, and glue and have fun thinking of (and finding/drawing pictures of) things that rhyme. Show your child how you think of different words that rhyme, and help them to brainstorm groups of words. Once you think of a few, either draw or print out pictures of those items and glue them together on a piece of paper. Preschoolers love craft time, and this is a great way to introduce the concept of rhyming words.
If you have a place in your home where you can display these posters, you could always add to them as your child thinks of new words that rhyme. Perhaps you come up with bake, snake, and rake, and then a few days later your child thinks of the word cake; have them draw it and glue it on to the poster to keep the fun going!
#8 – I Spy
It’s a classic game for good reason – this game can be played anywhere at any time, and kids love it! Wherever you are, choose something that is a certain color, and have your child guess what it is. While most of us usually give only the color as the descriptor, you could also use descriptive words to give even more information. For example, instead of only saying that the color is red, you could say “the item is red, it fits in the palm of my hand, and it beeps.”
Once your child guesses your item, then it’s their turn to find something to hide. Help them at first to think of ways to describe the item, and then let them have a go at trying to think of their own clues. This is a great way to build their vocabulary!
#9 – Who Doesn’t Belong?
This is another game that focuses on categories, but this time your child needs to think of which word does not belong in the group. With this game, you will want to start simple and work your way up, as it can be challenging at first.
Start by thinking of a category, but don’t say the category out loud. For example, your category might be fruit. Tell your child 4 or 5 words, with all of them being types of fruit except one word. So, perhaps you might say “apple, banana, watermelon, frog, cherries”. Your child should select “frog” as being the one who doesn’t belong. The categories and word choices can get progressively more challenging as your child gains competence in this game.
#10 – Alphabet Swat!
This is a game that my Kindergarteners would beg to play every single day, multiple times per day! They loved it so much that it progressed from alphabet swat to word swat as they built their reading proficiency.
This game requires two or more players, so it’s a great one for siblings. Buy 2 fly swatters at the dollar store (or you can always make your own). Write out the letters of the alphabet on separate cards – make them fairly large and easy to read. Spread out all of the alphabet cards on the floor. Have the two players stand around the pile of cards. Call out a letter of the alphabet, and the kids have to try to swat it with their fly swatter as fast as they can. Whoever swats the letter first, gets a point. You can play until all letters have been swatted or until you reach a predetermined number of points.
#11 – Feelings Charades
This game helps to build social-emotional skills in a fun and simple way, by introducing feeling words to your child. Most people are familiar with the game of charades, where one person acts out something while the others try to guess. This game is no different, except this time, we’re acting out feelings.
A grown up should go first to help model how to act out a feeling, and you should start with simple feelings like angry, sad, happy, and scared at first. Act out the feeling and see if your child can guess which feeling you are showing them. Have a discussion about other ways that we might act out that particular feeling, or what other ways someone might show that they are feeling a specific emotion.
#12 – Create a Story
Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and be lazy and quiet together, and this is a peaceful, relaxing game to play with your preschooler. There aren’t really any rules to this game, you can play it however you wish. The basics of the game is that you will create a story together, and this can help to teach your child about book conventions, story elements, and of course vocabulary.
Start your story by sharing a sentence out loud. So, you might start the story by saying “Long ago in an enchanted forest, there lived a magical dragon.” Then, your child would think of the next sentence – perhaps they would give the dragon a name. You would continue to take turns going back and forth, telling the story as it goes. It can be funny, silly, scary, magical, whatever you and your child imagine! As you go, you can help by pointing out story elements, such as discussing who the characters are, what the problem is, and where the story takes place. Encourage descriptive words to help build your child’s vocabulary and help them to better visualize the story in their mind.
#13 – Vocabulary Pictionary
Pictionary is a well-loved game in our household, and many nights have been spent roaring with laughter at the hilarious drawings that people come up with and the wild guesses people throw out attempting to win! My husband and I have been banned from playing on the same team, because apparently we guess each other’s words too easily.
Vocabulary Pictionary is great for preschoolers because they’re not only learning new words, they’re also having to illustrate them for others to guess and guess what other people are drawing. You can purchase the kids version of Pictionary at your local store, or you can also make your own cards depending on your child’s ability. The game is played by one person on a team choosing a word card to draw. As they are drawing their item, the other players on that team have to try to guess what they’re drawing. If they don’t guess in time, the turn passes to the other team.
#14 – Memory Match
Many of us have played memory match games in our childhood, as it is a great way to build cognitive skills, memory skills, and have fun. It is a simple game that can be adapted to suit any needs – making it easier for some, and more challenging for others.
Make two stacks of cards with each letter of the alphabet on them – so you will have two of each letter of the alphabet. Spread out the cards, face down, and have your child choose two cards. If it is a match, they get to keep the pair. If it is not a match, they have to turn the cards back over and the turn passes to the next person. You can always start with just a few letters of the alphabet, as it would be quite overwhelming starting with 52 cards spread out!
#15 – Board Games
Board games are a wonderful way to build vocabulary with your preschooler; they also help to build social skills, turn taking, communication skills, and more. There are so many different board games on the market today that it can sometimes be difficult to choose which ones to try with your child.
Here are some of the games that we enjoy playing in our home. Some are collaborative in nature, where all players work together to solve a problem. Others are competitive where all players are on their own to win. Some of our favorites are Candy Land, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Race to the Treasure, and Chutes and Ladders.
#16 – Broken Telephone
We all remember playing this game at birthday parties, right? Well, it continues to be a fun and easy way for your children to build vocabulary and listening skills, all while having fun and laughing lots!
This game works best with a larger group of people, at least 5 or more, if possible. The first person in the chain thinks of a message to say (often it’s best for an adult to be the first person, at least until the children get the hang of the game). They whisper the message to the next person in line, and that person whispers it to the next person, all the way down the line. When the message reaches the last person, that person has to say it out loud and see if it is the same message that the first person started with. Usually the final message is met with peels of laughter because it often bears no resemblance to the original message, and kids love that part the most!
#17 – Simon Says
A fun and physically active game, Simon Says is a popular option in classrooms, physical education classes, and birthday parties. It is another great way to work on those tricky prepositions, as children have to think about what you are telling them to do and where you are telling them to do it. For instance, “Simon says put your hands on your head” or “Simon says take three steps back”..
Again, this is a game that is best played with a few players, minimum of three at least. One person is “Simon”, and Simon gets to decide what the rest of the players will do. However, the players should only do the action if the sentence starts with “Simon says…”. If Simon doesn’t start with “Simon says”, then the players don’t do the action. If they do the action when Simon doesn’t say “Simon says”, then they are out of the game. The game continues until there is only one player left, and that player is the winner.
#18 – Pass the Ball
This game can be played with any number of players, and it’s fine if it’s just you and your preschooler who are playing. Think of a category of things – animals, colors, types of transportation, food, etc. Every time the ball is thrown to you, you have to think of one word that belongs in that chosen category before you can throw the ball to someone else.
A variation of this game also involves music and combines some of the rules from the game “Musical Chairs”, however this version is best played in larger groups. Play some fun music while you pass the ball around, and when the music is stopped, the person who is holding the ball has to think of the word belonging to the chosen category. So, not every player has to think of a word when they have the ball, only the person who’s holding it when the music stops. Either version of this game can be fun and helpful toward building your child’s vocabulary.
#19 – A Dog Barks
Word association is a great way to build vocabulary and comprehension in your child. In this game, they need to think of things that the chosen word “does”. For example, if the chosen word is “dog”, then we would think of things like: a dog barks, a dog wags its tail, a dog eats, a dog sleeps, etc.
This game helps your child to associate actions and descriptions to various words, and it also helps them to categorize those words. You can choose different animals, people, objects, whatever you like. See how many different actions you can think of for each word!
#20 – Reading to your child
Out of all the games and activities that I have come across over the years, this is by far the most effective in helping to develop a child’s vocabulary and reading readiness. Reading to children has so many wonderful benefits, and it is the perfect introduction to reading in general.
Make it a habit to read to your child every night before bedtime. This is a great way to end the day, it provides connection between you and your child, and it helps to boost their vocabulary. However, reading does so much more than just boost vocabulary; it also helps to increase their cognitive development, communication skills, and imagination. Overall, if you choose to do only one activity or game from this list, make it reading to your child at bedtime!
We hope you find this list of vocabulary games for your preschooler helpful! Games and activities are a wonderful way to build early skills in children, from vocabulary and reading, to math and comprehension. Just start playing, and you’ll see their skills growing almost immediately. Let us know which game is your favorite!