Discovery Play with Littles

Discovery Play with Littles

2:01 pm ·

15 Powerful Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

I looked over to her table and she’s crying. Again. While everyone else is happily working away, she sat there, unable to move, just crying. 

Not asking for help.

Not trying to solve her problem.

Just crying.

I took a deep breath before heading over. We’ve already been at this for several months…isn’t it about time the problem-solving has kicked in yet?

One glance and I could tell what her problem was. She didn’t have her pencil.

Know how I knew?

It laid on the floor beside her. In plain sight.

As a kindergarten teacher, I don’t jump right in and solve problems for kids. It’s good for them to try to solve the problem themselves. This is something she struggled with. 

I reminded myself of the need for patience and empathy as I walked up to her. “What’s wrong, Amanda?” 

“I…can’t…find…my…pencil….” she sputtered out between sobs. 

“Ok, that’s a problem we can solve. What have you tried?” 

“I don’t know.” 

After a long time trying to first, calm her down, and second, come up with some strategies she could try, she finally found her pencil. At that point, everyone else had finished the project. 

Toddlers playing with wooden blocks

What is Problem Solving?

Problem-solving is the process of finding a solution to your problem . This can be quite tricky for some young children, especially those with little experience in finding more than one way to solve a problem.

Why is Problem Solving Important? 

Problem-solving skills are used throughout childhood into adulthood. As adults, we solve problems on a daily basis. Some problems we solve without thinking much- I wanted to make tacos for dinner but forgot to buy the ground beef. What are we going to have for dinner now?

Other problems are significantly more complicated. 

Problems for kiddos can be problems with friendships, the inability to find something that’s needed, or even what to do when things don’t go your way. 

Kids who lack problem-solving skills struggle to maintain friendships or even begin to attempt to solve their own problems. 

Children who lack problem-solving skills are at a higher risk for depression as well.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are:

  • Breaking Down a Problem into Smaller Parts
  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Perseverance

That’s a big list to teach toddlers and preschoolers. Where do you begin?

The Problem-Solving Steps

Sometimes kids are so overwhelmed with frustration that it affects their ability to solve problems.

Kids feel safe in routines, and routines help them learn and grow. After a few times of repeating this routine, you’ll find your kiddo starts to do this on their own. 

It’s important not to skip straight to solving the problem , because your kiddo needs to be in a calm state of mind to solve the problem, and also they need to know their feelings are valid. 

  • The first thing to do when your kiddo is struggling with problem-solving is to validate their emotions.

In doing this, they will feel more understood and learn that their emotions are okay. There are no bad feelings, and we must learn how to manage our emotions. 

This might sound something like “Oh, I can see you are really frustrated that the block won’t fit on there right. Let’s take some deep breaths to help us calm down before we think about what to do next.”

  • Next, work through your calm-down process . This may be taking some deep breaths together, hugging a stuffie, or giving your kiddo some quiet time to calm down their heart and mind.
  • Identify the problem . This sounds like something you may have already done (before the meltdown) but it’s important to be very clear on the problem you’re solving. Have the child tell you their problem out loud.
  • Move on to solution-finding . When your kiddo is ready, talk about what the problem is and three possible solutions. When possible, let your kiddo do all of the talking. This allows him to practice his problem-solving skills. It’s important to remind him that the first thing he tries may not work, and that’s ok. There’s always another way to solve the problem. If he’s prepared for this, solutions that don’t work won’t be such a frustrating experience. 
  • After you’ve done that, test your solutions one by one. See what works. If you haven’t found a solution yet, go back and think of different ways you might be able to solve your problem and try again.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

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Powerful Activities that Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Toddlers & Preschoolers

These activities below may look simple, but don’t let that deter you from trying them. A lot happens in little developing brains and these powerful activities help toddlers and preschoolers make connections and develop {many} essential skills-more than just problem-solving.

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Puzzles are fun and a great way to encourage cognitive development in children. They are great for spacial reasoning and strengthening problem-solving skills. They also develop memory skills, critical thinking, and the ability to plan and execute the plan. Toddlers will enjoy the simple puzzles, and preschoolers will do great with floor puzzles with larger puzzle pieces.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Doing Simple Chores

Doing simple chores is a great way to teach children problem-solving skills, and it strengthens responsibility and perseverance as well. 

During the toddler years , you may start with just picking up their toys, or helping you put their dirty clothes in the hamper. 

Preschoolers can take their dirty dishes to the sink (or load them in the dishwasher), collect the trash, dust, wipe baseboards, and do their own personal care items like making their bed, taking care of their dirty clothes, and putting clean clothes away.

Stacking Rings

When watching a toddler play with stacking rings it doesn’t look like much is happening, but playing with these toys is full of ways to encourage development. It helps with visual and spacial perception and planning ahead, but it also with balance control, crossing the midline, creative play, and gross motor skills. Not to mention it’s a great opportunity to practice problem-solving. 

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Playing Hide-and-Seek

Hide and seek has many surprising benefits for kids. Playing hide and seek is like a treasure hunt that helps develop gross motor skills and encourages physical development, as well as problem-solving skills. It also helps young children develop visual tracking, working memory, and social-emotional skills.

Preschooler playing construction worker

Imaginative Play

Imaginative play (also called role-play) builds important skills. Through pretending to be in different situations, kids develop social skills, emotional skills, better communication, and problem-solving skills. Imaginative play is a great idea for young toddlers all the way to older children.

Free Play 

Many young children don’t have {enough} time for free play. Free play is important for healthy brain development , not only developing imagination, cooperation, physical skills, and independence but also providing a great opportunity to strengthen problem-solving skills. 

Playing with Wooden Blocks

Building blocks are a fun way for children to develop creative thinking, imagination, problem-solving, fine motor skills, and if working with others, cooperation, communication, and friendship.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Playing Memory

Memory games improve attention, focus, visual recognition, and concentration. It helps children recognize details and of course, strengthens problem-solving skills. 

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Ask Questions

When I see my son struggling with something, my first instinct is to give him choices or at least lead him in the right direction. The better thing to do is to ask very open-ended questions that lead his process, not his thoughts.

Questions like “What’s one way to solve your problem?” are much more effective in teaching problem-solving skills than “Well, where did you last see your stuffy?” 

Read Books and Social Stories

Reading books is one of my favorite ways to teach any skill. It’s extremely effective at teaching, and it’s also an amazing bonding time with kids.

When we read stories, our brain reacts as if we’re living in the story. This is why reading books about skills such as problem-solving is so effective. 

Kids of all ages learn from the people they love . (Yes, even those older kids who you don’t think are paying attention.) Often as adults, we’re too busy going through our daily routine to think about talking about the way we solved the problem at work that day.

Talking about how you use skills such as problem-solving, perseverance, and integrity is a great way to set an example, and an expectation that this is how we do things, and it will provide encouragement for your kiddo to do the same.

Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are a great group activity that can strengthen your child’s logical thinking and problem-solving skills.

When Your Kiddo is Ready, Add These Activities

Preschoolers would benefit from all of the fun activities on the list above and when they’re ready, feel free to add in the following activities.   

Mazes are great for problem-solving and perseverance, but your kiddo will need to have decent fine motor skills to do these activities. Mazes are one of our favorite activities. We love to take our activity book of mazes in the car with us for road trips. 

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Board Games  

Board games are a good way to strengthen problem-solving, teamwork, planning skills, patience, sportsmanship, and communication skills. They also strengthen family relationships by providing some intentional time of connection .

Any board game can also be turned into an academic game with just a deck of cards for whatever skill you’re working on. If you’re working on the alphabet, put one letter on each card. Before each player’s turn, they draw a letter card and say the letter’s name. (You may accidentally forget the name of a letter every now and then to see if your kiddo is really paying attention!) 

Allow Opportunities for Hands-On Investigations

Kids are tactile. They love to touch and explore things with their hands. This is a good activity for toddlers also, as long as they are out of the putting everything in their mouth stage. Hands-on exploration is great for language development, sensory exploration, and problem-solving.

Allowing kids to investigate with their hands allows them to see how the world works up close. It also gives them time and space to try to make things work…and problem-solve when it doesn’t go as they think it should.

The Most Difficult Way (and Most Important Way) To Strengthen Problem-Solving Skills

Watching our kids struggle is hard ! We don’t want to see them having a hard time…and most of the time we don’t want to deal with the impending meltdown. Standing back and giving our kids time and space to work through even simple problems is hard to do. It’s also the most important way to strengthen problem-solving skills. 

As parents, we’re like frogs in boiling water. When our kids are infants, they need us to recognize their needs and solve them immediately. As they get older, they can point to what they want, but we still have a lot of interpreting and problem-solving to do on our own. If we aren’t careful, we stay in this stage and don’t teach our kiddos the steps to problem-solving for themselves. 

The next most difficult thing? Allowing natural consequences to happen. (As long as your child is safe of course.) If your child saves their money for a long time to buy a new toy, but walks down the toy aisle and picks up something you know they’ll be disappointed with, let it happen. It will teach a valuable lesson that will last for years to come.

Another Essential Part of Problem-Solving

Perseverance is a big part of problem-solving. We are rarely able to solve problems the first time, and it’s essential that kids can find more than one solution to a problem. Studies have found that perseverance is actually the biggest predictor of success, even more than aptitude or raw talent. 

An entire module is dedicated to perseverance in our course for kids, Super Kid Adventures . Your kiddo will get 25 teacher-led lessons on character traits (perseverance, empathy, friendship, responsibility, and wellness) and activities that take their learning further. 

Super Kid Adventures

Want a free preview? Grab a FREE Perseverance video lesson that teaches your kiddo one of the most important secrets that help them use perseverance.

Want More? 

If you like this, you’ll love: 

The Ultimate List of Books that Teach Perseverance

7 Simple Ways to Encourage Independence in Young Children

How to Help Your Child Develop Self-Help Skills

Your Turn 

What are your favorite ways to teach problem-solving skills?

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About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a mama of two boys, a former teacher, and the founder of Discovery Play with Littles. Her mission is to make raising kids with character simple and fun. Join us for our best learning through play ideas, character growth activities, and family connection ideas so you can watch your child thrive.

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As a SLP trying to guide parents as I work with their child. I would like to know what toys to recommend to my parents as I assist in guiding their child’s development in cognition and expressive language.

Free Perseverance Lesson

Perseverance is the biggest predictor of success, even more than raw talent or aptitude.

Grab a FREE lesson to teach your kiddo one of the keys to perseverance...which is how we talk to our brains.

They'll learn what to say when they encounter something difficult, and why it's so important.

PLAY is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. -Mr. Rogers

Empowered Parents

10 Simple Activities to Teach Your Preschooler Problem Solving

By: Author Tanja McIlroy

Posted on Last updated: 14 November 2023

Categories Cognitive Development

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

During the first years of a child’s life, an important set of cognitive skills known as problem-solving abilities are developed. These skills are used throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Find out what problem solving is, why it’s important and how you can develop these skills with 10 problem-solving games and activities.

What is Problem Solving in Early Childhood?

So, what exactly is problem solving? Quite simply, it refers to the process of finding a solution to a problem .

A person uses their own knowledge and experience, as well as the information at hand to try and reach a solution. Problem solving is therefore about the thought processes involved in finding a solution.

This could be as complex as an adult working out how to get out of a financial crisis or as simple as a child working out how two blocks fit together.

Problem Solving Skills for Kids

Problem-solving skills refer to the specific thinking skills a person uses when faced with a challenge. Some problems require the use of many skills, while others are simple and may only require one or two skills.

These are some examples of problem-solving skills for preschoolers , as listed by kent.ac.uk .

  • Lateral thinking
  • Analytical thinking
  • Decision-making skills
  • Logical reasoning
  • Persistence
  • Communication skills
  • Negotiation skills

The Importance of Developing Problem-Solving Skills in Early Childhood

Problem solving is a skill that would be difficult to suddenly develop as an adult. While you can still improve a skill at any age, the majority of learning occurs during the early years.

Boy thinking about a problem

Preschool is the best time for a child to learn to problem solve in a fun way. The benefits of learning early will last a lifetime and the beauty of learning anything at a young age is that it is effortless .

It is like learning to play an instrument or picking up a new language – it’s just much easier and more natural at an early age.

Of all the many things preschoolers need to learn , what makes problem solving so important?

There aren’t many situations in life, at work or at school that don’t require some level of problem resolution.

Child’s play itself is filled with opportunity upon opportunity to solve all kinds of tricky situations and come up with solutions to challenges.

Problem Solving in Preschool

During the foundational years, children are constantly solving problems as they play .

Here are just a few examples of problem solving in early childhood :

  • Resolving a fight over the same toy
  • Reaching a ball that’s stuck in the tree
  • Forming a circle while holding hands
  • Making a bridge to connect two block towers
  • Tying or untying a shoe
  • Making up rules for a new game
  • Trying to get the consistency of a mud cake right so it stops falling over

The more creative play opportunities and challenges children are given, the more they get to exercise their problem-solving muscles.

During free play , there are non-stop experiences for this, and parents and teachers can also encourage specific problem-solving skills through guided activities .

Problem Solving for Older Children

During the grades, children experience problems in many forms, some of which may be related to their academic, social and emotional well-being at school. Problems may come in the form of dealing with life issues, such as:

  • Problems with friendships
  • Struggling to understand something during a lesson
  • Learning to balance the demands of sport and homework
  • Finding the best way to study for a test
  • Asking a teacher for help when needed

Problems will also form a large part of academic life as teachers will be actively developing this skill through various activities, for example:

  • Solving a riddle or understanding a work of literature
  • Working on projects with a friend
  • Finding solutions during science experiments
  • Solving mathematical problems
  • Solving hypothetical problems during lessons
  • Answering questions and completing exam papers

Children who have had practice during preschool will be a lot more capable when facing these challenges.

Solving Problems in Mathematics

Mathematics needs to be mentioned separately as although it is part of schooling, it is such a huge part and it depends heavily on a child’s ability to solve problems.

The entire subject of mathematics is based on solving problems. Whether you are adding 2 and 3, working out how many eggs will fit into each basket, or solving an algebraic expression, there is a problem in every question.

Mathematics is just a series of problems that need to be solved.

What we refer to as problem solving in Maths is usually answering word problems .

The reason many children find these so difficult to answer is that the question is presented as a problem through a story, rather than just numbers with symbols telling you what operation to use (addition, division, etc.)

This means a child is forced to think carefully, understand the problem and determine the best way to solve it.

These problems can involve various units (e.g. mass, capacity or currency) as well as fractions, decimals, equations and angles, to name a few. Problems tend to become more and more complex over the years.

My experience in the classroom has shown that many, many children struggle with solving word problems, from the early grades right into the senior years.

They struggle to analyze the question, understand it, determine what information they’ve been given, and what exactly they are required to solve.

The good news is that exposing a child to regular problem-solving activities and games in preschool can greatly help him to solve word problems later on in school.

If you need one good reason to do these kinds of activities, let it be for a smoother experience in mathematics – a subject so many children unnecessarily fear.

Problem Solving in the Workplace

Lady at work doing problem solving

Adults in the workplace seldom thrive without problem-solving skills. They are required to regularly solve problems .

As adults, employees are expected to independently deal with the frequent challenges, setbacks and problems that are a big part of every working environment.

Those who can face and solve their own problems will go further and cope better than those who seek constant help from others or cannot show initiative.

Some  career websites even refer to problem solving as a universal job skill. They also mention that many employees are not good at it. 

Again, although it may seem far removed, learning this skill at a young age will help a child cope right into adulthood and in the working world.

Pinterest image - 10 simple activities to teach problem solving.

How to Teach Children Problem-Solving Skills

If early childhood is the best time to grow these skills in your young children, then how does one go about teaching them to toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners?

Mom and child constructing

Problem solving can be taught in such a way that you expose your child to various opportunities where they will be faced with challenges.

You would not necessarily sit your 3-year-old down and tell or “teach” him all about fixing problems. Instead, you want to create opportunities for your child to grow this skill .

Using the brain to think and find solutions is a bit like working a muscle over time. Eventually, your muscle gets stronger and can handle more “ weight. ” Your child will learn to problem solve in two ways:

  • Incidentally – through free play
  • Through guided opportunities provided by a parent or teacher

If you make a point of encouraging thinking through games and activities, your child will develop stronger skills than if you let it all happen incidentally.

Problem-Solving Strategies and Steps

If we take a look at the steps involved in solving a problem, we can see that there are many layers involved and different types of skills. Here are the problem-solving steps according to the University of Ken. 

Step 1: Identify the problem

Step 2: Define the problem

Step 3: Examine the options

Step 4: Act on a plan

Step 5: Look at the consequences

Therefore, activities at a preschool level need not present complicated high-level problems.

  • A simple activity such as identifying differences in a picture can work on the first skill needed – identifying a problem.
  • Playing with construction toys can develop a child’s ability to try various solutions and examine the options when faced with a problem such as trying to find the best way to build something.
  • Playing Tic-Tac-Toe would make a child predict the consequences of placing their mark in a particular square.

The most basic of activities can work on all these skills and make children competent solution finders.

How to Teach Problem Solving with Questions

The language you use around your child and your questioning technique will also greatly affect their understanding of a problem or challenge as merely something waiting for a solution to be found .

While your child is playing or when she comes to you with a problem, ask open-ended questions that will guide her in finding a potential answer independently. Use the steps listed above to formulate your questions.

Here are some examples of questions:

  • What do you think made the tower of blocks fall down?
  • If we build it again, how can we change the structure so that it won’t fall down next time?
  • Is there a better way we can do it? If you think of a different way, we can both try it and see which works better.
  • Did that work? The tower fell again so let’s try another solution.

Resist the temptation to fix every one of your child’s problems, including conflict with friends or siblings. These are important opportunities for children to learn how to resolve things by negotiating, thinking and reasoning.

With time, your child will get used to seeing a problem, understanding it, weighing up the options, taking action and evaluating the consequences.

Problems will be seen as challenges to be faced logically and not “problems.”

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10 Problem-Solving Activities for Preschoolers

Here are 10 simple, easy games and problem solving activities for kids at home or at school. Many of them are the kinds of activities children should have daily exposure to.

Puzzles are one of the best thinking activities out there. Each puzzle is basically one big set of muddled-up things to be sorted out and put back together again. Find out why puzzles are important for development .

Children should have regular exposure to puzzles. They are great for developing thinking skills.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

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2. Memory games

Memory games will develop your child’s memory and attention to detail.

Get your own memory game cards by downloading the FREE set of printables at the end of the post.

Use pairs of matching pictures and turn them all face down, shuffled, on a table. Take turns choosing any two cards and turning them face up on the table. If you turn over a matching pair you keep the cards and if the pair doesn’t match, turn the cards back over until it is your turn to try again.

Encourage your child to concentrate and pay attention to where the pictures are and try to find a matching pair on each turn. 

3. Building with Construction Toys

Construction toys such as engineering blocks, a proper set of wooden blocks or Legos (shown below) should be a daily staple in your home.

Everything your child builds is a challenge because it requires thinking about what to build and how to put the pieces together to get a design that works and is functional.

Leave your child to construct freely and occasionally set a challenge and ask him to build a specific structure, with conditions. For example:

  • Make two towers with a bridge joining them together
  • Build a creature that stands on its own and has 3 arms.

Then watch your child wracking his brain until he finds a way to make his structure work.

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4.  Activity Books

These activity books are really fun and develop a child’s ability to identify problems and search for information.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

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  • English (Publication Language)

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

  • Handford, Martin (Author)

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5. Following Patterns

This simple activity can be played with a set of coloured blocks, shapes or counters.

Simply make a pattern with the blocks and ask your child to continue it. Vary the pattern by changing the colours, shapes or sizes.

This activity will train your child to analyse the given information, make sense of it, recognise the pattern and re-create it.

6. Story Time Questions

Get into the habit of asking questions during your daily story time that develop higher-order thinking skills . Instead of just reading and your child passively listening, ask questions throughout, concentrating on solving problems.

Here are some examples:

  • Why do you think the bear did that?
  • Do you think his friend will be happy? Why?
  • What would you do if you were the monkey?
  • How do you think Peter can make things better with his friend?
  • If the crocodile had decided not to eat the rabbit, how could the story have ended?

7. Board Games

Board games are an excellent way to develop problem-solving skills.

Start off with simple games like Ludo and Snakes and Ladders to teach the skill of following rules and moving in a logical sequence.

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problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Card games like Go Fish are also great for teaching young children to think ahead and solve problems.

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8.  Tic-Tac-Toe

This is a perfect game to teach decision-making skills , thinking before acting and weighing up the possible consequences.

Tic-tac-toe game

Use a Tic Tac Toe Board or d raw a simple table like the one above on paper or a chalkboard.

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Take turns to add a nought or a cross to the table and see who can make a row of three first.

Your child will probably catch on in no time and start thinking carefully before placing their symbol. This game can also be played with coloured counters or different objects.

9. Classifying and Grouping Activities

This activity can be done with a tin of buttons or beads or even by unpacking the dishwasher. The idea is to teach the skill of classifying and categorizing information by learning with physical objects. Here are some other ideas for categorizing:

  • Separate the washing – mom’s clothes, dad’s clothes, etc; or socks, tops, shorts, etc.
  • Empty out the cutlery drawer for cleaning, mix all the utensils up and then sort into knives, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.
  • Classify and sort out the toys in your child’s bedroom together – all books, construction toys, soft toys, etc.
  • Play category games .

Here are more button activities for kids .

10. Building a Maze

This activity is lots of fun and suitable for any age. It is also going to be way more fun than doing a maze in an activity book, especially for younger children.

Draw a big maze on the paving with sidewalk chalk . Make passages, including one or two that end in a dead-end. Teach your child to find her way out .

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As your child gets better at figuring out a route and finding the way out, make the maze more complex and add more dead-end passages.

Get FREE access to Printable Puzzles, Stories, Activity Packs and more!

Sign up and you’ll receive a downloadable set of printable puzzles, games and short stories , as well as the Learning Through Play Activity Pack which includes an entire year of activities for 3 to 6-year-olds. Access is free forever.

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Printables and Learning Through Play Activity Pack

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Friday 3rd of June 2022

hi maam , This Is Uma from India,Can i get this in pdf format or a book. Thank You

Tanja Mcilroy

Monday 6th of June 2022

Hi Uma, thanks for your message. These articles are not available in PDF, but you are welcome to copy and paste them from the website, as long as you add the reference: https://empoweredparents.co/problem-solving-activities-preschoolers/ Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 20th of May 2020

Very very useful content. Good work. Thank you.

Friday 22nd of May 2020

Thanks Ann.

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

Would like to download the free activity pack please.

Hi Kelly, Please download the activity pack on this page: www.empoweredparents.co

Develop Good Habits

17 Fun Problem Solving Activities for Kids

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As a child, I would spend hours putting together puzzles… whether it was 3-D puzzles or figuring out a crossword. I also loved it when teachers would give the class an open-ended question and we had to work in groups to figure out the answer in our own way.

Even something as simple as playing checkers with my brothers gave me the chance to use strategy as a way to win the game. I honestly believe that it’s so important for kids to solve problems at a young age, as it helps them think critically and outside the box.

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So, Why Is It Important To Teach Kids Problem Solving?

I think these kinds of activities are so important for kids to do because it helps them learn how to think analytically and solve problems on their own. It's a great way to get kids to use their imaginations and be creative.

Rote memorization simply does not have the same effect. This type of learning is great for learning facts like historical dates, but it’s not going to help kids figure out how events in history happened and the results.

We take these problem-solving skills into college, the workforce, and travel . My ability to problem solve since childhood has certainly got me through many sticky situations while in a new city or country.

Additionally, problem-solving helps children learn how to find creative solutions to challenges they may face both in and out of the classroom . These activities can also be fun and used in cohesion with school or playtime.

17 Fun Problem-Solving Activities for Kids

1. marble mazes.

This activity was selected because it requires them to think spatially. Spatial learning will benefit kids when they start driving, riding a bike, playing sports,etc.

To do this activity in its simplest form, you will need a piece of paper, a pencil, and some marbles. First, draw a maze on a piece of paper using a pencil.

Make sure to create a start and finish point. Then, place the marbles at the start of the maze. The goal is to get the marbles from the start to the finish by tilting the paper and using gravity to guide the marbles through the maze.

Another example of a marble maze can involve using toilet paper rolls taped together to create a three-dimensional maze. The larger the maze, the harder you can make it.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Check Price on Amazon!

If you are not into the DIY method, you can always buy a toy maze on Amazon. A good 48 piece puzzle is the Melissa & Doug Underwater Ocean Floor puzzle.

2. The Tower Challenge

Building a tower gives kids the chance to think about gravity, structure, and balance.

To do this activity, you will need some building materials like legos, blocks, or even toilet paper rolls. The challenge is to see how high they can stack the materials without the tower toppling over.

This can be done individually or in teams. An activity like this is good for younger kids and is the building block to learning about harder topics like engineering.

3. The Egg Drop Challenge

The egg drop challenge helps kids learn how to engineer a solution that prevents something from breaking. It requires them to think critically about which materials will best protect something fragile like an egg when dropped from a height.

To do this activity, you will need some eggs and various materials such as straws, cotton balls, bubble wrap, etc. The goal is to construct a device that will protect an egg from breaking upon impact.

This can be done individually or in teams . Teams can even have a competition for the best egg drop device.

As children begin handling, shopping for, and cooking their own food, activities like this will help them understand how to handle breakable items like bottles, eggs, delicate fruit,.etc. Ideally, this is best for age groups 8 and up.

4. The Penny Drop Challenge

This activity was selected because it requires kids to think about physics and how different materials affect sound.

To do this activity, you will need a penny ( or another coin), a cup, and various materials such as paper towels, cotton balls, etc.

The goal is to drop the penny into the cup without making any noise. Begin by placing different materials into the cup and then drop the penny into it. The children should also drop the penny from different heights into the same material to see if/how the impact from a higher drop affects sound.

Group kids into teams or let them try it on their own.

Kids should make note of what type of sounds are made when the penny hits different materials. This is a great activity for kids who are interested in science and physics.

5. The Balloon Race Challenge

This activity was selected because it helps kids learn about aerodynamics and Bernoulli’s principle . It also requires them to think creatively about how to design a balloon-powered vehicle.

To do this activity, you will need balloons, straws, masking tape, and markers. The goal is to design a balloon-powered vehicle that can travel a distance of at least 10 feet. Kids can begin this activity by sketching out their designs on paper.

After they have a basic design, they can begin building their vehicle from various materials. Then kids can explain why they think the balloon traveled or did not travel as far as it did.

6. The Marshmallow Challenge

Marshmallows are not only delicious, but they are also soft and malleable. So kids can have fun using it for some construction projects.

This activity was selected because it requires kids to think creatively about how to build a structure using limited materials. It also helps them learn about engineering and work as a team.

To do this activity, you will need marshmallows and spaghetti noodles. The goal is to build the tallest free-standing structure possible using only marshmallows and spaghetti noodles. If you don't have spaghetti noodles, use something similar like pretzel sticks.

You may even want to establish certain rules like each team can only use a certain number of marshmallows or noodles. A time limit can also make it more fun and challenging.

For more fun activities, check out our post on problem solving exercises for team building .

7. The Balloon Pop Challenge

If you remember your childhood, you probably remember popping balloons for fun at times. But this activity is different because it requires kids to use strategy and critical thinking.

This activity was selected because it helps kids learn about patterns and problem-solving. It is also a lot of fun for kids who like popping balloons. The goal is to create a device that will allow them to pop a balloon without using their hands.

To do this activity, you will need balloons and various materials such as straws, string, paper clips, etc.

8. Picture Pieces Puzzle Game

As mentioned earlier, puzzles are a great pastime – especially in childhood. Kids must think critically about how to put the pieces together to create a certain picture. It also helps them learn about shapes, colors, and other concepts.

problem solving activities | how do you teach a child problem solving skills | are problem-solving games good for kids

You can take a medium to large picture and cut it into pieces. If you have younger kids, you may want to make the pieces larger. However, if you have kids closer to the 8-11 age range, you should be able to provide a challenge and make the pieces smaller.

9. Copy the Block Model

For this challenge, you can build a model out of blocks for the kids to copy. Put kids into groups and make sure each group has the same number of blocks you used for your model.

Make your model block as simple or complex as needed for your child's age group.

Set a time limit and make sure each group starts at the same time.

10. Team Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is great for kids because they have to search for items and use investigative skills. It is also a lot of fun and can be done both indoors and outdoors .

To do this activity, you will need to create a list of items for the kids to find. The items can be anything from common household items to things you would find outside.

These types of activities can also revolve around a theme like a holiday, movie, or book. For example, if the kids are fans of “Harry Potter” you can make a list of items to find that are related to the movie.

11. Obstacle Course

This activity requires kids to think creatively about how to get from one point to another while maneuvering around obstacles. If you have outdoor space, this can be done with common objects such as hula hoops, cones, etc.

If you don't have access to an outdoor space, you can use common household items to create an indoor obstacle course. For example, you can use chairs, blankets, pillows, etc.

Begin by setting up the course and then timing each child as they complete it. You can also have them race against each other to make it more fun.

Obstacle courses are also great because kids get to be physically active while they are thinking critically.

12. Reading Storybooks

There are many great benefits for kids that read storybooks.  One of the excellent benefits is the ability to problem-solve.  When they read the stories in the books, they see scenarios that cause them to be attached to the various characters they read about. 

So, when they encounter a real-life problem, it is often productive to ask a child how their favorite character would solve that problem.  Your kids can also be encouraged to come up with various options and possible outcomes for some of the situations they may encounter. 

This not only helps kids solve various problems but become more independent as well. 

13. Ask Them Open-Ended Questions

A good way to improve a child's ability to think critically and creatively and improve their ability to solve problems is by asking open-ended questions.  It also helps them to develop healthy personalities .

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.  In addition, the solution requires more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer.  Furthermore, it allows kids to put some extra thought into their responses. 

Here are some examples of open-ended questions you may want to ask. 

  • What did this experience teach you?
  • Was this easy?  What was easy about it?
  • What this difficult?  What is complicated about it?
  • What may happen next in this situation?
  • How did you come to this solution?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently next time?
  • What can we do to make things more fun next time?

14. Build Various Structures with Toys

Whether wooden blocks, LEGO blocks, or engineering blocks… giving your kid blocks to build whatever their minds can dream up is fun.  In addition, it requires them to think about how they will make a structure, put the pieces together, and creatively ensure the building's function and design. 

fun activities for kids | kids creative activities at home | fun activities for kids near me

You may also want to challenge them to build something more complicated and watch them use their brain power to make it happen. 

15. Acting Out Skits

Impromptu activities like acting out skits help kids identify problems, develop solutions, and execute them.  This process works with multiple kids being divided into teams. 

First, you will want to write down different situations, such as resolving a disagreement between siblings or dealing with bullying on the playground on a piece of paper.  Second, you will fold the paper and place it in a hat or bowl.  

Third, each team will pick a scenario out of the hat.  Finally, you can give the kids a few minutes to discuss their solution and act out. 

16. Solving Moral Dilemmas   

In this simple game, you will help your kids solve simple dilemmas they may find themselves in.  You could write down a situation your child may find themselves in and help them learn the moral way to solve the problem.   

For instance, “The cashier gave them an additional $5 change back on my purchase.  What should they do?”  Another scenario could be, “I saw my friend cheating on a test.  Should I tell on them or let it go?”  A third one could be, “I caught my friends stealing some gum from the store.  What should I do?” 

After writing down the dilemmas and placing them in a bowl, get each child to select one and read it aloud.  Finally, you will help them devise morally correct solutions to the moral dilemma. 

17. Animal Pairing Game  

This is a fun and creative game to help your kids with focus, critical thinking, and team building skills .  In addition, this activity requires an even number of players to participate (4, 6, 8, etc.) 

Before starting the game, you will want to write the names of different animals twice, each on a separate slip of paper.  Then pass out the slips of paper to each individual or team member, instructing them not to share with anyone the name of the animal they received. 

Then the children will perform activities the animals might do without talking or making sounds.  Some of these activities might include:

  • The way the animal cleans or grooms itself
  • The way the animal sleeps
  • The way the animal fights
  • The way the animal eats or drinks
  • The way the animal walks or runs

The goal is for each child to successfully pair up with the other child who has selected the same animal.

How Problem Solving in Childhood Helps in Adulthood

Children are not born with problem-solving skills. It is something that needs to be learned and developed over time .

From babies who learn how to communicate their needs to toddlers who figure out how to get what they want, to children who are starting to understand the consequences of their actions – problem-solving is a process that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood.

Some of the benefits of teaching problem-solving skills to children include:

  • Improved critical thinking skills
  • Better decision-making skills
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Improved communication and collaboration skills
  • Increased confidence

There are many ways to teach problem-solving skills to children. The activities mentioned above are just a few examples. It is important to find activities that are appropriate for the age and abilities of the child.

With practice, children will develop these skills and be better prepared to face challenges in both childhood and adulthood.

Final Thoughts About Fun Problem Solving Activities For Kids

These are just a few ideas to get you started on teaching your child crucial problem solving skills. Perhaps they’ve inspired to come with some of your own, or seek out others? The important thing is to make sure the activity is age-appropriate and challenging enough to engage the kids.

Problem-solving skills are important for kids to learn because they can be applied to various situations in life. These skills also promote critical thinking, which is an important life skill.

There are many other problem-solving activities for kids out there. In time, you’ll find the ones that work best for your child.  And be sure not to forget about your own needs and self-improvement, both of which will make you a better parent and mentor. Here are some useful activities for adults to get your started.

Finally, if you want to level up your parenting skills, then check out this resource that will show you how to get your kids to listen WITHOUT yelling, nagging, or losing control .

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Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

  • by Colleen Beck
  • October 22, 2021

Amazon affiliate links may be included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

It can be frustrating when children act without thinking of the consequences. In this blog post, you’ll learn about the development of problem solving in specific parts of our brain, discover important aspects of executive functioning that impact problem solving abilities, how to teach problem solving to preschoolers, and problem solving activities for preschoolers and young children so they can use words instead of the preschooler’s behaviors  or tantrums.

Best of all, many of our favorite fine motor activities for preschoolers support problem solving skills in early childhood.

Problem solving skills in preschool

Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

Before we get into the problem solving activities for preschoolers, and specific strategies to use in early childhood, it’s important to understand the development of the problem-solving process in kids. Supporting small children by giving them the skills to be problem solvers takes time and practice. We’ll get to those specific strategies below.

But first, does this scenario sound familiar at all…

I just don’t understand why Johnny keeps throwing the ball in the house. Doesn’t he realized that he could break the window? Johnny is three and he loves to play with his tennis ball in the house. Even though I have told him over and over again that we don’t throw them in the house, I still catch him sneaking them indoors at least once a week. 

Before we can address problem solving by helping kids look at the big picture and coming up with creative solutions for problem solving issues, we need to understand what is happening developmentally. Self-reflection is a challenging cognitive skill, and for young learners! 

Let’s take a better look at the development of problem solving skills…

Development of problem solving skills in preschoolers

Development of Problem Solving Skills

It’s through play, observation of others, and practice that young learners are developing problem solving skills in early childhood .

Problem solving, rational thinking and reasoning are all skills that are controlled by a part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex. Our brains grow exponentially over the first five years of life, but not the part of our brain that helps us with critical thinking and problem solving skills. This part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex, isn’t fully developed until we turn 25 years old! 

As babies, we are exposed every day to new experiences, but at this age we don’t comprehend how these experiences affect us and those around us. If only children could think through their problems. This resource on executive functioning skills offers more information.

Have you noticed that it can be a bit scary when teenagers get their drivers licenses? They don’t always think of “what might happen.” This is due to their prefrontal cortex not being fully developed. 

But what about our three and four year olds? We know they can count, ask questions and get the cookie off the counter in a very sneaky way when we aren’t looking. In the Early Years study of 2011 called Making decisions, Taking action , they describe the prefrontal cortex entering a rapid period of development, making critical interconnections with our limbic system. (link: )

This study states “The prefrontal cortex pathways that underlie these capacities are unique to human brains and take a long time to mature. Early connections begin in infancy. Between age 3 and 5 years, the prefrontal cortex circuits enter a rapid period of development and make critical interconnections with the limbic system. During adolescence and early adulthood, the neural pathways are refined and become more efficient.”

What is so great about this part of the brain anyway? 

As the prefrontal cortex (that is located behind out eyes) develops over the years, we are able to engage with situations differently, assessing our surroundings in a new way. As we develop these new executive functioning skills, we are able to keep ourselves safe, build friendships and become successful in our careers.

Related, these friendship activities for preschoolers offers ideas and strategies to support social emotional development.

This peer reviewed report competed by Merve Cikili Utyun, called Development Period of Prefrontal Cortex, discusses how amazing this part of our brain is, and how each of the three sections control different aspects of our functioning. It states that: 

“ PFC includes the following Broadman Areas (BA): 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 44, 45, 46, 47. “The dorsolateral frontal cortex (BA) 9/46 has been functioned in many cognitive process, including processing spatial information, monitoring and manipulation of working memory, the implementation of strategies to facilitate memory, response selection, the organization of material before encoding, and the verification and evaluation of representations that have been retrieved from long-term memory. 

The mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex (BA 47) has implicated cognitive functions, including the selection, comparison, and judgment of stimuli held in short-term and long-term memory, processing non-spatial information, task switching, reversal learning, stimulus selection, the specification of retrieval cues, and the ‘elaboration encoding’ of information into episodic memory.

BA 10, the most anterior aspect of the PFC, is a region of association cortex known to be involved in higher cognitive functions, such as planning future actions and decision-making. BAs 44 and 45, include part of the inferior frontal and these regions’ functions are language production, linguistic motor control, sequencing, planning, syntax, and phonological processing.

Finally, the orbitofrontal cortex mostly (BA 47, 10, 11, 13) in the orbitofrontal cortex has been implicated in processes that involve the motivational or emotional value of incoming information, including the representation of primary (unlearned) reinforcers such as taste, smell, and touch, the representation of learnt relationships between arbitrary neutral stimuli and rewards or punishments, and the integration of this information to guide response selection, suppression, and decision making.” 

Wow! No wonder it takes so long for this part of our brain to fully develop. Problem solving skills in preschoolers take time to develop!

When Johnny is throwing the ball inside the house, he is thinking about what is happening now, in the present. Not what has happened in the past (when he broke the window at grandmas house a year ago) or that breaking a window might happen in the future. 

What are some problem solving techniques?

Solving problems is a skill that all preschoolers need support with. This critical skill doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and practice to become second nature.

It’s hard for us, as adults, to remember that children ages 3-5 (preschool-aged) don’t yet have the brain capacity to problem solve on their own, or remember what they learned from a situation a week ago. 

Just like when Andrew was painting at the easel and his paintbrush got stuck in the container. Instead of asking for help or trying to “unstick” the brush, he screamed.  Or when Sally and Samantha ran outside to grab the red bouncy ball, Samantha screamed when Sally grabs it first. She didn’t see the other red bouncy ball in the bucket next to the bikes. 

Try some of these problem solving activities for  kids :

Observation- Children need problem solving strategies that they can observe, and then practice in their everyday lives. Let kids see you talk through problems as you “figure out” a solution. This gives children a chance to see a problem-solving approach in real life situations. They get to see problem solving scenarios in action.

Repetition- Repetition supports brain growth in every area of development including problem solving, executive functioning, motor development, language skills and social development.

Multisensory Activities- Children learn best with multi-sensory cues, learning new skills through seeing, touching, hearing and experiencing the skills they are learning. In 2013, the US National Library of Medicine published an article titled  Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat.  stating “The prefrontal cortex acquires information from all of the senses and orchestrates thoughts and actions in order to achieve specific goals.” (link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/)

Creative Activities- Solving problems is a skill that all preschoolers need support with. It’s hard for us, as adults, to remember they don’t yet have the brain capacity to problem solve on their own. The best way to teach children how to problem solve, it to create activities that support these new skills in a positive way, that their developing brain understands. This letter to future self is one activity to work on goal achievement even at a young age. Preschoolers can draw a picture of what they would like to do or be as an older child or as a teenager or adult.

Problem Solving Activities for Preschool

Here are 3 Simple Ways to Teach Preschoolers to Solve Problems

1.Teaching executive functioning and problem solving skills in everyday situations will support the growth of a child’s prefrontal cortex. For example, these activities that teach executive functioning at the beach show how much thought and preparation goes into building a simple sand castles.

  • Children have to think about how much sand to use, how to keep it standing, how to prevent sand from getting into their eyes and how to create another one if the one they are building falls down.
  • They must create, plan ahead, problem solve when things get tough and communicate to adults and peers for help.

What other activities does your child do on a regular basis that requires all areas of the prefrontal cortex to activate?

2.When children become upset, their emotions become so overwhelming that they can’t think. In order to calm down and problem solve, they need to access a multi sensory way to help them remember how to do that.

Soothing Sammy gives children tactile and visual cues that remind them how to calm down and problem solve in a developmentally appropriate way. They can be reminded of this positive reinforcement with two words “Sammy Time!”

By reading the book about the sweet golden retriever, who understands that everyone feels upset sometimes, children are encouraged to use all of the sensory strategies to calm down. They can talk to Sammy about what is happening and think through their problem to create a solution.

Ashlie’s four year old daughter did just this. She reports: “When Molly was having some big emotions about coloring a picture and needed to calm down, she visited Sammy and returned with a solution to the problem she came up with all on her own (well with Sammy’s help).”

Click here for more information on the Soothing Sammy resources .

3.Problem solving requires us to remember what just happened, what is happening now and what do we want to happen next. A preschoolers brain tends to blend all three of these situations together, not able to communicate any of them until prompted by an adult. And as an adult, we are left “guessing” what our children are thinking about. Visual cues are a wonderful sensory communication tool to support both children and adults in the realm of solving problems.

Using tools like “First/Then” cards to support routine and common situations like transitions and completing tasks. Using visuals clearly communicates what needs to be done, especially if using pictures of real children doing these tasks.

A Final note about problem solving skills in preschool

Solving problems are hard for young children, even teenagers, as their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed yet. Using multisensory teaching tools to support brain development, practicing tasks that teach executive functioning skills and using developmentally appropriate tools to help children calm down, will help even the most frustrating moments become a bit less stressful for children and adults. 

As we learn to be more patient with children, understanding that the part of their brain needed to solve problems is just beginning to develop, repeating the same directions over and over again may not be so frustrating. Our children are doing the best they can. It’s up to us to provide them with experiences to help their brains grow and develop. 

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

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Home • Toddler • Play And Activities

13 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers

Intriguing ideas to boost their analytical and rational thinking skills.

Elisabeth Daly is a state-certified high school English teacher. Over her two decade career, she has taught students in grades 9-12 at both public and private high schools, and worked as an adjunct professor at her local community college. ... more

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Problem-solving preschool activities are an essential part of learning, leading to the development of the most crucial skills for your child. Your child’s journey between realizing a problem and finding a solution involves effort, thinking, and patience. What comes in between realization and solution is important to understand, as it is the key to a lightning-fast intellect. The process is the most beautiful part, which is also the beginning of making a new genius for the world to witness. These little minds could one day become billionaires, philanthropists, or someone far more successful .

Read on to know some of the problem-solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers and how it helps them.

What Is Problem-Solving?

Image: IStock

Problem-solving is the art of realizing a problem and finding an apt solution by a series of interconnected thoughts in the cognitive area of the mind (1) . It requires identifying the problem and pondering over the causes and attempting to chalk out the reason. The next step would be to find a solution out of the many alternatives. Identifying the causes of a problem would involve some deep thinking, which can benefit a child’s growth and aid in their character development.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are what every child needs to survive in this world. A few problem-solving skills are analytical thinking, logical reasoning, lateral thinking, creativity, initiative, persistence, negotiation, listening skills, cognitive skills, math skills, and decision-making. Good communication skills are also important as they improve the self-esteem of your child.

Why Is Problem-Solving Important In Preschool?

As parents, you may not want to fill your child’s minds with every problem-solving ability. But you must trust the process, as it is the most important phase of life, and they are learning new things every day.

  • During preschool, they are constantly interacting with friends and surroundings. They come across various problems and learn from them. The best part is that it will be effortless for them to pick up these skills faster as they are in their learning stage.
  • Also, the earlier they learn, the better it is (2)
  • Children in preschool are introduced to the realm of creativity and imagination through storytelling and poems. It will be the perfect time to enhance their creative abilities.
  • Children usually try to ignore things beyond their understanding. But problem-solving skills might help them see things differently.
  • Developing problem-solving abilities can help them take new initiatives.

How To Teach Problem-Solving Skills To Preschoolers?

Making them listen with patience and willingness is a skill that will help them comprehend what you teach them. Here are some steps that you can follow:

  • Teach them how to approach a problem in a practical way. Allow them to explore and find solutions by themselves. Problem-based learning will stick with them forever.
  • Make them do simple household chores in their own way. And, there is no right or wrong style to it. Kitchen experiments are a great way to learn.
  • Every kid is unique and has a different pace of learning. A teacher/ parent will have to be observing to analyze the best way to teach them.
  • Usually, the first step would be to identify the problem.
  • Once they find solutions, tell them to evaluate the pros and cons. And choose the best solution.
  • Teach them to take failure positively.
  • Encourage group activities as children tend to be active when their peers are along.

13 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers

You may try several problem-solving activities at home. We have listed some of the best activates here:

1. Simon Says

One of the children becomes Simon and gives commands. The rest have to follow the commands and enact only when they hear ’Simon says’ at the beginning of the command. If anyone acts when the words ‘Simon says’ is not told at the beginning, then that particular child is out. This game will improve listening skills and response time.

2. Tic–tac–toe

The game teaches decision-making and the cost of consequences. This game involves two players. One player has to mark X anywhere on the tic-tac-toe, followed by another player marking O. The idea is to make a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line with either three X’s or O’s. Both players have to stop each other from winning. Sounds fun, right?

3. Treasure hunt

Divide the children into groups and give them clues to find hidden objects. Activities such as treasure hunt evidently improve their problem-solving skills and induce the idea of competition.

Puzzles can make a child think out of the box. They can develop a child’s logical reasoning. Arranging the crumbled pieces will surely improve their level of patience.

5. Hide and seek

Playing in a group can make them less shy and socialize with others. And, with hide and seek activity, children can learn devising strategies, escaping from a troublesome situation, and various other skills.

6. Sorting together

Give them various toys, pieces of clothing, or other random objects at home and some bins. Now ask your child to sort and place everything in the right bin. See how good they are at classifying the objects.

7. Spot the difference

Show them printouts of two similar pictures, with one picture having some differences. Ask them to spot the differences. This helps in actively improving their concentration and attention to detail.

8. Matching animals with sounds

Play sounds of various animals and let the children guess their names. You can also take them to an animal farm where they can observe their behavior. This activity may improve their sound recognition ability over time.

Give your child a blank canvas and some paints or coloring pencils. Let them get creative and produce a masterpiece.

10. Memory games

Memory games can improve a child’s retaining capacity. One such game is to sit in a circle and play “Chinese Whisper.” In this game, kids sit in a circle. Each of them has to whisper a word in their peer’s ear. The same word, along with a new one, is whispered into the next child’s ear. This should be continued till the last child in the circle announces it for all to hear.

11. Fort building

Building forts using toy material, Lego, pillows, or blankets can be fun. During the process of building a fort, children may have to face minor or major difficulties. Overcoming such issues and completing the target successfully helps in the improvement of logical and analytical abilities.

Solving mazes can also help a kid improve their approach towards dealing with problems and dead ends. It will enable lateral thinking and thinking out of the box.

13. Stacking rings

Stacking rings is an effective problem-solving activity for children as it enhances their cognitive skills, spatial awareness, and fine motor abilities. The task requires careful consideration of size, shape, and balance, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Children must strategize the order and orientation of the rings to successfully build a stable tower. This activity encourages creativity as they experiment with different stacking techniques. Give children a set of rings in varying sizes and materials for this activity. Ask the children to construct the tower and be watchful to prevent it from collapsing, as it offers them valuable insights into cause-and-effect relationships. Challenge them to create the tallest tower possible to promote teamwork and perseverance as they refine their approach through trial and error.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the stages of problem-solving?

Problem-solving is a cognitive skill that works through six stages – searching and determining the problem, generating alternative ideas or solutions, evaluating alternatives, selecting the best suitable solution, implementing the solution, and follow-up (3) .

2. At what age do toddlers begin problem-solving?

According to research, children begin problem-solving right after birth. Children learn problem-solving through exploration between zero to two years, whereas, by three years of age, they learn problem-solving through experimenting and trial and error. Four-year-olds learn problem-solving through cooperative activities with peers and friends. By five and six years, kids get enough experience to deal with problems that would need abstract thinking skills (4) .

3. How do toddlers develop critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking skills don’t develop in a day or week. Rather, it takes constant exposure to environments that hone a child’s critical thinking abilities. Indulging toddlers in critical thinking activities by asking open-ended questions or engaging in activities such as block constructing and puzzles and motivating them to think out of the box are simple ways to bolster your child’s critical thinking.

Problem-solving activities for toddlers enhance their thinking abilities and promote early brain development. You may introduce problem-solving activities such as tic-tac-toe, Simon says, hide and seek, treasure hunt, puzzles, etc., to enhance cognitive skills in toddlers. The problem-solving skills in preschoolers help them cope with various situations and mingle with other children. Problem-solving skills help children think differently and take the initiative in making decisions and solving problems. These activities help build the skills without any force or pressure.

Infographic: Hone Your Toddler’s Problem-Solving Skills

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Key Pointers

  • Honing your child’s problem-solving skills during preschool can help them see things differently and enhance their creative abilities.
  • Teach them to find the problem and use their analytical abilities to find a solution.
  • Simon Says, treasure hunt, puzzles, and spot the difference are a few problem-solving activities a toddler can try.
  • You Can Do It: Teaching Toddlers Problem-Solving Skills. https://va-itsnetwork.org/you-can-do-it-teaching-toddlers-problem-solving-skills/
  • Developing Problem-Solving Skills At Early Age. https://kennedyglobalschool.edu.in/developing-problem-solving-skills-at-early-age-takes-kids-long-way-as-they-grow/#respond
  • Problem solving. https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Problem-solving
  • Development: Ages & Stages–How Children Learn to Problem-Solve. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ738434
  • Fact-checker

Elisabeth Daly MSEd

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Title Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills and an illustration of a kid with a magnifying glass

25 Fun Problem Solving Activities for Kids

Problem-solving activities for kids : Explore 24 fun problem-solving games and activities, and learn effective tips and strategies to teach kids problem-solving skills. If you want to explore problem-solving strategies more in-depth, you can also grab our workbook “ Problem-Solving for Kids ” (printable resource).

Problem-solving is the cognitive process of finding solutions to challenges or complex situations.

A systematic approach to problem-solving tends to include defining the problem, gathering information and data, generating potential solutions, evaluating the pros and cons of each solution, making a decision, and implementing the chosen solution.

Effective problem-solving often requires critical thinking, a good dose of creativity, and the ability to consider multiple perspectives. It may also involve identifying patterns, breaking down a problem into manageable chunks, and applying our logic to develop solutions.

Problem-solving is present in everyday situations and across all fields: business, science, personal life, and education. There is not one single aspect in our lives where we don’t need to apply our problem-solving skills.

Table of Contents

  • Problem-solving steps
  • Development of problem-solving in childhood
  • Benefits of developing problem-solving skills
  • 10 Tips to teach kids problem-solving skills
  • 10 Examples of problem-solving strategies
  • 25 Problem-solving activities and games for kids

Problem-Solving Steps

Some key components of problem-solving include:

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

  • Identifying the problem Recognizing and defining the issue or challenge that needs to be addressed.
  • Analyzing the problem Investigating and understanding the underlying causes, factors, and relationships related to the problem.
  • Generating solutions Generating potential solutions or strategies to address the problem.
  • Evaluating all possible solutions (Pros and Cons Analysis) Assessing the feasibility, effectiveness, and potential consequences of each solution. Considering the positive and negative aspects of each solution.
  • Decision-making Selecting the best solution based on our analysis and judgment.
  • Implementing the best solution Actioning our chosen solution
  • Monitoring progress and results
  • Reflecting on the outcomes Reviewing and evaluating the outcomes of the implemented solution, learning from the experience, and making adjustments if necessary.

Development of Problem-Solving Skills in Childhood

Children begin to develop problem-solving skills from a very early age, and these skills continue to develop and refine throughout childhood and adolescence.

Babies soon learn about action and reaction. And, as early as eight months, they begin to acquire an understanding of cause and effect (they shake a rattle, it makes a sound; they push a toy, it falls)

Between 13 and 24 months, they start solving simple problems through trial and error and engage in symbolic play using their imagination.

As children progress into middle childhood (ages 7-11), they develop more advanced problem-solving skills. They become capable of understanding multiple perspectives and can consider multiple factors when solving problems. They start using logic and reasoning to solve increasingly complex problems.

During adolescence (ages 12 and up), problem-solving skills continue to develop. Teenagers can generate and test hypotheses and use deductive and inductive reasoning to arrive at solutions.

Each child will develop their problem-solving skills at their own pace. Some children may show advanced problem-solving abilities at an earlier age. Others may require more time and experience to develop these skills fully.

Benefits of Developing Problem-Solving Skills in Children

Problem-solving skills in children are crucial for children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. It equips them to approach challenges, think critically, make informed decisions, and find creative solutions. 

The benefits of good problem-solving skills in children include:

  • Positive impact on self-esteem and confidence Identifying, analyzing, and solving their problems contributes to our kids’ sense of competence .
  • Fosters Independence and Autonomy When our kids are able to problem-solve on their own, they take one more step toward independence
  • Academic Success Problem-solving skills contribute to academic achievement, as they help students analyze and solve complex problems across various subjects.
  • Cognitive Development Problem-solving fosters cognitive skills such as logical reasoning, analytical thinking, and abstract reasoning.
  • Critical Thinking Problem-solving enhances critical thinking abilities, enabling children to evaluate information, identify biases, and make informed judgments.
  • Creativity Problem-solving promotes creativity by encouraging children to think outside the box, generate innovative ideas, and explore multiple solutions.
  • Emotional Resilience Problem-solving skills enhance emotional resilience by enabling children to manage and cope with challenges effectively, reducing stress and promoting well-being.
  • Improved Social Interactions/Relationships Problem-solving abilities contribute to better social interactions, conflict resolution , and peer collaboration, promoting healthy relationships.
  • Future career success Problem-solving skills are highly valued in the workplace and can positively influence future career success.

10+ Helpful Tips to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills

Teaching problem-solving skills to kids is an important part of their cognitive development. It helps them develop critical thinking, creativity, and resilience.

But how can we help our kids and students to develop this essential skill?

We can help our kids and students develop and improve their problem-solving skills in many ways.  These are some helpful tips that you could consider:

  • Model problem-solving behavior When you see yourself in a problem-solving situation, verbalize your thought process: “I wonder how I should address this issue. I guess my alternatives could be… They all have positives and negatives….”
  • Let them participate in the problem-solving situation “Could you help me solve this puzzle?”
  • Provide real-life problem-solving situations Real-life scenarios make problem-solving more meaningful for kids. For example, discuss how to resolve a conflict with a sibling or how to make the morning routine smoother.
  • Teach them how to break down problems Show them how to break down complex problems into manageable sub-problems.
  • Practice brainstorming Create brainstorming situations where all the family (or the classroom) can contribute to solving a problem
  • Teach the value of perseverance Sometimes, we must stick to a situation and persevere before finding a solution. Encourage kids to persevere through challenges and setbacks, emphasizing that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning.
  • Encourage critical thinking Encourage kids to analyze situations, consider different perspectives, and evaluate possible outcomes.
  • How could we make your school lunch healthier but still yummy?
  • How could we reuse/recycle all this paper?
  • What could we do to help you remember all the steps in your night routine?
  • Encourage reflection When they can find a solution for a problem, don’t jump to solve it for them. Encourage them to reflect on the problem and find and evaluate alternatives. And after a problem is solved, think about the whole process and the learnings. “How did this work?” “What did you learn” “Do you need to change anything?”
  • Foster creativity Provide them with opportunities for imaginative play, creative projects, and brainstorming sessions.
  • Teach the value of teamwork Teach kids the importance of working together to solve problems. Engage them in group activities or projects that require teamwork and collaboration. This helps kids learn the value of different perspectives and work together towards an objective while they practice their communication skills.
  • Teach decision-making skills Teach kids how to approach problems systematically by going through the steps we have mentioned in our first section.
  • Encourage both structured and free play. Structured play can help you create good problem-solving situations, while free play will foster creativity.

Developing problem-solving skills is an ongoing process that will also continue in adulthood. Provide your kids with guidance and support, and celebrate their efforts and achievements along the way.

Examples of worksheet for kids on problem-solving strategies

10 Examples of Problem-Solving Strategies

There are different strategies that can help us solve a wide range of problems. Here are some commonly recognized problem-solving strategies:

1 . Trial and Error : This is the first problem strategy that we ever learn. We start using trial and error strategies in infancy, and it continues serving its purpose in many situations. This strategy involves trying different solutions or approaches and learning from the errors or failures until a successful solution is found.

2. Algorithm: An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure or a set of rules that guarantees a solution to a specific problem. It is a systematic approach to problem-solving that follows a predetermined set of instructions.

3. Heuristics: Heuristics are mental shortcuts or rules of thumb that help simplify problem-solving by providing quick and efficient strategies. While heuristics can be effective in many situations, they may also lead to biases and errors.

4. Divide and Conquer: This strategy involves breaking down a complex problem into smaller, more manageable chunks or steps that make the overall problem easier to tackle.

5. Working Backwards: This strategy involves starting from the desired outcome and working backward to determine the steps or actions needed to reach that outcome. We often use this problem-solving strategy when we set goals.

6. Analogical Reasoning: Analogical reasoning involves drawing parallels between the current problem and a similar problem that has been solved in the past. By applying the solution from the previous problem to the current one, individuals can find a solution more efficiently.

7. Brainstorming: Brainstorming gets lots of brains working on the same problem. It is a great collaborative problem-solving strategy that can bring different perspectives and experiences to the table and may result in lots of creative ideas and solutions. 

8. Decision Matrix: A decision matrix is a systematic approach to evaluating and comparing different options or solutions. It involves creating a matrix that lists alternatives and the criteria for evaluation. It assigns weights or scores to each criterion to come up with the optimal alternative.

9. Root Cause Analysis: Sometimes, we need to understand what is causing a problem before we can attempt to solve it, as different causes may require different approaches (for example, when you are sick, your doctor may need to understand what is causing the problem before prescribing a medicine)

10. Simulation and Modeling: Simulation involves creating a simplified representation or model of a problem situation to gain insights and test different scenarios.

Our choice of strategy will depend on the problem, available resources, and our own personal preferences and circumstances. We may also need to combine strategies or apply different ones to different aspects of a complex problem.

Workbook for kids on Problem solving strategies

(Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. You can also read our Disclosure & Disclaimer policy  here )

Best Problem-Solving Activities for Kids

Play-based activities are centered around play and are designed to engage children in active learning and exploration. And fun problem-solving activities are a great way to develop children’s critical thinking, creativity, and decision-making skills.

In this section, we will review some problem-solving games and activities that will engage your kids’ critical-thinking skills and creativity.

1. Puzzle Games Puzzles are a fun activity for children of all ages. Young children will enjoy simple puzzles, while older children (and adults!) can have fun with more complex ones. Encourage them to use logical thinking and problem-solving strategies to complete the puzzles.

2. Crosswords A crossword is another fun type of puzzle and a good source of mental stimulation.

3. Sudoku Sudoku is a popular logic-based puzzle that involves filling a grid with numbers.

It can be extremely easy or very challenging, adaptable even for young learners.

Let’s go now for a couple of building challenges!

4. Build the Tallest Tower Give the child a set of materials (Legos, building blocks, wooden blocks, or other construction materials) and ask them to build the tallest tower they can. This simple game will encourage them to problem-solve as they build and figure out how to make the tower stable.

5. Build Towers with Different Materials Ask your child to build three different towers with different materials. Then assess how stable they are and how much weight they can hold. Analyze the pros and cons of using each type of material.

6. Treasure Hunt Set up a treasure hunt with clues leading to hidden objects or rewards. Children will have to follow the clues and solve puzzles to find the ultimate prize. This activity encourages problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork.

7. Scavenger Hunt Playing Scavenger Hunt can be a fun way for our kids to put their creative problem-solving skills to good use. Provide them with clues and puzzles that they must solve in order to find the next clue.

8. Mystery Bag Fill a bag with random objects and ask children to come up with creative uses for each item. Encourage them to think outside the box and find innovative solutions.

9. Memory Game While memory games primarily focus on memory retention and recall, they can indirectly contribute to problem-solving skills by developing cognitive abilities such as attention, information processing, and adjusting their strategies.

10. Role-Playing Scenarios Create role-playing scenarios where children have to solve a problem or make decisions. For example, pretend to be stranded on a desert island and ask them to decide what items they will take and how they will survive.

11. Role-Play Social Situations Work in developing social skills with social problem-solving situations.

12. Brainstorming Sessions Choose a topic or problem and hold brainstorming sessions where children can generate as many ideas as possible. Encourage them not to limit themselves (even if alternatives feel unfeasible!)

13. Team Building Activities and Games Engage children in team-building games like building a balloon tower. Each team member will need to collaborate, communicate, and problem-solve together to complete the project.

14. Escape Rooms An escape room is a super fun team problem-solving activity.

In an escape room, participants are locked inside a themed room and must work together to solve puzzles, find clues, and accomplish tasks within a given time limit in order to “escape” from the room.

15. Science Experiments Conduct simple science experiments that involve problem-solving. For example, in the classic “sink or float” experiment, children predict and test which objects will sink or float in water.

Problem-Solving Board Games

There are many board games that will test our kids problems solving activities. These are just a few examples:

16. Cluedo Players must solve a murder mystery by deducing the murderer, the weapon used, and the location of the crime. Players collect and examine clues to eliminate possibilities and make logical deductions.

17. Codenames Another classic game where players are split into two teams and must guess words based on clues from their teammates.

There are many codenames games available, including themes like Disney or Harry Potter.

18. Mastermind Game In this strategy game players take turns setting and solving secret codes

19. Scrabble Scrabble is a classic word game where players form words on a game board using letter tiles.

Kids must use their problem-solving skills to analyze the available letters, consider the best word combination and strategically place those words to score the highest points.

Learning Problem-Solving with Card Games

Card games provide opportunities for kids to develop problem-solving skills such as strategy, memory, pattern recognition, decision-making, and observation.

Just a couple of examples:

20. Uno Uno is a classic card game where kids match cards based on color or number. They need to assess their cards, strategize and make decisions about which cards to play to get rid of their cards while also considering the cards in their opponents’ hands.

21. Go Fish Go Fish is a classic card game where players try to collect sets of cards by asking other players if they have specific cards. Players need to remember which cards they have and make decisions about who to ask and what sets to pursue.

22. Coding Challenges Introduce children to coding activities using platforms like Scratch (or ScratchJr for younger kids), Code.org, or Tynker. Coding involves problem-solving and logical thinking, and children can create interactive stories, games, or animations.

23. Outdoor Problem Solving Take children outside and present them with challenges that require problem-solving, such as building a shelter using natural materials or finding their way through an obstacle course.

24. Problem-Solving Worksheets Help your child follow a systematic approach to problem-solving with these helpful worksheets

25. Goal-Setting Activities for Kids Learning to set goals and make plans to achieve them is also a problem-solving activity. I have several resources to teach kids about goal-setting that I will list below:

  • Goal-Setting Activities for Kids
  • SMART Goals for Kids
  • Goal Tracker Thermometer

Remember to provide guidance and support during these activities while encouraging children to think independently and come up with their own solutions.

Problem-Solving Worksheets

Problem Solving Strategies_Workbook for Kids

Looking for kid-friendly examples of problem-solving strategies ?

This workbook explores the following  problem-solving strategies  (with child-friendly examples and activities):

  • Trial and Error
  • Heuristics (Clever shortcuts)
  • Divide and Conquer
  • Working Backwards
  • Brainstorming
  • Decision Matrix
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Systematic problem-solving

Kid in a bubble that represents personal space and title "Personal Space Activities for Kids"

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Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

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7 Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

If you have a toddler, challenges like tough homework problems or social dilemmas are still a long way off. But their brains are already working to build the cognitive skills they’ll need to solve life’s “big” problems later on. For now, problem-solving activities – even ones that seem simple to us – can help them boost their cognition, resilience, and creativity. Best of all? These “problems” are actually fun! Here are seven simple problem-solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers you can start trying right away!

Memory Games

Those little memory card games with matching pictures are great for building concentration, memory, and problem-solving skills in your toddler! Many sets might come with a few too many pairs for a toddler to handle without help, so start with just three to four pairs and see if they can match them up! As they begin to master that, you can add in more and more pairs until they’re working with the entire deck. If you don’t have a deck, you can easily DIY your own with online printables or your own drawings.

Shape Sorters

Shape sorters are a classic problem-solving toy for young toddlers. In addition to matching the shapes to the correct holes, they’ll also need to figure out why the shapes don’t always fit into the hole, requiring them to rotate the shape or make subtle adjustments to their grip.

Sorting/ Grouping by Category

Sorting activities are excellent for toddlers’ problem solving and cognitive development, so there’s no need to stop with shape sorters! Set up simple activities that allow them to sort by a variety of categories. This can be as simple as letting them unload the dishwasher silverware tray into the silverware organizer. Or ask them to gather up all the yellow items they see in a room.

Rotating puzzles is a great way to keep the problem-solving challenge fresh for your toddler. Even a familiar puzzle can present a fun, “new” challenge for your toddler if they haven’t seen it in weeks.

Hide the Teddy Bear

One cognitive milestone for two-year-olds is the ability to find an object that’s been hidden under two or more layers. Once they’ve mastered that, they’ll be ready for more advanced hiding games. Try hiding a teddy bear or other toy when they aren’t looking and then give them clues to find it. You can start off with basic directions and then progress to tougher clues or games of warmer/ colder.

Help Mommy/ Daddy

Toddlers love to help, and helping Mommy or Daddy with a problem can be a lot less frustrating than solving their own. For example, if your little one has been determined to put on their own socks lately but always ends up super frustrated, try mimicking the same problem yourself and asking for their help. You can coach them through the process (“Now we need to stretch out the opening of the sock!”), and because their emotions aren’t already running high, they’ll be more likely to actually absorb your tips. You can model how to stay calm through frustrating situations and help them build confidence in their ability to tackle the same problem later.

Constructive Play Toys

The ability to build a block tower of four or more blocks is actually considered a cognitive milestone for two-year-olds. For three-year-olds, a tower of six or more blocks is the expected milestone. That’s because building anything, even a simple block tower, is a true problem-solving challenge for toddlers. Blocks, train sets, and other building toys let your child work out how to balance, fit pieces together, and deal with frustration as they learn to master the challenge.

Atlas Mission

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8 problem solving games to play with your preschooler.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Want to Improve Your Child's Problem Solving Skills?

Enroll your child for the Atlas Mission – the ultimate learning companion for kids.

As a toddler, my daughter once got stuck in an opened cardboard box. She climbed in all by herself, but once inside she couldn’t figure how to maneuver her way out.

Like any good mom, I helped by handing her a crayon and allowing her to spend the next 15 minutes inside the box scribbling her little heart out so I could power clean the living room until she remembered she was stuck.

It’s true, I may have been taking slight advantage of her not-yet-fully-developed problem solving skills, but as a mom of a toddler tornado, you take what you can get 🙂

She’s now a preschooler and her problem solving skills have improved since daily life has provided her with ample opportunities (darn those jacket zippers!).

That said, I also believe that presenting her with social problem solving games and activities to utilize her thinking cap has been an important part of her pre-operational development.

I’ve compiled this list of 8 creative activities to assist in developing those skills that are needed when she hits those frustrating preschooler obstacles.

I believe in keeping things fun for the child and easy for mom, so these problem solving activities for preschoolers are simple to set up and many require only your child’s own creativity!

1. Make it Move

For this activity, you’ll need some masking tape and a crumpled ball of paper.

The challenge comes when you place the ball of paper in between two lines of masking tape and ask your preschooler to move it outside the lines — without touching it.

Some preschoolers can’t get enough of this experiment and figure out several ways to move the paper.  Others can get frustrated easily and want to give up.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun, so don’t let your child get discouraged.  Hints are fully ok; just try to wait until they are absolutely needed.

We want them to stretch their problem solving muscles, but not feel defeated.

2. Fit the Top

This is one of my favorites because it’s a delicious learning mix of fine motor, spatial awareness, problem solving and pantry clean-out skills!

For Fit the Top you will need to dig out your entire mess of a Tupperware collection from that forgotten kitchen cupboard.

Or, if your Tupperware is unusually orderly (round of applause from us!), grab a large collection of different sized plastic water bottles and their lids.

Water bottles are probably more fun, but using Tupperware does double duty of getting you organized, so maybe a combo of both is best.

Lay out all Tupperware and water bottles in one pile and put lids in another.  Ask your preschooler to help you organize by finding the right lids to go with the right container.

Popping and screwing the lids on their correct containers exercises those fine motor muscles.

Ensuring the right size/shape lid goes with the right container helps practice both spatial awareness and problem solving skills.

Pro Tip: Help Your Child Become Better at Problem Solving

Enroll your child for the Atlas Mission and let your child play with this award-winning educational program. Your child will become better at problem solving without even realizing it!

3. I’m Being Silly

I’m Being Silly is an on-the-fly story telling game.  The parent starts off with a simple story and the preschooler has to stop them when they’ve said something silly.  Here’s an example:

Johnny was a four-year-old boy on his way to school. As he left, he grabbed his car keys and buckled himself into the driver’s seat.

If they don’t stop you here at the silliness of Johnny driving the car himself to school, just keep going.  Maybe Johnny gets to recess and all the teachers are playing on the slides and swings while Johnny has playground duty.

When he gets home he might first take off his socks and then his shoes.

Customize the difficulty of the hidden sillies to the level of your child’s problem solving skills.  Chances are they will love this game enough to turn the tables and see if you can catch the silliness in their own stories!

4. Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks or tangrams (the colorful blocks that come in different geometrical shapes) provide fun problem solving activities simply by being played with.

If you want to increase the challenge, a quick google search will pull up hundreds of patterns to print and copy.  Your preschooler will be proud of the intricate designs he can create just by following the cards.

This is a great independent activity when you need some quiet time for yourself or you can build something and ask your child to copy it. Take turns trying to stump each other with your designs.

5. Fort Building and Escaping Lava Alligators

Every child must build a fort in their living room. It’s a rite of passage.

Equally, they must pretend the living room floor is lava filled with alligators and use your couch cushions to create a safe route around them.

Whether you set out materials or just consciously ignore your urge to remind your preschooler that the couch cushions are not trampolines, this creative game is an exercise in solving problems — albeit imaginary ones.

The easiest materials for fort building are sheets and clothespins, but anything your child finds is fine.

To escape Lava Alligators, the appropriate tools are (unfortunately) your favorite couch cushions, but Lava Alligators can also be rehomed to the driveway with hand drawn sidewalk chalk squares working as the safety stones if necessary.

6. Build a Maze

Using blocks, chairs, cardboard boxes, or masking tape you can create a maze for your preschooler to get lost in while working on his critical problem solving skills. It can be small enough for his cars to drive through or big enough for him to walk through.

Be warned, giant cardboard mazes in the backyard have a tendency to attract all the neighborhood kids for a full afternoon of problem-solving fun.

You may end up being forever known as the Coolest Mom on the Block.

We hope you can handle that.

7. Pack my Bag

With Pack my Bag, your preschooler can prepare for a real trip or an imaginary one.  Have him help you prepare for the day’s activities by asking him questions.

What does the weather look like outside? What clothes should we wear? Will we need an umbrella, sunscreen, or a parka?

After we get out of the pool, we will want to get dry, so what will we need? I think we will be gone a while, do you think someone will get hungry?

My example questions might be too direct or just enough depending on your preschooler’s current problem solving skills. The trick is to ask questions that lead him just enough, but still give him some thinking work to do on his own.

8. Preschool Detective

This game can be done with or without the detective hat and magnifying glass.  In this game, Mom gives a clue about an object, then preschooler makes a guess.

Likely she will guess wrong after just one clue, so Mom will provide another one and she can guess again.  This keeps going until the preschooler has guessed correctly. Here’s an example of how this game could go:

Mom: I’m thinking of something big and soft

Preschooler: A bear?

Mom: Nope, it’s something you keep in the house.

Preschooler: The rug?

Mom: Not quite.  It’s something that you use at night and should be in right now, but you’ve left it three times to ask for another glass of water.

Preschooler: My bed?

Mom: That’s right! You win!

As her problem solving skills increase, the clues can be made harder encouraging her to ask more questions.

This is a fun game as is, or can be played with a point system where the preschooler gets a point for each incorrect guess. Each time she plays, she can try to finish with fewer points than the last time.

Usually, no prize is needed for this game, but if this exact scenario arises, a one-way trip back to the above-mentioned bed with one last Mom tuck-in is a fantastic grand prize for guessing.

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Jodi Burnett

About the Author

Jodi Burnett creates educational content for the Atlas Mission . In an earlier life, she used to write the parenting column for a leading regional newspaper, the Tremonton Leader. She now spends her days researching educational methods, playing with microscopes, homeschooling her 4 children, and having a crazy time learning out in the world alongside her kids. She lives near the gorgeous Wasatch Mountains in Salt Lake City with her husband, 4 children, and a chubby snorting pug.

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Cognitive Activities: Ideas for Toddlers 1 to 3 Years Old

As a developmental therapist working in early intervention, I’m excited to share my favorite cognitive activities for toddlers aged 1 to 3. These fun and developmentally appropriate activities can be enjoyed at home or in the classroom.

Support toddlers’ cognitive development with interactive activities that enhance executive function and problem-solving.

A toddler plays with blocks during a cognitive activity.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development is the building of mental and intellectual skills. For toddlers, this is thinking, learning, and understanding. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Curiosity about the world and how things work
  • Knowledge of objects and their functions
  • Longer attention span for activities
  • Pretend play and role-playing with objects
  • Learning numbers, counting, and “more”
  • Sorting and noticing similarities and differences
  • Creative problem-solving in various ways

Check at FAQs at the end of this post to learn more.

Cognitive Activities for Toddlers

Nature play.

Nature play offers toddlers an open-ended, sensory-rich experience, fostering cognitive development and executive function skills. From exploring the outdoors and experiencing different weather to engaging in risk-taking play and moving through obstacles, these activities promote emergent science, recognition, and motivation, enhancing attention and persistence in playful ways.

  • Exploring outdoors
  • Experiencing different weather
  • Na ture scavenger hunts
  • Fill + dump with rocks, pinecones, or sticks
  • Sink or Float with nature objects
  • Moving through obstacles (over, under, around, through)

Cognitive Skills : emergent science, recognition, motivation, attention, persistence

Loose Parts Play 

Loose parts play offers toddlers open-ended materials to explore, promoting cognitive development through creative manipulation. This unstructured play fosters emergent math and science skills, encouraging persistence, reasoning, and the ability to watch and imitate others. Learn more about the  benefits of loose parts play   and check out a  giant list of loose parts materials .

  • Plastic bottles and jugs
  • Electric Tea Lights
  • Fabric Squares
  • Nature Objects

Cognitive Skills : using objects in a new way, emergent math, emergent science, persistence, reason/logic, watching and imitating others

Imagination Games

Imagination games play a vital role in toddler cognitive development by encouraging role-play and introducing symbolism. Favorite imagination play toys include costumes, toy animals, and toy vehicles. These activities enhance cognitive skills, such as imaginative play, motivation, and memory, while fostering discovery and self-expression.

  • Pretending to be an animal
  • Cars, trains, construction vehicles
  • People figures
  • Animal figures
  • Find the toy
  • More imagination games for toddlers

Cognitive Skills : imaginative play, motivation, using objects in new ways, memory, exploration/discovery, watching and imitating others, finding hidden objects

Books and reading are wonderful cognitive activities for toddlers, introducing early literacy skills and broadening understanding of objects, living things, and people through symbolism. Engage your child by exploring illustrations, adding actions to books, and reading books about your child’s interests.

  • Find and name objects in the pictures
  • Connect stories to real life
  • Play with the sounds of letters and words
  • Emphasize rhyming and alliteration
  • Choose books that match your child’s interests

Cognitive Skills : identifying objects when they are named, attention, reason/logic, exploration/discovery

Sensory Play

Sensory play is a fantastic cognitive activity for toddlers, providing an immersive body-mind experience. Engage your child with sensory bins, dough play , sensory books, painting, and eating new foods. Sensory play allows toddlers to begin building early science skills.

  • Water tables
  • Sensory bins
  • Eating new foods

Cognitive Skills : reason/logic, emergent science, emergent math, persistence, motivation, exploration/discovery

Music and Fingerplays

Music and fingerplays are excellent cognitive activities for toddlers, fostering memory, attention, and cause-and-effect understanding. Engage toddlers with singing, dancing, and musical instruments to promote emergent math and science skills while encouraging imitation and following instructions. Learn how dancing supports the vestibular and proprioceptive systems .

  • Scarf dancing
  • Pot and pan band
  • Rhythm sticks
  • Fingerplays (The Itsy Bitsy Spider or Patty Cake)
  • Music set with children’s instruments

Cognitive Skills : memory, attention, following instructions, watching and imitating others, cause and effect, emergent math, emergent science

A dad and toddler talk about pictures on the wall.

Block play offer a fun cognitive activity for toddlers, nurturing creative, early science, and math skills. Engage your child with open-ended building with anything from tree blocks to Magnatiles for a perfect blend of STEM learning and imaginative development.

Discover all our favorite block activities for toddlers ages 1 to 3.

Cognitive Skills : emergent science, emergent math, imaginative play, using objects in a new way, reason/logic, problem-solving

Puzzles & Close-Ended Toys

Close-ended toys benefit cognitive development, building trial-and-error and problem-solving skills and instilling confidence. However, they should not replace other play experiences as they can lead to frustration. Striking a balance between close-ended and open-ended toys is key for fostering holistic cognitive growth in toddlers.

  • Puzzles (chunky or knob puzzles)
  • Shape sorters
  • Stacking/nesting cups and rings
  • Pop-up toys
  • Hammer and peg toys

Cognitive Skills : emergent science, emergent math, cause and effect, attention, reason/logic, problem-solving, persistence

Cognitive Activities in Daily Routines

You can also enhance toddlers’ cognitive development through daily routines. Explore these simple ways to nurture their learning and understanding in day-to-day activities.

  • Counting with food at meals
  • Sorting toys at clean-up time
  • Water play in the bathtub
  • Completing household chores together 
  • Practicing dressing and undressing
  • Singing in the car

Cognitive Skills : cause and effect, attention, reason/logic, problem-solving, persistence

FAQs: toddler cognitive development

Cognitive skills for a toddler include the ability to think, learn, and understand as they explore and interact with the world around them.

Here is a list of skills related to cognitive development for 1, 2, and 3-year-old toddlers:

Executive Function

  • Reason/Logic
  • Persistence
  • Following simple directions
  • Finding hidden objects
  • Imaginative play
  • Using objects in new ways

Recognition

  • Identifying objects when they are named
  • Understanding the purpose of familiar objects

Emergent Science

  • Problem-solving
  • Exploration/curiosity
  • Cause and effect
  • Observation

Emergent Math

  • Spacial awareness
  • Matching/sorting
  • “More”

Created with: Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, Teaching Strategies Objectives for Development and Learning , and the CDC Developmental Milestones .

Signs of cognitive development delays in toddlers may include:

  • Not pointing at items
  • Losing skills once had
  • Not searching for items they saw you hide
  • Not learning familiar items
  • Not mimicking others
  • Not able to follow simple instructions

This is not a comprehensive list of potential delays. Contact your pediatrician if you have concerns about your child’s development. Remember, while checklists like the CDC Milestone Tracker help, there is no replacement for intuition. 

For those in the United States, you can also contact your  local early intervention services  for an evaluation. 

While limited use of educational apps and programs can be beneficial, it’s essential to balance screen time with other forms of play. Hands-on, interactive learning experiences are vital for cognitive development during the toddler years.

Adding cognitive activities at home and in the classroom is crucial for supporting and nurturing your toddler’s brain development. Engage in nature play , imagination games, reading, sensory play, music, blocks, and close-ended toys to foster holistic cognitive growth. By integrating these activities into daily routines, you create a strong foundation for your toddler’s future development and learning.

More activity ideas

A toddler explores a sorting set during a container play activity.

The Magic of Container Play: Boost Baby & Toddler Learning

Parents read to their baby during a literacy activity.

Literacy Ideas for Babies: Easy Activities from My Infant Classroom 

A child balances stacking blocks during a block activity.

The Best Block Play Activities & Environments for Young Children

Students participate in an outdoor exploration during a nature-based in an early childhood classroom.

Nature-Based Early Childhood Education: Best Tips & Activities

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Developmental Therapist

Hello, I'm Alysia (uh-lee-shuh), a developmental therapist for infants and toddlers with a B.S. in Early Childhood Education and a minor in Special Education. As the founder of Well Beings with Alysia, I'm demystifying child development for parents and early educators. Learn how to introduce the play-based activities, books, nature materials, and toys I use in classrooms and early intervention. Contact me: [email protected]

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problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Some skills gained from the problem-solving activities include lateral thinking, analytical thinking, creativity, persistence, logical reasoning, communication skills, and decision-making skills. 

The Importance of Problem-Solving Activities for Toddlers

In almost every stage of growth, children are likely to encounter some difficulties. How they handle these challenges depends on the skills they have built over time.

That’s why every parent should invest in quality problem-solving activities for their child. The skills mentioned above are critical for toddlers, and it can be challenging to develop them.

Problem-solving activities give toddlers independence to learn and play & can promote their skills in handling different hassles.These activities help toddlers find a solution to a problem.

Early ages are the best time for children to learn how to solve different problems in a fun way. 

In many cases, many young mothers are students who dream of spending as much time as possible with their children, but they are held up with advancing their knowledge in their areas of specialization.

To have more time for toddlers as young mothers, you can use the online essay writer service EduBirdie to have your research papers written by top writers. EduBirdie has great writers, and you will receive quality work at the right time. This automatically translates to excellent scores.

If you have more time with your child, you are likely to notice the challenges they are going through and choose the best problem-solving activities for them.

The more problem-solving activities they perform, the more likely the child will develop excellent skills that will enable them to navigate most of the challenges in their lifetime. Here are some simple problem-solving activities for toddlers:

1. Building a maze

Building a maze is fun outside and one of the best activities for 2-year-old toddlers. Since toddlers can’t yet do a maze in an activity book, this is a great way to use their problem solving and navigation skills.

Problem-solving activities give toddlers independence to learn and play & can promote their skills in handling different hassles.These activities help toddlers find a solution to a problem.

Draw a big maze on the pavement with sidewalk chalk . Then, make passages, including a few that end in a dead-end. Teach your toddler how to walk through and find their way out.

Allow them to try it on their own. The more trials, the better the child gets at figuring out the best way out. If the child gets used to the simple maze, you can draw a more complex one, adding more dead-end passages to make finding their way out more complicated.

This way, you will enhance their cognitive skills, which are vital for success in their life.

Puzzles are some of the best sensory activities for toddlers. They help a lot in enhancing the thinking capabilities of toddlers.

A puzzle is a big set of muddled-up things that must be sorted out and put back together.

Problem-solving activities give toddlers independence to learn and play & can promote their skills in handling different hassles.These activities help toddlers find a solution to a problem.

The best type of puzzle for children is wooden puzzles , as they last longer, and the frame provides a structure to guide the child while playing. Inset puzzles are perfect for toddlers, especially ones with familiar objects (transportation, animals, colors, and shapes).

So, make an effort to sit with your child and help them play different puzzles. It’s even better than leaving your toddler to play with fancy toys with flashing lights and music.

Solving puzzles is real learning and allows the students to build their skills at their own pace. It’s ok to let them get a little frustrated! The more you leave them to independently figure it out, the quicker they will gain the skill.

3. Following patterns

Following patterns is just a simple activity that can be played with colored blocks, counters, or shapes. In this case, the child should simply make a pattern with the blocks and vary it by changing the patterns’ colors, shapes, or sizes.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

At first, you can demonstrate how to make simple patterns to your child and then make the patterns more complex as they get used to the simple ones. Following patterns train the toddler to analyze given information, make sense of it, recognize the pattern it should follow, and then recreate it.

For the complex patterns, carry out the first few steps and then ask your child to continue.

4. Board games

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Playing board games is an excellent way to develop your problem-solving skills, and your child can quickly start with simple games. This could be CandyLand ( a huge hit with little ones) or Chutes and Ladders .

Board games teach toddlers the skill of following rules and moving logically.

With time, you can introduce games that require deeper thinking and planning, like Monopoly Junior. This game will require you to explain a lot, and sometimes you will have to play with the child.

You can also let your child play Go Fish to teach them how to think ahead and solve the problems they will encounter in the future.

Related Post: Perfect Board Games for 2 Year Olds

5. Storytime questions

Stories are a great way of teaching children moral values and the problem-solving skills they require for their lifetime. During storytelling, develop a habit of asking questions to help the child develop higher-order thinking skills like comprehension.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

It’s simple: pause for a few minutes and pose questions about the story. Start with simple questions, like “What did the boy say?” or “Where did the family go?.”

Then move onto more abstract thinking, problem solving questions, like “what will the boy do now that his pet died?” or “what can the girl do to find her lost toy?”

You can also pose an unexpected question to make the child more attentive. Storytime questions teach toddlers to pay attention to details and concentrate on one activity at a time.

It also reinforces the message you were trying to pass to the toddler. As a result, the toddler will easily remember the story’s moral lessons and apply them when faced with challenges in their lifetime.

6. Building with construction toys

Construction toys could be engineering blocks, Legos, or a proper set of wooden blocks that can be used to construct simple structures.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Everything the toddler will build is challenging as it requires critical thinking in brainstorming what to build and how to put the different pieces together.

The design built should be functional and work as expected. So, let the child construct freely and occasionally set for them a challenge to be completed within the set time with specific conditions.

This could be building two towers with a bridge joining them or building a creature with three arms standing on its own. Let the kids exercise their brains until they find a way to make the structure work.

7. Classifying and grouping activities

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Classifying and grouping activities are among the best sensory activities for toddlers. You can easily do this with a tin of buttons or by unpacking the dishwasher. The idea behind classifying and grouping activities is to teach the skill of categorizing information.

There are several button activities for your kids that you can adopt, and they include a messy play tray, making a nameplate, sorting buttons, ordering buttons, or making a button necklace.

Each activity will teach the child an important skill they need to solve problems in the future.

When was the last time you engaged in any of the activities discussed above with your child? Start young with these problem-solving activities that help them navigate most of the challenges in their lifetime.

Take time and choose one of the activities discussed above for your toddler. 

Author’s Bio

Helen Birk is a magnificent writer who creates beautiful stories that leave her readers asking for more. She’s been a wonderful storyteller and her years of experience help her do even better every time she takes up a new book to write. She’s currently planning a book that talks about the role of AI in the development of school education.

Related posts:

Tākai

Find resources / Articles / Problem solving for 3 to 5-year-olds

Supporting and keeping 3 to 5-year-olds safe as they develop their problem-solving skills.

On this page

What changes after age 3, parents feel frightened too, anō anō — again again, what else can whānau do to help tamariki learn to solve problems.

Problem solving is discussed in quite a few other age and stage sections. The following play activities from the 25–36 months section give ideas for strengthening problem-solving skills, and why they are important to develop in young children:

  • Problem solving
  • Building Blocks
  • Stepping stones

The recommended reading called Problem solving in the younger age section (19–24 months) is relevant too, as it describes what problem solving looks like for a toddler.

The main problem-solving strategy used by tamariki until around age 3 is trial and error.

A 3-year-old will often use their memory of seeing others solve similar problems. Tamariki will remember what other people did when a problem came up, and they’ll try that themselves.

Tamariki are increasingly keen on doing things themselves, and will sometimes resist help. ‘I can do it myself!’ is commonly heard from tamariki during this stage. The level of risk involved in the activity may not be a concern for them — rather, just doing it is their main concern.

Whānau need to think about ways to give their tamaiti challenges and new learning while keeping them safe from harm. Tamariki want to copy adults and be more independent, which is great as it builds their confidence and skills. However, their ability to move fast, switch machinery on, and access heights or electrical equipment can put them in danger. It’s a good time to check safety around the house and garden, especially in garages and sheds, and their access to climbable fences or unsecured gates.

Preschoolers are also learning about managing their strong feelings. Solving problems can be a challenge, and when they’re unsuccessful it can lead to them expressing feelings of deep frustration.

Tamariki who have temperament traits of persistence, high activity and the ability to take on new situations with ease can find themselves in dangerous situations if there’s insufficient supervision. Whānau need to be close enough to intervene straight away if tamariki lose control of their emotions or their actions.

Confidence is another skill that helps when a child is problem solving. It can also be concerning when their confidence is much greater than their ability to solve a challenge, and they find themselves in strife.

Sometimes whānau themselves get scared or upset by the actions of their clever problem-solver. For example, an active 4-year-old has just climbed to the top of the neighbour’s tree and is now stuck! Concern for their child’s safety can see whānau lashing out in response, as their anxiety generates feelings of anger.

Developing their personal technique for remaining calm and cool is wise. Deep breathing and using a quiet, firm voice can be a good starting place.

After an upsetting event has been sorted out is often a good time for a snack break. Washing hands, sitting down and having something to eat and drink can help calm the situation. Then whānau can talk with their tamariki and ask:

  • What were you trying to do?
  • What else could you have done instead?
  • What other resources from round the house could have helped?

What might you do next time something like this happens?

Regular practice playing with similar-aged tamariki encourages progress with the skills of waiting, turn-taking, sharing, negotiating and learning how to solve shared problems together.

Whānau can:

  • model the process of problem solving in daily life
  • give their preschoolers hands-on experiences of exploring and experimenting with different materials
  • let them enjoy creating different solutions by finding new ways to use familiar items.

And because preschoolers enjoy figuring out solutions for themselves, whānau need to let tamariki try to do this before offering or stepping in to help.

Recommended resource

Whakatipu te māhuri.

See Whakatipu Te Māhuri pages 12-14 and pages 26-29 under "Ngā taonga tākaro" for ideas about everyday problems tamariki are likely to meet when playing around the house and in their community.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Scholastic: Preschool problem-solving

Investigation and discovery 3–5 years.

Peep and the Big Wide World

Play and imagination 3–5 years

Helpful resources for whānau.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Whakatipu Te Māhuri, page 12 and 13

Playing with your tamaiti helps reinforce their learning. Take a look at all the learning for tamariki when whānau join in the fun.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Whakatipu Te Māhuri, page 14 and 15

What tamariki learn when you play dress up or pretend games, hold lounge events, or listen to music and sing waiata.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Whakatipu Te Māhuri, page 26 and 27

At home, playing outside or water play provide tamariki with fun learning activities.

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Whakatipu Te Māhuri, page 28 and 29

Tamariki can learn a lot from playing at the papa tākaro (playground).

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

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Best Activities for 3-Year-Olds

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Pasta necklaces, simple board games and gigantic block towers are just some of the easy ways you can make your 3-year-old's day both entertaining and educational. So find what sounds like fun and get started!

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78 Perfect Preschool Activities For 3-Year-Olds

November 15, 2023 //  by  Eileen Zajac

Whether you’re planning for a full term or just a week of curriculum, we know the challenge of preparing activities for your 3-year-old preschoolers! We also realize that finding learning experiences that meet the different abilities of your kiddos takes a lot of time and energy. Implementing three to four 15-minute activities is the perfect way to hold your little learners’ attention. Use this list to find a few activities that can be easily integrated into your lessons, or used throughout the day during mini-breaks and transition periods. Let’s dive in!

1. Rainy Names

Did you know that learning and understanding names can boost confidence and build community in the classroom? This activity has your students paste raindrops with the letters of their names in the correct order. It’s perfect for a rainy day and for enhancing your students’ name recognition, pre-writing skills, and much more! 

Learn More: Instagram

2. Baby Tub Time

Your little ones will adore using dolls to improve social skills in this engaging educational activity! Hands-on activities like this one where they’ll wash and care for their doll will help your children gain a better understanding of how to treat others appropriately. 

Learn More: The Imagination Tree

3. Letter Fishing

Engaging and challenging activities for your preschool children that also enhance their letter recognition skills? Where do we sign up? Use a basket or fill a tub with water and let your little fishermen start casting for letters! This fun learning experience will engage even your most lively kiddos.

4. Counting Caterpillars

Your kiddos will love practicing their motor skills and number recognition by building little caterpillars! Draw some circles to create a caterpillar and then write a digit from 1 to 10 in each circle. Your preschoolers will match these to numbered dots on other circles that you have made from construction paper. 

5. Building With Magnetic Tiles 

Get your hard hat ready and start building with magnetic tiles! This activity helps develop your children’s motor skills and creativity, and is simply a lot of fun! Use MAGNA-TILES (or blocks) and have them either copy your creations or create their own designs! 

6. Kids Busy Boxes

‘Busy boxes’ will be a definite game changer for your preschool classroom! For this quick activity, fill individual compartments of plastic containers with items such as markers, dried cereal, or anything else that will keep busy little hands and minds occupied! You don’t need to get fancy – even a shoe box will work! 

7. Mini Pies

Preschoolers love being outside! Outdoor play gives your students the space to observe nature while they test out their skills! Imaginations will soar as they make mini pies by filling muffin tins with natural objects like black walnuts, dirt, and a sprinkle of grass to top it off! Just hope they don’t expect you to try their creations!

8. Color Sorting

By preschool, kids are usually pretty skilled at recognizing different colors, but that doesn’t mean this toddler activity shouldn’t be practiced. Have your children sort colored objects into matching colored dishes to learn critical thinking and organizational skills. This is a great activity to supplement lessons focused on categorization. 

9. Obstacle Courses

There’s no doubt that building motor skills is extremely important for childhood development.  This fun obstacle course activity will be a hit with your youngsters! It will also help them develop muscle strength, balance, problem-solving skills, sensory processing, and coordination – all essential components of motor skills! 

10. Name or Letter Recognition

You’ll love this activity that requires little prep and has multiple uses! Whether your kiddies are working on building names or identifying letters, these colorful sticker dots will spark their interest and enhance their recognition skills. Get them to match the letters with those on paper or use the stickers to practice building sight words.

11. Boo Boo Counting

Boo Boo Counting is great for developing math skills and for practicing empathy. Your young mathematicians will relate to matching numbered band-aids to the owie spots on a cardboard cutout of a child. Consider laminating the cardboard and using velcro to make this activity last longer – it’s a keeper!

Learn More: Toddler Rat Play

12. Logical Sorting

Add this one to your week of activities focused on logical sorting. Your little ones who are ready for a challenge will love using a grid to sort colorful little houses into categories to match both the house color and the roof color!  This activity will go a long way in helping them understand the relationship between different patterns. 

Learn More: Teachers Mag

13. Arrow Matching

This is an adorable hands-on learning activity that will develop motor skills and increase your children’s curiosity about nature. They’ll love matching arrows to create paths for a caterpillar on its journey to become a butterfly and for a spider to get to its web! 

14. Elephant Ring Toss

Any animal activity is sure to spark even your most difficult students’ interest. Use a recycled box to create a cardboard cut-out of an elephant’s face with a 3D trunk. Next, construct three cardboard rings. Have your children help paint the elephant before they start the ring toss game! 

Learn More: Pinterest

15. Swing Painting

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This was one of those activities that couldn’t be left out of this list!! It combines two activities that are particularly calming for children – swinging and painting. Have them hang from a swing, paintbrush in hand, and let their creativity shine! This art project is a super way to vary things up if you’ve got kids who struggle to stay focused all day! 

Learn More: Homegrown Friends  

16. Splitting Hairs

Scissor skills are pretty vital as your preschoolers move on to kindergarten and elementary school! They’ll love using scissors to cut the hair of little paper people in this fun activity that builds their motor skills. They can build up to more wavy or zig-zag lines as their skills develop.

Learn More: Facebook

17. Dot Puzzles

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This one will be a good challenge for your little ones! Create a paper puzzle and puzzle pieces with a colored dot pattern and let your preschoolers work independently or with a partner to place the pieces over the matching part of the puzzle. This can be tricky so encourage them to ask for help if they need it!

18. Bubble Wrap Popping

Number recognition and bubble wrap? Now this sounds like a good time! Write numbers on the bubble wrap; the bigger the bubbles, the better! Next, read out a number and your children will pop the bubbles with a toothpick or even just their finger! Remember to mix up the numbers and spread them out when creating this exciting resource to boost their recognition skills.

19. All About Me Process Art

@art.is.smart All About Me process art with 3 year olds! #preschoolteacher #artissmart #teachersoftiktok ♬ Colors of the Wind – Instrumental – Vesislava

Sometimes slowing things down is the way to go! Have your kids participate in an artistic mini-portrait experience that focuses on the process of art more than the finished product. This project is great for getting them to understand the steps in making art, while also discovering different techniques, materials, and tools. 

Learn More: Tiktok

20. Playdough Shapes

@planningplaytime 70+ pages of Preschool Fun #preschoolmom #preschoolteachers #toddlermoms #preschoolathome #preschoolactivities #learningthroughplay #playtolearn ♬ Cute – Bensound

Everybody loves playdough, but using it for educational activities is a surefire way to get your class excited about learning! There are benefits to playdough free-play, but this tactile activity will also reinforce your kids’ knowledge of shapes. Simply print this template and watch your students mold their dough to match the shapes. 

Learn More: TikTok

21. Artsy Preschoolers

@carreyme Preschool teacher thangs. 3 year olds are amazing! Artist study 👩‍🎨 #pietmondrieaanstyle #preschool #preschoolteacher #preschoolactivities #earlychildhoodeducation ♬ Kyoto Flow – Official Sound Studio

Do you have an old art history book lying around? If not, track one down to inspire an early love of art in your preschoolers. Show them one of the masterpieces, open the fingerpaint jars, and let them get to work on creating their own interpretation of the painting! 

22. Spaghetti Play

Who doesn’t love a little spaghetti play? Add some different colored slimy ‘spaghetti’ noodles to your activity table and watch your students as they use their tiny hands to play with different tools to cut their noodles! They’ll have the time of their life with this super sensory activity!

23. Dancing Corn

@byemilylawson This is the number one preschool science idea on my blog for 5 years now #stemforkids #preschoolstem #prekstem #prekactivitiesathome #toddleractivitiesathome #activitiesfortoddlers #keepingkidsbusy #scienceismagic #scienceforpreschool #fallactivitiesforkids ♬ original sound – Emily | relatable mom life

It’s never too early to start experimenting with different science projects. This dancing corn demonstration is sure to be a hit with your preschool students! Place corn in a clear cup and then add baking soda and some vinegar to have your kiddos jumping with joy when the corn starts to dance! 

24. Painting Ice

@littlebirchpreschool #ice #preschool #earlyyears #tufftray #tufftrayactivities #heatwave #playingandlearning ♬ Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice

This activity is great for a hot summer day; the combination of ice cubes and paint is the perfect mix to cool little hands! Add plenty of ice and paint to your activity table, and have your students use paintbrushes to explore the melting ice and the changes in the water’s color! What a cool activity!

25. Race and Paint

@daynursery Racing the cars while making marks! #makingmarks #preschoolactivities #activityideas #fyp #viral #trending #earlyyears ♬ Roary The Racing Car Main Theme (From ""Roary The Racing Car"") – Geek Music

On your marks, get set, paint! Your kids will have a blast dipping plastic cars into paint and letting them race to the finish, creating beautiful streaks of color in the process! Whether you have them race each other or just drive the cars around,  this activity will surely result in smiling faces and some eye-catching artwork!  

26. Alphabet Practice

@bigcityreaders #abcs #alphabetactivities #readingteacher #teachersoftiktok #teachertok #momtoks #preschoolactivities #preschoolathome #preschoollunch #preschoolmom #StJudeDadPhotos #fypシ゚viral #learningtoread #3yearoldbrain #alphabethack #letters #letterssong ♬ Face Dance – Funny Tok

Make learning the alphabet more fun with missing letters! Write part of the alphabet on a strip of paper, but cover a few of the letters with sticky notes. Then start singing the alphabet song and either have your children write the missing letter or let them reveal it by uncovering the hidden letter! 

27. Patterning

@play.inspire.grow Hands on patterning #earlymaths #simplemaths #preschoolmath #preschoolactivities #prek #teachermom #homeschool #earlyyearsideas #kindergarten #learningisfun #canadianmom #montessoriathome #learningthroughplay ♬ FEEL THE GROOVE – Queens Road, Fabian Graetz

Get creative by starting a pattern for your kids to practice ‘what comes next’! This activity uses a range of objects like stickers, dot markers, and manipulatives to teach them more about this important skill. Your little ones will love the variety in this task as they work to identify patterns and create their own!

28. Dressing Dolls

@mrs_burland Dress the dolls activity, encouraging children to strengthen their hand muscles and develop their fine motor skills. Also, encouraging independence. #earlyyearsactivities #finemotoractivity #earlyyearspractitioner #preschoolactivities #eyfsactivities #handandeyecoordination #finemotorskills ♬ Low Down – venbee & Dan Fable

Playing with dolls is always a great opportunity to help your students better understand themselves and others. You can gather a variety of small dolls and let your kids get creative by dressing them up! The small size will be more challenging for their little hands, making this the perfect practice for developing fine motor skills.  

29. Listen & Do

How good are your kiddos at listening and copying? Have them point to the body part they hear you say to increase movement and develop active listening and cognitive skills. Playing this game daily or a few times a week will reinforce important vocabulary and is a perfect break to get your active kiddos moving! 

Learn More: YouTube

30. Shake Your Sillies Out

Preschoolers have A LOT of emotions and brain breaks are vital to creating a positive learning experience. Your little ones need the time and space to express their feelings and  ‘Shake Your Sillies Out’ is the perfect song to make that happen! Play this video and let them go for it!

31. A Hole In the Bottom of the Sea

Are you planning a lesson about the food chain? This song is absolutely adorable, and the animation of the video provides a great visual for your little learners! They’ll love the repetitive lyrics that will help them better understand and remember the concept of a food chain.

32. Sight Word Surprise

Providing consistent exposure to letters and sight words is essential throughout the preschool years. This online learning game offers your kiddos this practice, and gives you the flexibility to use it for either in-person or distance learning!

33. Beginning Sounds

Your learners’ oral language development starts with an understanding of different sounds. This online phonics video is a great way to introduce initial letter sounds to them! Make this even more fun by projecting the video onto your whiteboard and having your children use magnetic letters to identify the beginning sounds of words. 

34. Guess the Fruit

By preschool, your students are probably familiar with many different types of fruit. This video can be used to assess what they already know while also giving them a chance to learn about some new delicious examples! Even your shyest kids will love showing off their knowledge on this topic!

Learn More: Youtube

35. Where Will It Land?

Making predictions in the early years is a great way to prepare your little ones for studying STEM subjects in elementary school and beyond!! This exciting activity introduces them to the concept of friction and to skills like problem-solving. Fast-track their interest in STEM by incorporating this into your preschool curriculum today!

36. Finger Painting

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Foster creativity and sensory development with this messy art project! Give your students non-toxic paint and large sheets of paper, and let them use their fingers to create anything their heart desires! You can always rely on finger painting for a wonderful and relaxing tactile activity that enhances fine motor skills.

Learn More: Raising Children Network

37. Animal Yoga

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

No, it’s not yoga for animals! Your children will adore transforming their bodies into the shapes of different animals in this fun movement activity. It’s a playful way to promote physical activity, and flexibility, and introduce mindfulness and relaxation techniques to your young learners.

Learn More: Mother Natured

38. Puzzle Time

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Puzzles never get old and are a perfect down-time activity! They’re a fantastic way to help your preschoolers develop problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination, and persistence! Offer a selection of simple puzzles with large pieces and let them explore this challenge individually or in small groups.

Learn More: Amazon

39. Nature Walks

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Take learning outside by going on a nature walk with your kiddos! Encourage them to observe their surroundings and collect leaves, stones, or sticks to use for art projects in class. Not only are these walks fun, but they also promote physical activity, observation skills, and an appreciation for the environment.

Learn More: The Artful Parent

40. Story Cubes

These story cubes are made with pictures and are perfect for your younger learners! Have them take turns rolling the dice to create a story based on the image shown. It’s sure to spark imagination, enhance language skills, and if done in a small group or whole class setting, increase collaboration skills!  

41. Playdough Creations

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Playdough is an excellent choice for fine motor development and creative expression. This fantastic resource includes 16 activities with playdough to engage your preschooler in some hands-on fun! Your kids will love squishing, rolling, and molding playdough into figures, animals, and abstract shapes! 

Learn More: My Bored Toddler

42. Water Play

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This activity is guaranteed to make a splash with your little ones! Set up a water table or fill a basin with water and add cups, sponges, and toys. It’s sure to be an enjoyable and soothing activity to introduce them to concepts like volume, buoyancy, and cause and effect.

Learn More: Kildare County Childcare Committee

43. Sensory Bins

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This activity is a great addition to your preschool toolbox! Grab a few bins and fill them with items like rice, beans, or water beads, add scoops, small toys, or natural elements like twigs and leaves, and you’re good to go! Have your kiddies feel the items to explore textures and calm their active minds. 

Learn More: Sheeking Out

44. Rhyming Games

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Engaging your preschoolers in rhyming games is a fantastic way to boost their phonemic awareness! Choose songs or storybooks to recite and identify rhymes, or have them create their own for an added challenge! Not only are the rhymes delightful, but they also serve as an important step toward developing reading and writing skills. 

Learn More: 20 Great Rhyming Activities for Preschool

45. Collage Making

Collages are an excellent way for your preschoolers to express their ideas in a visual way! With safety scissors, glue, magazines, and construction paper, your little artists will explore textures, colors, and composition. Have them share their stories about their creations to gain insight into their thinking and to give their oral language skills a boost! 

46. Obstacle Course

Obstacle courses can be tailored to any skill level, ensuring an inclusive experience for all! Design a course using cushions, ropes, and hoops to encourage movement and problem-solving. Your kiddies will navigate by crawling, jumping, and balancing to improve their gross motor skills. Watch as they overcome obstacles – both literally and figuratively! 

47. Dress-Up Play

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

A box full of costumes, hats, and accessories is a treasure trove for imaginative play! When your little ones dress up and start role-playing, they’ll delve into the world of make-believe, fostering creativity, empathy, and social skills! This activity will lead to spontaneous storytelling performances that will certainly showcase and celebrate your kids’ unique ideas.

Learn More: Healthline

48. Letter Hunt

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Transform letter recognition into an adventure by hiding foam or magnetic letters around the classroom! Your children will love practicing their gross motor skills by reaching and stretching on their hunt for the hidden letters. This is a dynamic way to reinforce alphabet knowledge in a context that feels more like play than instruction!

Learn More: Hands On As We Grow

49. Parachute Games

Bringing out the parachute always sends the excitement sky-high! Your kids will love working together to lift and lower the parachute to make waves, bounce balls, or billowing mushroom shapes.  Games like this are not only fun, but also enhance teamwork, coordination, and gross motor skills. This activity is bound to captivate their attention!  

50. Bubble Popping

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

There’s something irresistible about bubbles! Blowing and chasing bubbles engages your children in a playful pursuit that enhances their hand-eye coordination while getting them to burn off some energy! They’ll soon tire themselves out trying to pop the bubbles before they float away!

Learn More: Red Ted Art

51. Matching Games

Matching games that use cards or objects are excellent cognitive exercises for your littlest learners. As they match pairs based on color, shape, or theme, they’ll be enhancing their visual perception, memory, and concentration. This simple social game encourages cooperation while also laying the groundwork for them to develop some more complex problem-solving skills.

Learn More: PBS Learning Media

52. Salt Tray Writing

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

It’s not just a tray of salt, it’s a tactile and sensory-rich experience for your preschoolers! You can guide them to use their fingers or sticks to practice writing letters, numbers, or shapes in the salt. This is a super way to encourage experimentation and reduce the pressure of perfectionism by having them just shake the tray to “erase” any mistakes! 

Learn More: Happy Hooligans

53. Balancing Beam

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

A balance beam is a great tool for developing coordination. Have your little tight-ropers walk across a real beam or a line of tape on the floor to practice controlling their body movements and strengthening their muscles. You could also integrate it with other learning, such as counting or reciting the alphabet while taking steps.

54. Homemade Musical Instruments

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Creating musical instruments out of household items is a dual-learning activity! Your students will use their fine motor skills and creativity to craft their instruments, and use them to explore sounds, beats, and rhythms!  Have your mini musicians fill bottles with rice, or string rubber bands across a cereal box and start jammin’! 

Learn More: Playgroup NSW

55. Shadow Play

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Shadow play is a totally captivating activity that blends art, science, and storytelling! Using a flashlight and a blank wall, let your children explore the properties of light and shadows by creating shapes and figures with their hands or with cutouts on sticks. This magical form of play invites them to use their imagination like never before!

Learn More: Koko Tree

56. Bean Bag Toss

This simple game is a great way to get your kids playing all together! Set up the targets and give them some bean bags for throwing; it’s a simple way to develop their hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills. Focus the play on cooperation or switch things up by adding some healthy competition! 

57. Gardening

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Grow your little ones’ wonder with this hands-on activity! Have them plant seeds in cups filled with dirt or in a garden plot and watch their enthusiasm grow as they tend to the new sprouts! Along with learning about the life cycle of plants, this activity is a simple way to let them experience a little bit of responsibility.

Learn More: Baby Sparks

58. Cooking Simple Recipes

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Get cooking with hands-on learning in the kitchen! Introduce your children to essential skills like following instructions and measurement using simple recipes to make sandwiches or fruit salads. These easy kid-friendly recipes are perfect to get them excited about cooking and they’ll love tasting their creations!

Learn More: Good To

59. Alphabet Fishing

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This is the perfect activity to get your kiddos excited about the alphabet! Write letters on small squares with a paperclip attached, then have your learners use a fishing rod with a magnetic cast to reel in a letter! Fishing for the alphabet is a fun way to reinforce their learning around letter recognition and helps develop focus!

Learn More: First Palette

60. Mask-Making

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This fun activity might result in an imaginative play or an outrageous costume party! Let your children make masks using a variety of materials like paper plates, feathers, sequins, and glue. Their creativity will come to life as they explore the world of make-believe and develop fine motor skills.

Learn More: Artful Parent

61. Puppet Shows

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Puppet play is a great way for your preschoolers to explore drama and storytelling! They can use soft toys or even make their own puppets from old socks or paper bags. They’ll delight in the magical play and storytelling of puppetry that encourages creativity, language development, and even sharing their feelings!

62. Lacing Cards

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

These adorable cards will help your littles learn how to lace! This tricky skill makes for a quiet and calming activity that is also excellent for developing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and concentration. Get going by printing these cards, cutting the holes, and gathering some old shoelaces! 

63. Recycled Material Building

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

No need for fancy materials with this creative activity! Collect recycled materials like boxes, tubes, and cartons, and have your little ones start building their structures. They won’t even notice that they are learning about physics and developing their creativity and problem-solving skills in the process!

64. Sorting Games

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Sorting activities will help your kids to develop their foundational math skills like categorization.  Gather common items like coins, playing cards, and different types of beans and pasta, then challenge your learners to sort them by their shape, size, quantity, or category.

Learn More: Keep Toddlers Busy

65. Ice Cube Melting

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This sensory experience is perfect for a hot day! Give each of your students an ice cube to hold and have them watch it melt; it’s a great way to teach them about temperature, states of matter, weather, and seasons. You’ll be surprised at how this simple activity can lead to such engaging student discussions!

Learn More: Stir The Wonder

66. Sticker Stories

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This activity incorporates a little learning into your kiddos’ love of stickers! Give them some sheets of stickers and paper and let them go crazy!  Foster their creativity and narrative skills by encouraging them to create scenes or stories with the stickers. They will also practice fine motor control as they master peeling and placing the stickers.

67. Hopscotch

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Sometimes classic games are just what you need and hopscotch is certainly one that never gets old! Draw a hopscotch grid with chalk outside or use tape indoors for a rainy day brain break. It’s a timeless game perfect for your little ones that promotes number recognition, balance, and coordination!

Learn More: WikiHow

68. Bubble Wrap Stomp

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Your kiddos will love this activity if they can contain their excitement! Lay out a large piece of paper on the floor and set up some trays of paints. Next, wrap your little learners’ feet in bubble wrap and let them stomp out a colorful masterpiece! 

Learn More: Mess For Less

69. Shadow Tag

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This fun twist on the classic game of tag is the perfect way to engage your children in an outdoor movement activity! Instead of tagging each other with touch, they’ll have to step on each other’s shadows! What a fun introduction to the concept of light and shadow! 

Learn More: Joyful Parenting

70. Kinetic Sand Play

Your learners will love this amazing sensory experience! Kinetic sand is less messy than traditional sand, but is still moldable; so they’ll still be able to make creative shapes and structures! This is a great way to encourage creativity while also keeping your classroom a little cleaner!  

Learn More: Access and Inclusion Model

71. Story Stones

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

There are no fancy materials required for this activity; just some stones! Have your children paint pictures on stones or do this yourself, and then encourage them to use the stones to tell stories. This fun activity encourages their creativity and is a great way to explore sequencing events. 

Learn More: Early Impact Learning

72. Color Mixing

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Experimenting with paints is a sure way to hold your preschoolers’ attention! Provide primary colored paints and let them mix their own colors on paper or in containers, and use this printable sheet to record their results! It’s a hands-on way to learn about colors that can also feel like a magical experiment.

Learn More: Little Bins For Little Hands

73. Marble Run

There’s a reason marble runs have been around for generations! They help develop problem-solving skills, creativity, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness. Have your littles build a marble run using tubes, boxes, or a pre-made set. They’ll love predicting the path of the marble as they learn a basic understanding of physics principles like gravity and momentum.

Learn More: HABA USA

74. Stomp and Catch

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Test out your kiddos’ stomping ability with this fun game! Create a launching board out of a wooden plank and a strong cardboard tube, then load it up with a beanbag on the end. Next, let your preschoolers stomp down, and then try to catch the beanbag as it’s thrown up into the air before it hits the ground! Is their hand-eye coordination up to the task?

75. Memory Tray

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

This fun activity will test your students’ memorization skills! Place several objects on a tray, let your children observe them for one minute, and then cover them with a cloth or piece of paper. How many objects can they remember?  

Learn More: Play To Learn Preschool

76. Nature Collage

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Complete this collage activity after you’ve taken your class for a walk outside! Have them collect leaves, sticks, and flowers that they’ll use to create a beautiful collage. This is an artistic activity that ends up being a wonderful tribute to our wonderful planet!

Learn More: Mama Teaches

77. Alphabet Bingo

problem solving activities for 3 year olds

Shake up the classic game of Bingo by playing it with letters instead of numbers! Your children will love practicing letter recognition by identifying the letters they hear them called out and the excitement of calling out Bingo when their card is full! It’s a fun group activity that encourages active listening. 

Learn More: New Horizon Academy

78. Dance Party

There’s nothing like watching your little ones get their wiggles out by dancing to a good tune! Play some upbeat music and let them dance freely; we’ve even found the perfect playlist to get you started!  Dance parties are a simple way to encourage physical activity and rhythm, and to foster a little bonding during a joyful group activity! 

Learn More: Miss Nina

  • April 29, 2022

Play Activities for 12 to 24 Months

Whether you’re looking for games to build your toddler’s language skills, or games to keep the young ones busy, here are some great play ideas for your infant or toddler., action-oriented activities, squishy sponges.

Give the child some soaking wet sponges to play with outside. Let him wash his trike, the mailbox, or even stamp wet sponge-shapes onto the sidewalk. Show him how he can squeeze the sponge to make the water come out—this builds physical skills in his hands and fingers. “Important” jobs like washing a tricycle or baby doll help toddlers feel like confident and helpful members of the family. As with all water activities, it is critical to supervise children carefully as they play.

Leaf Collector

Give the child a small basket and take her on a walk around your neighborhood or a local park or school. See if she wants to pick up leaves and other “treasures” and put them in her basket. You might be surprised by how long your toddler will be happy to walk, snapping up leaf after leaf for her collection. This activity builds gross motor (large muscle) and fine motor (small muscle) skills as children walk, squat, and pick up their discoveries.

Freeze! Toddlers love freeze dancing

Play music and encourage the child to dance or move in whatever way he likes. Then instruct him to stop when the music ends. This kind of activity encourages listening skills and self-regulation as he practices stopping and starting. (This is a very useful skill for when he goes to school and has to follow a lot of directions!)

Pop Some Popcorn

Take a receiving blanket and have the child hold one side while you hold the other. Place some foam balls (“popcorn”) on the blanket and then shake the blanket so the balls bounce (or pop!) off. Your little one might like singing “POPCORN! POPCORN! POP, POP, POP!” while you shake. Once all the balls have “popped,” have your grandchild race to grab them and put them on the blanket to do it again.

Quiet Play Activities

Shadow play.

In a darkened room, shine a flashlight at your hand so that the shadow is reflected on the wall. Wave to the child and make silly shadow shapes with your hand. Does the child want to try to wave with his shadow hand too? He may also enjoy shining the flashlight on the wall all by himself.

Fill and Dump

Make 5-10 homemade balls (wad up waxed paper or newspaper and cover with masking tape). Put the balls in a shoebox or basket. Give the child another box and show her how she can move each ball from one box to the other. If the child is walking, place the baskets a few steps apart so they can toddle from one to the other. Games like this encourage toddlers to move their hands across their bodies as they transfer the balls, which helps them later on with many skills from athletics to handwriting. ##Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear Starting at about 18 months, children are just beginning to play pretend. A good way to build these skills is by playing with a doll or stuffed animal. You might say, “Oh, Teddy fell down and got a boo-boo. He needs a hug.” Then give it a cuddle. See if the child also wants to give Teddy a hug. Next, you might use a “prop”—like a cup or a blanket—and suggest that the child “give Teddy a drink” or “put Teddy to sleep.”

Make a Homemade “Wagon”

Attach a 12–18 inch length of string or ribbon to a shoebox using sturdy tape. Show the child how she can pull the string to make the box move. If she is walking, give her a job to do using her “wagon,” such as pulling some clean dishtowels into the kitchen or delivering mail in another room. This kind of activity builds physical and problem-solving skills as the child learns how to use an object as a “tool” (pulling the string to move the box.) Be sure to supervise closely and put this toy away when you are done playing.

Activities That Build Thinking Skills

How does your garden grow.

Plant some seeds that grow in summer, such as grass or flower seeds, in a patch of dirt outside or in a pot to keep inside. This is a fun project for toddlers who love to shovel, pour water, and get messy! At the same time they’re building fine motor skills (as they use their fingers and hands) and learning important science concepts as they watch their plants grow.

Try the Classic Shell Game

You’ll need a plastic cup and a small toy. Show the child the toy, then set it down and cover it slowly with the cup. See if he picks up the cup to find the toy. Once the child has mastered this game with one cup, try it with two cups and later, with three cups. This is a very challenging concept for toddlers to master so it’s important to be patient. Soon enough, the child will have no trouble at all locating the toy. This kind of activity builds thinking skills and hand-eye coordination.

Take Out Some Tubes

Put those empty wrapping paper tubes to work. String a scarf through the tube and let your toddler pull it out. Or, show your toddler how to drop a ball or foam block down the tube and watch it fall on the floor. Roll the tube and race across the room to get it. Make music by banging the tube on the floor. Games like this build the child’s thinking and imaginative play skills.

Practice Pouring

Wash out an empty plastic spice container and show the child how you can drop a few pieces of cereal inside. Offer it to the child and watch as she tries to figure out how to get the cereal out. She may shake it or drop it, but eventually, she will pour them out onto the high chair tray, a plate, or her hand. This type of activity builds problem-solving skills.

Activities That Build the Senses

Take a peek.

Remove the label from several small water bottles. Fill each bottle with interesting objects—one might contain small shells, another can be filled with sparkly glitter, water, and mineral oil, and another with a few pennies. Securely glue the lid on each bottle. Give them to the child to look at, shake, and explore.

Water, Water Everywhere

Fill a dishpan with water and place it on a towel on the floor (or better, outside). Give the child plastic cups, spoons, bowls, and a funnel. Watch her pour, splash, and more. Add some food coloring to the water for a new twist on water play. As with any water activity, supervise carefully and pour all water out when you are done.

Band Together

Gather several objects that make different noises—rattles, bells, tambourines, etc. Start singing a song and pick up an instrument—offer one to the child too—and make some music together. Games like this nurture a child’s language, physical, and thinking skills.

Make a Bubble “Mound”

Fill a small bowl with some bubble liquid and then use a straw to blow a mound of bubbles. Let the child explore the bubbles with his hands—but watch to make sure he doesn’t eat any. He may also enjoy watching you blow bubbles for him to catch.

Activities That Build Language Skills

During diaper changes, take a moment to play “what’s this?” Lift up her foot and say, “What’s this? It’s a foot. And what are these? They are toes.” You can name belly, belly button, knee, leg, parts of the face, and more. Through repetition, young toddlers learn new words.

Picture This

Snap photos of the child during an activity with you, such as making cookies. Take a picture of the beginning of the activity (getting the ingredients), the middle (adding ingredients, stirring), and the end (eating cookies). Glue each photo to an index card. Show the photos to the child and talk about the steps you took for each activity. Activities like this help develop the child’s thinking and language skills.

Point It Out

As you read books with the child, ask him to “point to the cat” or “show me the moon” in his favorite stories. He may not be able to follow through yet (so you should go ahead and do the pointing), but as the child approaches 2 years, you may be surprised by how many words he seems to know. Reading activities like this help children understand the connection between words and pictures and build their vocabulary.

Hello, Good-Bye

Make a tunnel from a large cardboard box by opening both ends. The child can be at one end of the tunnel. You sit at the opposite end. Peek your face in the tunnel and say, “Hi!” Then lean away from the tunnel (so the child can’t see you) and say, “Bye!” Does the child try to communicate with you by crawling to find you, or by making sounds to copy your “hi” and “bye?” This activity encourages language, problem-solving, and physical skills as a child figures out how to locate you.

Browse our full suite of resources on early childhood development.

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  • Parenting Resources
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25 Best Educational Games for 3 Year Olds to Uplift Learning

Young children playing an indoor game

5 Online Games for 3-Year-Olds

5 toy games for 3-year-olds, 5 board games for 3-year-olds, 5 card games for 3-year-olds, 5 active games for 3-year-olds.

As your precious little one grows, so does their amazing brain! At three years old, their brain is like a sponge, soaking up everything around them. It’s a fascinating time for their development, and the games you play with them can have a big impact.

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SplashLearn inspires lifelong curiosity with its game-based PreK-5 learning program loved by over 40 million children. With over 4,000 fun games and activities, it’s the perfect balance of learning and play for your little one.

Did you know that during these early years, their brain is forming connections at an incredible pace? Did you know that 80% of a child’s brain develops during the first three years of their life? When your child’s brain produces excess synapses during the first three years, it becomes more responsive in later life. So it is important to stimulate the 3-year-old’s brain as much as possible. And there is nothing better than games for 3-year-olds to develop their mental and physical strength.

This article will take you on a stroll through the best 25 games for three-year-olds to improve their mental and physical abilities while keeping them fruitfully engaged.

25 Learning Games for 3-Year-Olds for Fun Learning and Entertainment

It is difficult to grab a three-year-old’s attention for a long time. They have the shortest attention span with interested in everything bright on Earth. Games for three-year-olds have to be fun yet educational. Here are the best games for 3-year-olds:

Young boy girl sitting in the living room playing games on tablets

We all love playing online games, and so do our kids. Online games are another reason for screen exposure for our kids and an opportunity for them to learn from it if we, as informed parents, choose the right games for our children. So, it is wise to allocate a portion of the screen time we have allotted for our kids to online learning games. Take a look at some of the best games available online.

1. SplashLearn

Preschool Learning Games for Kids

Skill: Math and reading skills

Price: Free for teachers and a 7-day free trial for parents. Subscription starts at $4.99 per month.

SplashLearn is one of the best games for 3-year-olds to improve their math and language skills . This platform has interactive visuals, sound quality, and a storyline to engage young children. All the games have a simple interface and language that toddlers can easily understand. In addition, this platform has several helpful resources for parents and teachers to educate young students, like blogs, research notes, curriculums, etc.

2. Balls and Boxes

Balls and boxes home page

Skill: Memory improvement 

Price: Free 

Balls and Boxes is a challenging and one of the many free games for 3-year-olds available online. It is an award-winning educational game that is easy to play but hard to get right. It has three boxes, and each box has a ball. The balls get shuffled at each level, and players must remember which ball belongs to which box. It is a great brain teasing game to improve your toddlers’ memory and overall brain development.

3. Create Mosaics

One of the Create Mosaics Puzzle

Skill: Memory and logical reasoning skills 

This free game for 3-year-olds online can help them learn colors and improve their logical skills. It is a simple grid of four and six different colors. Children have to follow the color grid and fill in the right colors in the large blank grid in the center of the screen. 

4. Counting Pizza Party

Counting pizza party dashboard

Skill: Counting skills 

Price: Monthly subscription starts at $8.00 per month

Counting Pizza Party is a fun game where kids make pizzas and improve their counting skills. They get to decide what type of pizza they want to make and select its topping as well. When the customers make a request, it is up to your child to get the correct amount for topping on their pizza.

5. Learning Shapes

Learning Shape homepage

Skill: Shapes

By playing this game, 3-year-olds can learn basic shapes with the help of animated characters such as squares, rectangles, circles, hearts, and so on. The game has two types of exercises – coloring and shape-recognising activities. 

After online games, let’s explore kids’ very first and favorite love, toys, and learning toy games for them.

A 3-year-old kid is exploring their world curiously. Everything from insects to planes piques their curiosity. In this arena, toys cater to their developmental needs and natural curiosity. Toy games provide them with sensory experiences, encourage imaginative play, and offer them a sense of control and mastery. They allow kids to mimic real-life situations, experiment, and create, fostering enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment. Following are some of the most amazing toy games filtered from a whole lot just for you!

6. Toddler Chicken Egg Toys

Skill: Color matching and motor skills

Price: $18.99

It is one of the top educational games for 3-year-olds and is perfect for stimulating their color senses and motor skills. This game is also ideal for children suffering from sensory disorders. This simple game can enhance their contextual understanding and color-matching skills.

7. The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game

Contents of The Sneaky Snacky squirrel game opened on a red table

Skill: Math skills, social and strategic planning 

Price: $15.79

A family of four can enjoy this strategic game and improve the mathematical skills of their toddlers. In this game, 3-year-olds will learn to win a game by feeding their squirrels first. The gameplay is simple — spin the spinner, squeeze the matching colored acorn with the squirrel squeezer, and place it into a log. This game involves multiple elements,  perfect for entertaining your toddler.

8. The Honey Bee Tree

Skill: Hand-eye coordination, strategic thinking, and dexterity

Price: $17.97

This honey bee game is educational and fun for a 3-year-old. Your toddler will experience thrill and excitement while removing leaves from the tree without disturbing the honey bees. Players who have fewer honey bees in their trays at the end will win this game. It is a strategic and sensory game that can develop your child’s brain and keep them entertained at the same time.

9. WinkleStar Dartboard

Skill: Motor skills, color matching, and identifying fishes

Price: $12.59

Unlike the traditional dart boards with sharp darts, this is a unique kids-friendly dartboard with round balls as darts. So, it is a completely safe and educational game for young children. The dartboard contains different colors, fish images, and patterns to improve toddlers’ color, shape, and print recognition skills. It is a perfect classroom and party learning game for 3-year-olds. 

10. Cootie Bug Building

An opened box of cootie Game

Skill: Color matching and motor skills 

Price: $8.99

Cootie is a classic educational game for three-year-olds. This is a fun party activity for toddlers to learn color-matching skills and improve their hand-eye coordination. Players have to spin the spinner and hope to land on the bug part they need to complete their Cootie bug. The player who builds the bug first wins the game.

Everyone has fond memories of playing board games as kids. Their popularity lies in their ability to create suspense and happy feelings in moments of victory.  Board games enhance children’s strategic thinking and problem-solving skills. Through them, kids also learn qualities like teamwork and sportsmanship. Now that we know how important board games are for children, let’s see a few best ones around.

11. Candy Land

The graphics on the board game Candy Land

Skill: Color matching and strategies 

Price: $12.99

Candy Land must have brought your childhood’s nostalgic memories back. It is a classic board game that every child has played. Over the years, different versions of the game have been created. But the traditional version with colored cards, sweet illustrations, and four gingerbread players is the best. Children must pick the cards and move their plastic players on the board to explore different landscapes and mountains while targeting the castle.

12. Chutes and Ladders: Peppa Pig Edition

Skill: Counting, addition, and color recognition 

Price: $9.99

Chutes and Ladders is the best party game for three-year-olds. Four players can play this game at one time. There are multiple versions of this game available today. So, based on your child’s interest, you can get the game. This game helps toddlers improve their counting and number-adding skills. Children have to spin the spinner and count numbers to move their player on the board squares and aim to reach the 100th square. This way, Chutes and Ladders inject a dose of thrill and excitement into the gameplay.

13. Magnetic Maze

Skill: Creativity, imagination, and motor skills

Price: $22.99

As the name suggests, it is a magnetic board with vibrant images and graphics. Your child has to use a magnetic ball to move it from point A to B while crossing a maze. Children will use their imagination and strategic skills to move balls in the magnetic maze. It is a simple game to stimulate imagination and creativity among toddlers.

14. Hi, Ho! Cherry-O

Skill: Math Skills

Price: $11.99

Hi Ho! Cherry-O is yet another classic board game for three-year-olds. In this game, children have to spin the wheel and pick cherries from the tree based on their instructions, like 1, 2, 3, etc. They will learn to read, count, add, and subtract while picking the cherries. 

15. Disney Classic Characters Matching

Skill: Identify similarities and differences

Price: $14.39

If your child is a big fan of Disney movies, this game is perfect for them. You will get 72 tiles with Disney character pictures like Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Dumbo, The Incredibles, Donald Duck, Goofy, etc. Children have to pick the matching photos and name the Disney character. You can also make this game fun by giving a time limit for finding the right Disney character match.

A kid holding 3 Aces of cards

Card games are ageless as much as they are entertaining. It is a perfect way to spend quality time with your friends and family. A session of card games builds memories you cherish for years to come. Kids can also be introduced to card games for their age and understanding. Card games often involve memory, math, and critical thinking, entertainingly enhancing cognitive skills. Let’s take a look at a few superb card games we have put together below!

16. Lingo Cards

A pack of lingo cards

Skill: Language and memory skills

Price: $14.99

Do you want to teach your mother tongue to your toddlers? If so, you can play lingo cards with them. These are regular 52 cards with two jokers. However, a phrase from your selected language will be printed on each card. So, you can show different cards to your children and teach them words with phonetic pronunciation. These lingo cards are available in various languages like Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, etc. 

17. Smack It!

A pack of Smack it cards

Skill: Memory and motor skills

Price: $6.99

It is a fast-paced and rowdy card game for three-year-olds. Your entire family can play this game together and spend some quality time. Players must sit in a circle and swiftly swipe cards in the center. But they must remember when to say smack it and win the game. These cards are also perfect for playing classic games like wars and Slapjack. 

18. Gimme 5

One of the Gimme 5 card games pack

Skill: Counting and patterns

Price: $4.99

This game is a toddler version of Snap. It has a hundred colorful cards that you can divide equally among your toddlers and let them put cards individually in the center pile. However, they will try to use their power cards to make their opponent give away their card as a punishment. It is the perfect classroom card game you can play with over ten kids.

19. Steal The Bacon

Steal the Bacon pack of cards and two open cards from the pack on a table

Skill: Matching skills 

Steal The Bacon is the tastiest fun game for 3-year-olds. This card game contains delicious breakfast cards like pancakes, bacon, etc. Players have to match breakfast cards, and when their breakfast plate matches their opponent, they rush to steal the bacon from their plate. The player who steals the bacon first obviously wins the game.

Blink cards pack opened on a table

Skill: Matching and memory skills

Price: $9.94

BLINK is a fast-paced family card game. In this game, two players race against one another and try to match different colors, shapes, and counts of two cards. You can play a card with four yellow stars on any card with yellow symbols (color), on a card with any number of stars (shape), or a card with four symbols of any kind (count).

It’s a game of speed & focuses with no reading or counting, so it’s perfect for young children.

Adult leading small child up a sloped wooden branch

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

Yes, active games make children anything but dull. When children involve themselves in active play, they experience an adrenaline rush that makes them more robust, confident, and intelligent. Therefore, there should be no undermining of physically active play for children. Qualities a child does not learn in the physical constraints of a classroom; he learns effortlessly in the playground. Following are a few great active games for 3-year-olds:

Parts of the game Elefun

Price: $26.99

Elefun is a cute elephant that produces butterflies from its trunk. It is the best activity game for toddlers. The game is pretty simple, you have to plugin the Elefun, and it will first produce a trumpet sound before throwing butterflies out of its trunk. After that, children can use a net to catch butterflies, and the one who catches the most butterflies will win the game. With this game, you will get 20 butterflies and three nets. So, three-year-olds can play this game with their friends and do some physical activity.

22. Toy Rocket Launcher

Skill: STEM skills

Price: $19.99

For unlimited outdoor entertainment, you can give this toy rocket launcher to your toddler. It is not only a fun toy to create foam rockets. It is a scientific and technical toy that teaches children how to apply the right amount of pressure at the right angle to fly a rocket. Also, assembling this toy rocket requires some basic engineering skills. So, if you have a little engineer or scientist in your family, you should definitely play this activity game with them.

23. RaboSky Bean Bag Toss

Parts of the game Rabosky Bean Bag Toss

Skill: Motor skills and important sensory development

Price: $24.99

When toddlers toss bean bags into the interactive holes, this will not only improve their motor skills. But it will also improve their tracking, visual, coordination, and aiming skills. It is a perfect party and classroom game to keep energetic three-year-olds active all day.

24. Whack A Mole Game

A man playing Whack a Mole game

Skill: Motor skills  

Price: $38.99

Whack A Mole Game is the best educational and entertaining game for 3-year-olds. It is an electronic game that automatically pops up moles, and children have to use hammers to whack them all. You can set the game’s speed based on your child’s ability. It is also available in eight languages that help improve language skills among children. With hand and eye coordination improvement, this game improves visual and tactical senses in young children.

25. Hover Ball

Skill: Motor skills

Price: $45.95

To tire out energetic toddlers, this is the perfect indoor soccer game. It is a football, but it is made of foam and travels in the air. Kids will have a blast kicking around this hover ball. The best thing about this ball is that it travels in the air. Therefore, it is perfect for playing indoors without breaking anything.

“Play is the primary way children were designed to learn” – Kathy Hersh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff

These captivating learning games are tailored for the enjoyment of 3-year-olds . They effectively blend education with entertainment, ranging from engaging board games to interactive online experiences. With a variety of options available, some offered at no cost while others require a fee, you can immerse your toddlers in these games and witness their developmental progress firsthand.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can i pick the best games for my three year olds.

While selecting the best games for three-year-olds, check the educational and entertainment levels in the game. The game should teach a skill or value to children. In addition, it is an advantage to have some entertainment value in the game because it is hard to retain the attention of young children.

Should I allow my kids to play online games?

Online games are helpful to entertain and educate children when parents are busy with other errands. Having said that, monitoring your child’s screen time is equally essential.

How many hours of play does a 3 year old need?

Toddlers should be allowed at least one hour of free, unstructured play and at least half an hour of structured adult-led structured play.

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