If we let you in on a secret, will you promise not to tell the kids?
All games can be educational. It comes down to how we approach them.
While some have obvious academic elements, they can also teach kids how to develop a healthy competitive mindset as well as positive social skills.
Here, we'll explore 13 of our favorite educational games for kids, including apps and online games, board games, games requiring no equipment, and options for the playground.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE Personal & Family Values. This printable provides a great opportunity for your family to explore and identify values that can help guide you and your children in making the right choices.
Educational Digital Games
Though there are benefits to outdoor play over screen time, all parents know sometimes you need to allow screen time so you can keep one eye on your tasks and one eye on your kids.
Instead of enduring the sounds of that TV show all day—you know the one! —consider giving one of these computer or mobile games a try.
ABCmouse.com is a site with educational games for kids. It has over 10,000 activities to teach children between ages two and eight about art, math, science, and reading. It has won awards from both parent and teacher organizations and you can find dozens of testimonials in its favor.
One unique educational game offering is typing: unlike in years past, typing isn't often taught in schools—despite most standardized tests requiring the skill. Thankfully, ABCYa can help teach your child this necessary skill.
ABCYa offers free and paid subscription options.
Alt: Kahoot game open on a cell phone screen. It says Kahoot at the top, then has four squares of different colors so players can answer questions.
Unlike the other games on this list, Kahoot! offers both pre-made games and the option of creating your own. (As a bonus, they have an entire set of growth mindset lessons ready to go, which you can use to supplement your materials from Big Life Journal!)
This trivia game allows learners to play on their computer, phone, or tablet. Players sign into a game using a unique code and answer questions as quickly as possible. You can add explanations of answers between each question, too, making it a good way to study for tests.
Kids can also create their own Kahoot! trivia sessions, allowing them to create the best educational game for kids in their class.
With users in over 200 countries, this site and app are among the most popular educational game platform in the world.
The Oregon Trail App
Alt: Screenshot from new Oregon Trail app game showing settlers with an ox and covered wagon walking through a green field on a sunny day with a rainbow in the sky
The Oregon Trail has been one of the most popular educational games for kids for decades. In addition to learning about U.S. history, children also learn how to make decisions about money, safety, and resources.
The game has undergone many innovations over the years. The most recent version was created in collaboration with Indigenous historians to help make the game more historically accurate and lessen stereotypes about Native Americans.
You can find several older versions online (without the recent accuracy and inclusivity updates), but the newest one is available for Apple devices.
Educational Board Games
Whether cooperative or competitive, board games of all stripes can be educational. They teach how to be good winners, good "losers," and, with cooperative games, teamwork.
Board games can also help children (and adults) improve their spelling, math, and deduction skills. Whether you’re hosting a family game night or a fun classroom activity, consider playing one of these educational board games for kids.
Scrabble is one of the best educational games for kids because it challenges their spelling skills while also teaching them patience. While playing, kids need to learn to control their frustrations when they have only vowels to play with.
Scrabble is available in a variety of languages, too. So if you're teaching a Spanish class, for instance, it could be a good way to get your kids thinking about language in a new way.
The original Codenames game is competitive and collaborative, allowing players to work on both sets of skills simultaneously. Players also must make creative connections between words to win, expanding vocabulary and problem-solving skills.
Since the original version was released, Codenames has seen many spin-offs from its creator, Czech Games. These include options with just pictures, themed after brands like Disney, as well as a two-person version. No matter which version you choose, the educational value of these games remains.
Yahtzee teaches math, logic, and the ability to make educated guesses. So, whether you are playing a family game, teaching math, or learning about probability, this educational game for kids and adults may help.
This game also offers a variety of themed Junior editions, including Toy Story 3 and Spongebob Squarepants. As with Scrabble, they offer an app version called Yahtzee With Buddies on both Android and Apple.
Educational DIY Games
DIY games are any games that require no equipment—or at least no equipment you wouldn't usually have on hand. Most of these games can be played indoors or outdoors, assuming you have enough room inside. (In schools, you might play these games in the gym, in an empty cafeteria, on the playground, or on an auditorium stage.)
With these educational games for kids, you can teach a variety of skills at no cost to you. In addition, they are highly interactive and usually allow you to create "house rules," meaning you can alter them to your liking since there isn't a rule book to follow. What's not to love?
Red Light, Green Light
In Red Light, Green Light, children practice active listening, watching for nonverbal cues, and gross and fine motor skills.
Here’s how it’s played:
- A leader stands at the front. They face away from the group and yell "green light" when they want the group to move to tag them.
- Then, they call out "red light" as they begin to turn (no turning before yelling the phrase!), and the group must freeze.
- Finally, the leader looks for anyone moving, even slightly (blinking and sneezing are okay), and sends them back to the starting line.
- The first person to tag the leader or reach a set line on the ground wins and becomes the new leader.
A variation in this game involves giving the players a "style" in which to move. For instance, they all have to move like dinosaurs, birds, or anything else you can imagine. This doesn't typically involve new ways to get "out" (though you can add that layer if you want, in a way that works for your group). However, it adds novelty and creativity many children enjoy.
Simon Says, a classic educational game for kids, teaches listening skills, quick-thinking, and dexterity.
Here’s how to play:
- One student is "Simon," and they say, "Simon says do [X] ."
- Usually, a player is "out" if they're the last one to get into position or do the action.
- If "Simon" didn't say to stop doing the previous task, the players must add the new position or action to the first one.
- Additionally, if "Simon" didn't start with "Simon says…", the kids who do (or start to do) the motion or pose are out.
For larger or more advanced groups, here is a variation:
- “Simon” can say, "in groups of [Y] , create [X] " (e.g., "In groups of four, create an octopus").
- In this version, kids are out if they don't find a group or they can base who gets out on who created the "best [X] ."
- This variation, better for older learners, allows kids to learn not to take things personally—someone must get out every round, and sometimes it might have to be them.
You don't need to have any theatre background to teach improvisation (improv) games. You just need to be willing to make yourself look a bit silly, as active participation from adults—at least at the beginning—helps kids feel more comfortable.
There are hundreds of improv games available, all of which you can adapt for your children's needs. Improv offers some of the best educational games for kids because it helps with social skills, thinking on one's feet, and learning to laugh at yourself and with others.
Instead of going through a long list of games, here are a few resources to help you find the right options for your children:
- Beat by Beat Press
- Drama Notebook
- 101 Drama Games for Children (book)
- Teachers Pay Teachers: Drama Bundle (aimed at middle and high schoolers)
Educational Playground Games
Whether it's time for recess, a trip to the park, or even just playing in backyards, in most cases, these games must be played outside. While there are plenty of outdoor games that could be DIYs, such as tag or hide and seek, the ones below are some of our favorite educational playground games for kids.
Follow the Leader: Playground Edition
Follow the leader can help improve motor skills, attention skills, and empathy. The motor and attention skills have to do with following the leader precisely. The empathy skills come from the leader and classmates taking what they know about each other and, without calling others out, choosing actions and paths everyone can follow.
This variation involves kids using playground equipment. Students follow each other upstairs, down slides, across monkey bars, and so forth.
Skipping Rope Games
There are dozens of jump rope games and activities, all of which work on children's dexterity, physical fitness, focus, and stamina.
Kids can learn the joys of playing alone from solo jump rope games, either with or without competition. Group jump rope games allow a lot of opportunity for collaboration, learning people's nonverbal cues, and chances to try again when things go wrong.
For a fun educational twist, you can hold a jump rope spelling bee where the jumper must spell a word, one letter at a time with each hop. You can also use jump roping as a fun way to practice counting for younger children or multiplication series for older kids.
Spelling ball is a simple educational game that encourages teamwork and creativity while teaching your kids how to spell. You can use Spelling ball to practice your class' spelling words or leave it more free form.
Here’s how it works:
- Children sit or stand in a circle. Child 1 holds a ball (or soft toss-able object)
- Child 1 says a letter and tosses the ball to another child
- The next child adds on a letter and passes the ball to another, and so on until a complete word is spelled
- The goal is to correctly spell out complete words, working together to create as many as possible
- Child 1 says “T” and passes to Child 2
- Child 2 says “O” and passes to Child 3
- Child 3 says “Y”, completing the word “TOY”, and earning the group a point
You can make the game more difficult by requiring that each word have a minimum of four or five letters.
You could also do versions of this game that target different educational areas. With each pass of the ball, kids might count by fives, name a U.S. state, or recite the words of a poem—whatever works for you.
On top of practicing academic skills, Spelling Ball helps kids work on hand-eye coordination because it involves tossing a ball and maintaining focus. After all, they never know when the ball may come to them.
The Importance of Games in Learning
Games not only provide a much-needed break from life's pressures, but they also incorporate academic, social, and emotional education skills without kids realizing they are still in class.
As most games require kids to interact with one another, they can help with social anxiety, learn how to treat others well when they win or lose a game, and develop a growth mindset.
Games aren't the only effective addition to kids' learning needs, though. Arts and crafts, music and movement, and more are good options for enhancing children's skills.