I have a 3-year-old daughter. As she's grown since her birth, I've come to love the opportunity to introduce the world to her and to help her make sense of it. This desire has also been the driving force behind why I founded Wonder Workshop.
I want to share five games we play in our household that require no material, paper, pen or equipment of any kind. These can be played sitting in the car -- or on the toilet seat, for that matter. The purpose for the games was to come with entertaining ways for me to engage my kids and to challenge them. And it is just as fun and interesting to have the kids come back with a challenge of their own.
1. I spy. This is a very common game, of course. It is, however, still a game that kids never tire of and can be modified in different ways to make it interesting. We often integrate numbers, letters, colors, shapes and categories into the banter. For example, I'd ask my daughter if she could spy something tall and green, or round and black. This is a game she warmed to very quickly and routinely surprises me with her challenges for me -- as she weaves in her newfound vocabulary in as well ("I spy a big, humongous tree").
2. Odd one out. We started playing this game recently, and it has become our favorite game. We play this when I drop her off at school, while dining or going for a walk. There's no end to the kind of variations you can bring in to both challenge and entertain them. You can discover your kids' limits and often be surprised by how much they already are capable of. These also create great opportunities for conversation topics. For example, I'd ask her to pick an odd one out between lake, river, ocean and forest. It then becomes a conversation about all the different water bodies, small and large. Or, I'd ask her to pick an odd one out from a sparrow, a pigeon, a hummingbird and a penguin -- and it will become a topic about how penguins are really birds, but they can't fly.
3. What letter does this word start with? Both my wife and I love to read. My favorite activity on vacations is to find down time to catch up on books. We want to pass this love for books on to our kids, and we use all opportunities to do so. We've read books to our kids since they were 6 months old. I can't wait for them to read books on their own. I started engaging my daughter since before her third birthday on a game that helps her figure out what letters in the alphabet a sound relates to. She didn't yet recognize letters, and I wanted to only use the sounds. So the game we started playing was: what letter does she think a word would start with? For example, what does 'kangaroo' start with? In the beginning, I needed to break it down for her: "It starts with 'ka' and therefore it is the letter 'k'." She picked it up quickly, and we've now started to progress towards trying to spell the full word out. That's still work in progress though.
4. Number games. Math was my favorite subject growing up. I loved studying computer science because it felt closer to math and logic than other subjects. Naturally, as our kids grow up, I want to share that love with them too. "Number games" were the first games we started of the ones I list here. The first one was counting, of course. We've introduced simple arithmetic ("I have three oranges, and if I give two to you, how many will I be left with?"). I've started introducing simple series (e.g., 2,4,6,8 -- what comes next?), counting backwards etc. I've sometimes discovered that some of these may be too advanced for her at times: e.g., I've tried to introduce the series a few times, but didn't make much progress until more recently. When I see her struggle and disengage, I discard the specific problem and pick it up again in a few weeks.
5. Let's make a story. Most kids I know love telling stories. I love opportunities to engage them with open-ended scenarios that they can build on, and I can chime in. Sometimes I'll make up the full story and characters (e.g., a story about a giraffe who gets sick and sees the doctor and then finds out that he is actually a monkey), and then later prompt her to introduce those characters back into a new story (e.g., who will the zebra go to when it gets hurt?). We take a story and change it, and I let her twist it and tell in their own words. I am always amazed at the imagination little kids have, and how it can come to life.
So here you are -- five simple games that I play with my preschooler, that we both enjoy. As a parent, I hope it encourages her curiosity about the world around her.