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Icebreakers for Toddlers

by Jaimie Zinski

Organizing a play date can be tricky enough for toddlers and parents who are well-acquainted with one another, but it might be something else to encourage little ones to play with children they don't know. Teaching toddlers to play simple ice-breaker games featuring age-appropriate directions helps create a friendly, cooperative atmosphere. From a few perennial favorites to games that allow toddlers to express their creativity -- choose a game that keeps the toddlers laughing and engaged with each other.

Red Light, Green Light

A classic game with simple-to-follow-instructions, Red Light, Green Light teaches toddlers how to follow directions without fostering a sense of competition. Begin by lining the toddlers up on one end of the room. Place a "police officer" in the form of a parent or babysitter at the opposite end. Once the toddlers are quiet, the officer yells out "green light." The toddlers are instructed to move forward slowly until the officer yells “red light.” If any of the toddlers take another step forward after “red light” is called, he goes directly to a designated spot in the room. The game continues until one toddler remains.

Hot Potato

Another classic ice breaker is Hot Potato, which teaches children how to follow simple directions while improving their hand-eye coordination. Arrange the toddlers in a circle and hand one the "hot potato," which can be anything soft, from a ball to an actual tuber. Once the music starts, the children are instructed to gently toss the potato to one another until the parent or babysitter turns off the music. The child left holding the ball or potato is taken out of the circle and the play continues until one child is left. Follow the classic rules or include your own directions, such as eliminating a child from the circle who drops the potato.

What's Your Name?

The game What's Your Name? is ideal for toddlers who have never met, or getting to know one another. Arrange the children into a circle and hand one a small rubber ball. Instruct the toddler to say his name and answer a question, such as “What's your favorite color?” or “Do you have a dog?” The child is instructed to then toss the ball to another toddler in the circle. That toddler is instructed to state his name and answer the same question. The game continues until all the children answer the question and state their name. Keep the questions simple, and help any shy toddlers open up and share a fun fact about themselves with the other kids.

Name That Kid

Help break the ice with a group of toddler by playing a quick game of Name that Kid. Place the toddlers in a circle and give them each an object such as a stuffed bear, piece of green construction paper or brightly colored rock. Once everyone has their object, go around the circle and instruct each child to state his name. The game begins when one of the parents or sitters asks the toddler to name the child holding the pink rock. It's OK if the toddler's can't remember -- just give them a little help. Continue to cycle the objects and play the game for two or three rounds. Reward any children who are able to remember another toddler's name with a piece of candy.

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