Games and Activities to Play With 3-Year-Olds

summer portrait of a 9 year old image by ennavanduinen from

A 3-year-old child is a bundle of energy, eager to explore the world with all of her senses. She yearns to use her newly developed large motor skills to run, jump and play organized games. Cognitively, she is beginning to identify basic shapes and colors, has a vivid imagination and enjoys pretend play. These games will allow the 3-year-old to be physically active, explore her senses, use her imagination and develop her vocabulary.

Play a Sensory Matching Game

Collect a variety of items with distinctive scents such as a lemon, cinnamon, baby powder, coffee grounds or a peppermint candy cane. Put each item in a plastic margarine tub that has holes poked in its lid. Find photos of each item from magazines or the Internet. Ask your 3-year-old to smell each tub, try to guess the item inside and then put a photo of the item next to the appropriate tub.

Catch Paper Butterflies

Author Jean Warren suggests playing a game called "Butterfly Catch." You will need construction paper in different colors and a toy butterfly net; a large strainer will work, too. Cut five to eight butterfly shapes out of construction paper and fold each butterfly in half. To play the game, throw a butterfly into the air and ask your child to catch it with the net or strainer. After she is able to catch one paper butterfly, make it more challenging by throwing several butterflies.

Build a Blanket Fort

This easy activity requires no special equipment and yet provides hours of play. Assemble large sheets and blankets, cushions and pillows near two tables or a table and a counter. Drape the blankets between the two tables and weigh them down with pillows or cushions to prevent them from falling. Cover all sides of the tables except one, which will serve as the fort's door. Put remaining blankets and pillows inside the fort for comfortable seating. Have a picnic lunch or tea party in the fort, or even allow your child to take her afternoon nap in it!

Play the Shape Game

This activity is similar to the classic children's game of "Duck, Duck, Goose." Cut 5" x 7" circles, squares and triangles from construction paper for each child playing the game. Select one person to be the "shape seeker." Ask the rest of the children to sit in a circle and place their shape in front of them. To play, the shape seeker walks around the outside of the circle, tapping each child's head and naming each shape while she moves. She purposely identifies one shape incorrectly. The person with that shape jumps up and chases her around the circle. He tries to tag her before she gets back to his place in the circle. If she is not caught, the chaser becomes the new shape seeker. If she is caught, she continues to be the shape seeker.