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Simple Games for Young Children in Large Group Settings

Social interaction and play are important elements of the early learning curriculum. When children are very young, they tend to play side-by-side before learning skills like sharing and turn-taking that enable them to enjoy playing together. One-to-one peer interaction and small group play offers children experiences that eventually equip them for the next step in peer interaction— games that are played in large group settings.

In this article we describe simple games for large groups of early learners that encourage children to practice important social, cognitive, and communication skills.  

The Benefits of Games Played in Large Groups 

When children play games with their peers, they practice a variety of important skills that will help them prepare for social interactions and academic success as they get older. A few of these skills are highlighted below. 

Taking Turns

Many games require young children to wait patiently for their turn. As children wait, they practice patience, listening, and self-regulation. Waiting for their turn can be difficult for young children, since they are still learning to control their bodies and regulate their emotions when things don’t come as quickly as they would like. Group games can help children practice these skills in an enjoyable and engaging setting. 

Following Instructions

Every game is based on some sort of structure with rules that must be followed so that everyone can play together. When we play games with little ones, we encourage them to practice paying attention to directions and following the instructions that they are given. The ability to follow directions is a skill that children will need for academic success in kindergarten and elementary school, and cooperative, large-group games offer a way to make following rules a fun learning experience!


Many group games encourage children to practice alternating between moving their bodies and keeping their bodies still. This kind of instruction encourages children to exercise self-control and self-regulation by stopping, pausing, and waiting patiently as they resist the urge to move and wiggle. Playing stop-and-start movement games gives children a chance to have fun while developing the foundational cognitive skills in impulse control that will serve them well in future social relations and academic settings.

Managing Disappointment

Not all children can be the winners of every game – and that’s a good thing! It is important for children to experience both winning and losing, so that they can practice managing frustration and feelings of disappointment. We want the little ones in our care to be set up for success in all types of situations as they get older. Learning to move on from a loss is a helpful skill for children to acquire at a young age so that they can build the resilience and strength that will help them to pick themselves up after a let-down. 

Simple Games for Young Children in Early Learning Programs

Below are some simple cooperative games that you might want to try in your early learning classroom or program. Each game requires minimal set-up and can be played almost anywhere. And, participating in these games will help children practice a variety of skills that can set them up for success in kindergarten and beyond! 

Duck, Duck, Goose

Almost all preschool teachers have played Duck, Duck, Goose with the children in their care. This game requires no props or materials and can be played with groups of any size. Duck, Duck, Goose helps children practice taking turns as they wait to get chosen as the “goose”. It also invites them to sharpen their observation skills by looking around the circle to try to find the person who is paying the least attention so they have the best chance of getting away before being tagged. Playing this fun game also requires strategic thinking and planning ahead, both of which are important cognitive skills.

Freeze Dance

Freeze Dance is a simple game that requires only one prop: some type of speaker or music player! Turn on children’s favorite songs and encourage them to dance to the music. Pause the music and tell them to freeze! This is a great way for children to practice paying attention, following instructions, and controlling their bodies. Dancing to the music is also a fun activity to get the wiggles out when children seem to have some extra energy built up!


Playing catch by tossing or kicking a ball encourages children to practice turn taking. Once the ball gets passed to them, they will have to pass it on to another person, which helps them to get more comfortable with sharing items with their peers. When the children throw/kick and catch with one another, they practice cooperating, working as a group, and communicating with their peers. 

Red Light, Green Light

Red Light, Green Light is a popular game in many early childhood and elementary classrooms. It is also a great activity for teaching patience. The goal is to be the first person to touch the child who is calling out the “red light” and “green light” commands, without moving during the red lights. In order to reign in the impulse to run forward during the red lights, children will need to listen and keep themselves from running unless they hear “green light”. If they get caught moving during a red light, they have to go back to the starting line, and make an effort to manage their feelings of disappointment and frustration. It’s an exciting play experience that engages important foundational skills!

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