Brain boosting memory games are not just for us absent minded parents! No, no, no. Memory games for kids are as important for growing brains as crossword puzzles are for aging ones.
Think about it, growing brains are working hard. They have a lot of new pathways to create, a lot of emotions to manage and new experiences to make sense of. I don’t pretend to be a child development expert but I know that when my kids start to loose control I can often reign them in with a basic brain exercise like a memory game or a kids matching game.
Truly, these games are like crack sometimes. They can’t get enough. And it distracts them from their antsy behavior. Win-win.
Simple memory games for kids are also a useful screen-free tool for parents. Not only are they brain-stretchers, but they are great boredom busters. Many of these memory games for kids can be added to your repertoire of waiting games. In case you missed it… my 20 waiting games for kids that can be played anywhere was an overnight sensation! (Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a wee bit. But it did strike a chord with a lot of parents!)
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Memory Games for Preschoolers on up
These games are not just for preschoolers, they can all be adapted for different age groups. My 7 and 11 year old still enjoy playing these memory games with me.
Set up a line of coins. Start with 3 and work up to 10. Place the coins in a random pattern of heads or tails. Child stares at coins for 10 seconds. Parent removes coins and hands to child who attempts to arrange them in the same order. Make this more difficult by using different types of coins.
Line up three paper cups. Place a small object under one cup. While child watches closely, switch the cups back and forth into new positions. Ask the child where the object is.
What did I change?
Have your child take stock of what you look like then close their eyes. Change one thing about your appearance, such as untie a shoe, take off one earring, etc. Child opens eyes and tries to identify what changed.
If you’re tired of handing the kid your phone to “keep them quiet,” Sign up to get a free printable of my waiting games that can be played anywhere.
Storytelling Memory Games
These games might not tell a literal story, but they are based on memorizing chains of events or images which are connected to how we process stories. These memory games are fantastic as on the go boredom busters. Pair them with my list of waiting games for kids and you will never hear “when is it going to be our turn??” again. (Well, maybe.)
Simon. I love watching my kids play this game. Not only does it bring back memories of playing it when I was a child, but I know they are working that brain of theirs. They think they are having screen-time, but I know differently! There are also small versions of Simon that hang from a carabiner clip, for on-the-go fun.
Retell a story.
There are several ways to approach this story game. When you are on the go, start to retell a favorite story. Variations include:
- Taking turns with sentences, or plot points.
- Omitting sections of the story and asking kids what you forgot.
- Have the child retell the story from memory.
Storytelling word by word.
Start a story with a single word. The next player says that word and builds the story with another word. The next player says the first two word and ads a third, and so on. Alternatively you can build sentence by sentence. Tip: keep sentences short.
Memorize a poem.
There is little more satisfying in life that reciting a poem you have memorized. Take a small poetry book with you on the go to work on memorization while you are out. Or, memorize the poem at home and take turns reciting poems to entertain the world while you are standing in line at the grocery store. See tips for memorizing poems with kids, and classic poems kids can memorize.
Image Memory Story.
Stare at a image in a magazine for 10 seconds. The child makes up a story incorporating as many details from the image as she can. If she gets stuck, parent can ask prompts as questions, such as “what blue object did you see?”
Choose a topic, such as food. The first person says a word, the second person says that word plus his own, the third person says the first two words plus her own, and so forth, continue until someone can no longer remember the word chain.
One person starts a pattern using snaps or claps. The others must repeat the pattern. The first person then adds on to the pattern and the others must repeat this longer pattern. Play continues until no one can remember the pattern.
Memory Matching Games
DIY paper plate memory games. Make your own matching memory game with a inexpensive package of paper plates. Simply create matching pairs of plates. Ideas include:
- Letters. Draw an upper case letter on one plate and the corresponding lower case on another.
- Numbers. Draw sets of numbers. To make it more challenges draw the numeral on one plate and the quantity on another. So the numeral 4 would be matched to a plate with 4 dots, for example.
- Shapes. Paste on colored cutouts of shapes.
- Animals. Cut out photos from magazines. Photos don’t necessarily have to match.
- Rhyming words and images. See it in action at Growing Book by Book
Classic Memory board game. Since the current version of the “original” memory card game doesn’t look anything like the set I had as a kid, I will steer you towards this wonderful “I Never Forget a Face” version.
Nature matching game from Rhythms of Play. Gather objects from the natural world and small containers or caps to remember the beauty of a nature walk long after you returned home.
See also the printable memory games, below.
Memory Games for Toddlers
Place 10 items from your purse on the table in front of you. Have kids try to memorize items for 10 seconds. While their eyes are closed remove 1-3 items. After opening their eyes, kids try to remember what is missing.
Heads, shoulders, knees and toes, or any other songs. Toddlers are natural singers and it is great practice for exercising their memory! So simple and entertaining.
Rhyming games. In the same way that singing songs is great memory practice, so is rhyming. There are lots of ways you can build their memorization skills at the same time you are getting in some high quality literacy learning. See these rhyming games for kids. Growing Book by Book is also an incredible resource for rhyming games for toddlers.
Matching pairs hide and seek sensory game from The Imagination Tree.
Match colors. Make a simple classic matching memory game for toddlers using bottle caps. Collect large caps and color the underside in pairs of matching colors. For toddlers I’d recommend 2-3 pairs to starts with.
Printable Memory Games
Free ocean creatures memory game from Simple Fun for Kids
Printable math facts memory game from Life over C’s. Kim has several themed version of math facts memory game.
Back to school match from Playdough to Plato.
Transportation match from The Measured Mom.
Robot match from Brain Power Boy
Animal match up. There are several versions, depending on your child’s interests.
Long “a” matching game from The Measured Mom. Practice phonics sounds by matching words to pictures.
- Thinking games for kids
- Tongue twisters: the ultimate boredom buster
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- Practice memorizing strategies with the triangle solitaire game (printable included), and Pentalpha.