Word games have the advantage of being both boredom busters and literacy boosters. There is a word game out there for every child and situation. Whether it’s a spoken word game for impromptu play on a rainy day or an online word game when you’re out and about, we’ve got you covered.
We’ve got online games to play on the go, word game printables, and board games as well as the traditional games you played as a kid.
Classic Word Games for Kids
This list of classic word games begins with those you can play verbally, without any preparation.
Then we move onto those that can be played spontaneously but need a pen or pencil and paper.
A perennial classic, I-Spy can be played with kids of all ages and interests. The “spy” begins by saying “I-Spy, with my little eye, something beginning with….” and the other players must guess what the item is. The first person to guess correctly becomes the spy.
For younger children, you can adapt the game by “spying things” of a particular color.
I Went To The Zoo
To begin, the first person says, “I went to the zoo and I saw a…” and they choose an animal. The next person says “I went to the zoo and I saw a …” and they say the first player’s animal and then add one of their own. Players take turns until someone recites the string of animals incorrectly.
You can play by either:
- Using a single letter. If you choose L, all of the animals would begin with L.
- Using all of the letters of the alphabet, in order. So the first person chooses an animal beginning with A, the second an animal beginning with B, and so on.
For older children, you can restrict the animals from a particular continent or eco-system. To be able to play with younger kids, your child will need to learn the alphabet or at least some of the letters and their sounds.
The Prime Minister’s Cat
To play The Prime Minister’s Cat, children should have a vocabulary large enough to include plenty of adjectives.
The first player begins by saying, “The Prime Minister’s Cat was a ?? Cat” and they add an adjective beginning with A. You might say “The Prime Minister’s Cat was an attentive cat.” The next player repeats the process, but with the letter B, and so on.
Hink Pink is a word rhyming game. The first player thinks of two words which rhyme, such as “Big Rig” but they do not tell the other players what their words are.
The player then gives a clue to their words. So, using “Big Rig,” the clue might be “large truck.” Other players must then try to guess the rhyming pair.
The first person to guess then takes a turn. This game is best suited for those 4 years and older.
To play this game, the first player says they’re going to the store to buy X, and names a grocery item. They then turn to the player on their left and ask if they “want anything at the store.”
The second player must ask for something that begins with the last letter of the previous item. If the first item is dog food the next person chooses something beginning with D.
The first player then says “OK, I need” and lists the two items. This continues until the “shopper” makes a mistake on their list. The shopper’s role then passes to the person on their left.
Words In Words
Each player needs a pencil and paper. One player chooses a word and everyone writes it down. Players then write down as many words as they can within an agreed-upon time limit, using the letters in the first word.
One point is awarded for each correct word, and the winner is the one with the most points.
This game is best for children who are at least in their early elementary school years. Adjust the game difficulty to match the age of the players.
Each player has a pencil and paper, and one player chooses a word. Players then write down as many words as they can think of, which have the same meaning as the chosen word. Everyone gets a point for each word and the person with the most points wins.
This is better suited for middle school students and older.
Each player is given a pen and paper. All players take turns to think of a category such as animals. Each player writes down as many of those things they can think of in a set time.
The winner is the person with the most items.
A child must be able to write to participate in this game. If you want to play with younger children, you can do an oral version where you write down their answers in a separate room from the other players, so they don’t hear the answers.
Make it more difficult for older children by narrowing the category, such as animals that begin with the letter P.
Mouse And Cheese
Begin by drawing a zig-zag line to represent steps. Then draw a mouse at the bottom of the steps.
One player thinks of a word and draws a series of dashes, one for each letter. Other players take turns naming a letter. If they’re correct the letter is written on the corresponding dash.
If the guess is incorrect, you draw an arrow to represent the mouse climbing the stairs. The first player to guess the word wins, or, if the mouse gets to the top, the game is over.
Give each player a basic ladder diagram with a word of your choice at the top. Players then change one letter to make a new word and write the new word on the next rung. The winner is the person who gets furthest down the ladder.
Make the game more difficult by writing one word at the top, one at the bottom, and challenging your child to get from one to the other by changing a letter at a time.
Word Board Games for Kids
There’s an extensive variety of word-based board games for kids. They range from basic junior versions of well-known family board games to quirky high-energy games played with word or letter tiles.
We’ve also thrown in a couple of card tricks rather than board games, but they’re both so good we couldn’t leave them off the list.
Boggle Junior consists of a set of stands, 30 word and picture cards, and eight dice with a letter on each face. You can play one of four ways, each of which helps to build a different literacy skill. Begin with the letter matching and work up to the spelling game.
This game is best suited for those who are 3 to 6 years.
Zingo Sight Words
Each player is given a Zingo card. Push the slider on the Zingo machine to deliver two tiles. If a tile matches a square on their card, the player calls out and is given the tile.
The first player to cover all of the words on their card wins. The best age range for this game is 3 to 6 years.
On one side of the board, players take turns to match their tiles to pre-written words and move their token one place per point. The first to the finish wins.
On the reverse, there is a board with a blank grid for a more traditional game of Scrabble, but without the double and triple score options.
The recommended age range is 4 to 8 years.
This award-winning game for 3 to 13 players builds listening skills as well as vocabulary.
A player reads out the definition of a word, from one of the Blurt! cards. The first person to “Blurt” out the correct word moves their game piece along the board.
This game is best for those 4 years and older.
Players take turns to match the letter on one of their cards to the initial sound of a picture on the board. When they do, the player places one of their tokens on the picture. The object is to get five tokens in a row, which is not as easy as it sounds.
Children ages 4 to 7 years are best suited for this game.
Players use tiles to make as many words as possible in a crossword-style grid. The beauty of this game is that speed is more important than having a large vocabulary or strategically arranging tiles on a board.
For regular Bananagrams, the suggested player age is 7 years or older. For Bananagrams Jr., players can be 4 years and older.
To play, one of the 20 pre-printed word search puzzle discs is placed in the game board. The board is then rotated to reveal one of the words hidden on the disc. Players must then race to find the hidden word and lay their colored markers along it before anyone else.
This game is recommended for players 7 years and older.
Each player starts with seven tiles. The first player lays them on the board to make a word and the next player adds some of their own tiles to make another word. Unlike Scrabble, you can stack tiles on top of each other.
Points are awarded for each tile laid. The recommended age for this game is 8 years and older.
A challenging spelling game for 2 to 8 players, Wordical players are dealt a hand of random consonants cards. Roll the vowel dice and the players must use the letters on the dice and the cards in their hand to make words.
The player with the highest scoring word wins the round. Wordical is best suited for those 8 years and older.
Quiddler Word Game
The great thing about Quiddler is it can be played together by children and adults. It is also highly portable, so it’s well-suited for travel.
It’s often compared to Scrabble with cards instead of tiles, but we find Quiddler much friendlier and more relaxed than its distant board game cousin.
It’s a game best suited for 8 years and older.
Printable Word Games for Kids
Looking for some informal and fun learning opportunities? Or if you need low cost or no-cost resources for homeschooling or a way to keep your child’s brain nimble, printable word games are an excellent literacy booster.
They are portable, and you can reprint them as many times as you like. Most of these are best for school-aged children.
You can find word searches that are suitable for kids of all ages and interests. These staples of the word game world also range in difficulty. There are simple versions that only have words written forwards, horizontally and vertically, and harder ones that hide the words backward and diagonally.
Print out a list of mixed-up words, then challenge your child to rearrange the letters and discover what they should say.
My top tip is to look for sheets that have lots of room for your child to try writing down the letters in different arrangements. This is especially useful for kids new to anagrams.
Setting up word ladders can take a bit of time and effort, especially if you’re using longer words. If you don’t have the time or the inclination, there are numerous printable word ladders to be found online. However, they are usually for younger children.
Part word game and part undercover shenanigans, secret codes are a good choice for kids who are not yet confident with their independent reading and writing skills.
Rather than requiring them to know how to spell, these substitution codes help your child to focus on the process of replacing symbols with letters.
Print on cardstock and you have a game that can be played in two ways.
With option one, play it like a traditional bingo game with a caller and kids covering up the words they have to make a line. With option two, let your child tick off the words as they hear them while watching a show.
Sight Word I-Spy
We are especially fond of this example of printable I-Spy because of the empty space on the side of the sheet. This large blank space gives our kids room to write down the items they find. They can then focus on finding the other item to make the rhyming pair.
Free-form Mad Libs you write yourself can be fun, but they can also take time to prepare. If your child expresses an interest in doing a Mad Lib activity, and you don’t have the time to prepare, printable Mad Libs can be a life-saver.
They’re also great if your kids have interests that would make a good Mad Libs theme, but you don’t know enough to create one yourself.
Although you can play Boggle alone, it’s more fun with family and friends. Consequently, suggesting your child makes words alone with the Boggle game can fall flat. That’s where printable Boggle comes in.
It’s the same principle, but for some reason, it doesn’t fall flat in the same way as a solo game of “proper” Boggle.
A word match printable can be simple, with words down one side and pictures down the other.
Using a printable that has more complex words to match to pictures can help your child make the leap from sounding out the entire word to making an educated guess based on the initial letter sound.
Again, you can find printable crosswords for kids of all ages and abilities. Beginners can have crosswords with pictures as clues and three-letter answers while older kids can have direct written clues and answers.
Finally, for those with a strong vocabulary, you can try crosswords with complex and or cryptic clues.
Online Word Games for Kids
While we should keep our kids’ screen time within suitable limits, it doesn’t mean all screen time is bad. Spending time with your child while they use educational apps and other online resources also helps them learn healthy online use habits (1).
We have chosen ten games that are free, and do not require any memberships or sign-ups to play.
Audio Words presents a series of cards on the screen. Kids click a card, the card turns over, and the game reads aloud the word on the card. You then click a second card and the same thing happens.
The aim of the game is to find matching pairs. It’s excellent for emerging readers.
To play Word Wipe, children have to click on letter blocks in a grid and then link them to adjoining letter blocks to form a word. Once used, the letters disappear and the blocks above fall down to fill the gap. The game gets progressively harder as children work through the levels.
Start the game and a series of dashes appear. Try to guess the letters that go in the place of each dash, before the time runs out. A box on the screen lets you see which letters you have used and the game gets progressively harder in response to a win.
This game does require Adobe Flash Player.
This is a bright, colorful, animated crossword game for kids in second grade. The answer to every clue is the name of an animal which narrows down the possibilities for kids who are overwhelmed by crosswords without a subject focus.
Crosswords are randomly generated so it can be played multiple times. It also requires Flash Player.
PBS has an entire page of word games for kids, each of which is linked to a specific PBS children’s program. This is useful if you have a reluctant learner who is a fan of a particular show.
However, you don’t have to have watched a program to play the associated game.
Open Free Words and you are met with a game board that has six letters. Above the game board, there are a series of columns with a space for each word you can make from the letters provided. See how many of the words you can make before the timer runs out.
Word Hunter is an online word search game with three levels of difficulty. This game is one of many educational games by CBC, the Canadian national broadcaster.
Games are themed and categorized which makes it easy to find something for your sports fan, animal lover, or budding adventurer, no matter what their literacy level.
Free Rice is a site hosted by the United Nations World Food Program. This game tests your child’s vocabulary by providing a word and four possible definitions. If the correct definition is chosen, rice lands in a food bowl, and the object of the game is to fill the bowl.
Another incentive to play this game is that your child will be feeding the hungry as they play. For every right answer, a small donation is made to fight world hunger.
Press play and the game will generate a 4×4 grid of letters. Your child highlights letters to make a word and presses enter. The number of letters determines the points awarded.
There is a three-minute timer, so there is an element of pressure that some children enjoy, but others don’t.
This multi-level game combines anagrams with a puzzle strategy for kids from kindergarten to grade 5.
A series of letters appear in circles at the top of the game area. They slowly sink to the ground while the player swaps pairs of letters with each other. The aim is to get the letters in the correct order before they hit the ground.
Benefits of Word Games for Kids
Literacy is about much more than being able to read and write. It is about understanding that words are labels and then knowing how to use those words to convey information, our thoughts, and our feelings (2).
Word games can help our kids lay the foundation for reading and writing, but they also help to develop the vocabulary to express themselves clearly and precisely.
Any game that helps a child focus, take turns, learn to live with losing, manage frustration, and consider others can only be a good thing.
Not Just A Game
Games were once considered a simple way to pass the time.
Now we know there can be significant social, emotional, and cognitive benefits for children who play games.
By providing word games for kids, you are not just putting an educational twist on a frivolous activity.
You are helping your child become a healthier, more rounded human being. And that’s something to feel good about.