Puzzles and board games are an excellent way to not only connect with your child but also stimulate their mind by helping them learn and hone essential skills like problem-solving.
I introduced my daughter to puzzles when she was around two years old. It took a little bit of time for my daughter to get into puzzles, and admittedly she was quite frustrated initially, but after she successfully completed her first puzzle, she was hooked.
At around three, she started to play her first board games. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find appropriate ones for her age but surprisingly, there are a lot!
In this article, I will be sharing puzzles and board games that my daughter enjoyed and that I would recommend to other parents, as well as ones I would like to buy her in the future (or just wish I could buy for her because we only have so much space!). Note that this list includes both Japanese and English games.
Of course, it should go without saying that you should supervise your child if they’re doing puzzles or playing games as the pieces can be small and a choking hazard.
Puzzles for Toddlers and Children in Japan
This type of wooden puzzle is timeless and if you’re like me, may remind you of your childhood. It’s easy for even babies to pick up the pieces and try to match them to their correct spots.
You can also teach your kids about the names of the items and their colors in both English and Japanese! And with Bornelund, you know you’re getting high quality for the price.
These best-selling puzzles by Kumon are great for beginners, especially as they have different difficulty levels depending on age and come with more than one puzzle. The one pictured above comes with eight!
Kids can start trying out these puzzles from as young as age one, as shown in the puzzle below.
When my daughter was having trouble with puzzles and getting increasingly frustrated, we decided to get her two of these. The puzzles are very easy for beginners and she loved Anpanman, so it was perfect to get her motivated to try. The easiest puzzle in the set has only two pieces, so it’s simple for little ones to master before trying to put more pieces together.
I also really like the price, especially for the quality! Two years later and although my daughter has leveled up in terms of puzzles, still plays with this (my daughter is next to me as I write this and she shouted, “This is my puzzle!”).
This is another simple puzzle set for kids, which my daughter also started out with. It comes with four different puzzles, three of which are simply focused on matching the shapes of different characters or items. You can also connect all four puzzles together!
My only complaint is that the box it comes in is flimsy and ours is pretty busted and barely holds the puzzles inside of it.
When your child has mastered the easier puzzles, they can start to move on to more difficult ones, such as Kodomo Jigsaw Puzzles. These come with a varying range of pieces and are recommended for different age ranges.
My daughter has the Disney Princess one pictured above, which comes with 70 pieces. It’s recommended for ages 4 to 7, but my daughter was able to do this puzzle on her own from age three.
My daughter has the pictured Frozen jigsaw puzzle set, recommended for ages three and up, and there are so many things I like about it. It comes with three different puzzles —42 pieces, 56 pieces, and 63 pieces. It also has a guide for each one, so it’s great for kids moving on to more challenging puzzles.
These types of puzzles in a frame are commonly seen for sale. I got my daughter the Paw Patrol one because she’s a huge fan of the show. I also found some プリキュア (Pretty Cure) ones on sale for 99 yen!
It took a while for my daughter to be able to get into these because the pieces don’t fit together nicely like jigsaw puzzles and she was frustrated by how they moved around a lot. I am also not a fan of how these puzzles don’t come in a box so it’s easier to lose pieces, especially if your kid knocks it over, unless you put them in a ziplock bag.
However, despite that my family is not the biggest fan of these puzzles, it’s worth trying one out because your child might respond positively to it, not to mention it’s budget-friendly. There are tons of different kinds of puzzles to try out, like Sumikkogurashi, Pretty Cure, and dinosaurs.
Although my daughter isn’t a fan of Sun Star Stationary’s frame puzzles, she does love their jigsaw puzzles, and we have several. These 40-piece puzzles come in a compact box and the pieces are big and easy to handle. From age three, she did several of these puzzles a day and still does them to this day.
BEVERLY has a ton of puzzles for all age ranges/levels of difficulty. I think once children have mastered the aforementioned puzzles, they can move on to these 100-piece ones. They’re recommended for ages five and up but of course, younger children can try them out, especially if you help.
My daughter has this ocean creatures one and although it’s difficult to do on her own, we have a lot of fun completing it as a family. (I’m a bit surprised about the low reviews for this particular puzzle, but no one explained their low rating). I’m hoping to get her some Pokemon ones in the future.
Board Games for Toddlers and Children in Japan
HABA is a German company that makes educational wooden games and toys for kids. I love the quality of their products and the games are simple but fun for small children.
At the moment, my daughter has the unicorn game pictured above in which kids play as unicorns gathering stars as they make their way to the finish line. It’s perfect to introduce your child to games and help them learn about numbers.
This is something we don’t have yet but I think my daughter would really enjoy. Playing as a mouse, you have to gather as much cheese as possible without getting caught by the cat! It’s easy but has fun, tactile pieces.
This game is recommended for ages 4 and up.
This is another game we don’t have but I think it’s a great way for kids to learn about numbers and colors. Kids roll a die and match the number of bugs illustrated on the die (one to three) to the number of frogs on a card. They can also match the color of the frogs to little toy frogs.
ORCHARD TOYS is a company from the UK that makes educational games and puzzles for children. If you go to Bornelund, you’re likely to see their games for sale.
They have a huge selection but at the moment we only have one called Shopping List. My daughter LOVES this game! You choose a shopping list and then, in memory game style, have to find the items on the list from cards that are placed face down. You’re not supposed to share your list with other players but we do just to practice saying what each item is in English.
If your child is a fan of Curious George (おさるのジョージ・Osaru no Jo-ji) then they might enjoy this simple game. The parent reads a card (in Japanese) about what George is doing and other details such as color. The child then selects a card illustrating that scene. What’s nice is that this is compact and portable too, so it’s easy to take on trips. It’s also a great way for both parent and child to practice their Japanese skills (if needed, of course)!
Ubongo is a popular puzzle game somewhat like Tetris where you have to match pieces to the shapes on the board. I think starting off without the timer is best for small children so they can just get a feel of knowing which piece goes where.
This is yet another game I want to get my child (but let’s face it, I only have so much space!). The players have to try to get the mermaids back to Mermaid Island before the Sea Witch does. It’s a cooperative game rather than competitive, which would be good for my daughter as she gets really upset if she loses a game (something she’s working on!).
I also love how colorful the game is!
This is another cooperative game by the same company, MindWare, in which players have to work together to get the owls back to their nest. And how cute are the owls?!
If your child likes to look for treasures like mine does, then they will likely enjoy this I Spy game. Players have to find six items on their cards by digging through a small container filled with different objects. Whoever can find all six items the fastest wins!
In this game, players have to arrange tiles of Pokemon according to a specified pattern. The fastest one wins!
My daughter loves Pokemon recently so I’m very tempted to buy this soon. (I think I should wait until Christmas, though, as she just celebrated her birthday!)
Memory card games have been around for a while and come in many forms, one being this set that I got for my daughter. So that she’s not overwhelmed, we play with half. At first, she wasn’t a fan as it was hard for her to remember where a certain card was. However, I gave her hints and once she started successfully finding and matching cards, she became a huge fan.
One of the best parts about this game is that it’s bilingual! The cards come in both English and Japanese, so after matching, we go over the cards in each language.
Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game where a card is read and the players have to find the matching card. For children, this game is commonly played as a way to learn hiragana. Players in this case have to find the card with the hiragana character that matches the sound of the first hiragana character in the word that was first read. For instance, if the first word in the sentence was くだもの (fruit), then players have to find く.
I haven’t introduced this game to my daughter quite yet as she’s still getting familiar with all 46 hiragana characters but I intend on getting her a set soon.
Note that although there are kids who start learning hiragana from around ages two to three, most children don’t take an interest in it until they are around the age of four. So feel free to introduce your toddler to hiragana (there are a lot of apps and free printable resources online and tons of books at 100 yen stores) but don’t feel that you need to place any pressure on them to learn it as they will in time. After all, we foreign parents did and it’s much harder for us to learn when we’re adults compared to kids!
Are there any puzzles or games not on this list that are available in Japan that you would recommend for small children? Please let me know in the comments!