Printable Matching Game: Memory Games For Kids

bug printable matching game

Printable Matching Games For The Win

Want a fun way for your child to improve their memory, cognitive, and fine motor skills plus strengthen their critical thinking? Give them a printable matching game! 

Your kid won’t even know they’re learning when you make it into a fun game they can’t resist. 

A memory matching game is perfect for kids of all ages – from toddlers, preschoolers and even older children. I’ll also cover some variations to the matching games to make it easier for young children, and harder for big kids. 

You probably remember playing Memory (or Concentration) as a kid, but there’s actually lots of different matching games and creative fun ways you can make it interactive and hands-on for your kids. And because these picture matching games are great for a wide range of ages, it makes a great way for your younger children to play with their older siblings.

And the best part? It’s super easy to set up. Let’s check out some printable matching games for toddlers.

Printable game? Super quick and easy. With all of the printable matching games I suggest below, just print, laminate (if you’re feeling extra crafty) and cut. ✂

You *may* even be able to turn this into an independent activity with some of the variations I’ll go through below.

Note: this article contains affiliate links of my recommended products, where I’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you if end up making a purchase

crab pattern matching game
Crab Pattern Matching Game

Benefits of Playing Matching Games with Kids

While your young learners are having so much fun, there’s actually a ton of powerful brain exercise going on when they play matching games. Here are some of the skills you’re helping them practice when they play educational games for kids. Let’s talk about some benefits of matching activities.

Boost their Working Memory Skills

With matching games your kid is improving their working memory – or their ability to hold small amounts of information in their mind in order to complete a task. 

When kids have a good working memory, it makes it SO much easier for them to learn in school. Memorization skills are critical for learning to read, doing math, paying attention and working independently. And a weak working memory is associated with a lot of learning disorders, making it the perfect place to start to help kids who are struggling.

Imagine trying to read if you aren’t able to remember one letter from the next, nor one word from the next. Understanding what it means would be impossible! 

That’s why these printable working memory games are such an important part of your early learners journey.

Build Up Concentration

It takes a lot of practice to sit down and focus on a task.  And this one requires a lot of concentration to be able to play the game. Concentrating can be hard for kids, so it’s great to work in some practice with games.

Concentration is crucial because it makes it possible for them to sit for sustained periods and focus. Just like they need to do in school.

When a kid can’t concentrate, they are less likely to be able to complete tasks.  And when this happens in school, it can cause kids not to find learning very enjoyable and then are less likely to put in the effort. But when they are able to concentrate, then tasks become easier, and they build confidence in themselves and raise their self-esteem, and create internal motivation to learn.

wild animal printable matching game
Wild Animal Printable Matching Game

Practice Visual Discrimination

What’s visual discrimination? It’s just a fancy way of saying we can visually look at something and tell if patterns are the same or different.

And the reason why it’s important is that once we start flexing our visual discrimination skills — we can start to use them to do things like…

↠ see that letters are different from other pictures
↠ see the differences between letters
↠ see the differences between words

All things that are required to learn to read! Making this game perfect to help out early readers.

Refine Fine Motor Skills

From holding the cards, turning them over, and placing them in a stack, your early learner is getting a finger workout with their little hands! All of these movements help young kids build their fine motor skills. Which are important for so many daily activities in their lives, but also critical for learning tasks like learning to write.

Turn Taking & Collaboration

Around age 3, you can start to introduce the concept of turn taking, to make the matching activity into a game. There’s so much goodness to this including – learning patience, understanding rules, following a process, and in general just learning to collaborate with others. 

And if they lose? This is the perfect chance to show them how to be a gracious winner.

Learn New Topics & Build Vocabulary

One fantastic perk to matching games is that it gives you a great opportunity to use the game to bring in other fun educational topics. You can help your kid expand their vocabulary by just switching out the cards.

⚡ Use shapes or colors cards for a fun matching colors game or shape matching game
⚡ Use digit cards to help them work on number recognition. 
⚡ Have a kid who *only* wants to play with dinosaurs? Set up a dinosaur game! 
⚡ Help them learn learn phonics, alphabet matching, letter matching, vowels, consonants, sight words – really the possibilities are endless.

5 Types of Matching Games with Instructions

Now that we know allll the great skills your kiddo is going to learn, let’s dive into the printable games! Here are 5 fun games and how to play them.

1. Memory (or Concentration Game)

So, this is the classic game we played as kids and loved. It’s so simple, but really engaging for kids. I’ve included the classic instructions, followed by an easier variation to adapt it for younger kids.

Classic Version

You’ll need a set of memory game cards (see my list of suggestions below). You can DIY your own set at home, or there are so many already made for you that you can download and print. 

↠ Print 2 sets of cards so that you have a matching pair of each picture. The picture should only be on one side of the card, and the back side of the card should be blank (or the same design on all the cards on the back). 

↠ Place all of the cards face down.

↠ The first player flips over 2 cards.  If they are a matching pair they keep the cards, and get another turn.  If their cards don’t match, then it’s the next player’s turn.

↠ Players keep flipping cards and making matches until all cards are matched. The person with the most matches wins.

Simplified Memory Variation (A Simple Matching Game)

When can toddlers play matching games? If your child is younger than 3, they may need a slightly easier version until they can grasp the concept of turn taking, or build up their concentration abilities. They can start to play this variation around 2 years old.

↠ Print 2 sets of cards. Place 1 set of the cards face down and spread out.  Place the other set in a stack, with the top card facing up.

↠ Show your child how to flip over 1 card from the spread out cards. 

↠ Ask them if it’s a match to the face up card.  If it’s a match, pair up the cards and set them to the side.  If it’s not a match, flip the card back over and flip over a new card from the spread out cards.

↠ Keep working through the stack until all cards are matched.

And, another way to vary the difficulty is to start with a smaller set of cards in the beginning.  And then increase them as your child gets the hang of the things to make it into a more challenging game.

butterfly symmetry matching game
Butterfly Symmetry Matching Game

2. Symmetry Matching Game

Symmetry puzzles are a fun twist on matching, where instead of matching identical pictures, you’re matching one half of a picture to its other half by evaluating its symmetry. 

Butterflies are a wonderful way to do this because they have such unique patterns and are naturally symmetrical.  And all kids love butterflies.

The cards come with 1 image per card, with a line down the center for you to cut it in half. 

You can use the cards in a symmetry matching game, following the same rules as Memory above (classic or simplified).

3. Shadow Matching Puzzles

Shadow puzzles included a detailed photo of an object (i.e. a bird), to be matched with an outline or shadow of the object (i.e. a solid colored version of the same bird). This helps kids look at the overall shape of an object, and is a great activity for younger learners and perfect for learning 2D shapes.

bug printable matching game
Insect Memory Game Printable

4. Close-Up Pattern Matching Games

One of my favorite matching games is pairing up a picture of an object (i.e. an insect) with a close-up detail of that same picture. This really requires close inspection of patterns and builds pattern recognition skills. 

My 3 year old is *obsessed* with looking at things and determining if they are the same or different. All day long.

So this is a particularly fun puzzle for him figure out. 

And you can use the same rules for the Memory game for these close-up patterns as well.

5. Two part puzzles memory game

Another puzzle variation is a two part puzzle, which is just a picture of an object, and it’s cut in half. These are really similar to the symmetry puzzles, but the pictures don’t have to be symmetrical. It requires deduction and logical thinking to look at one side of the puzzle and see if the other side is a match.

And, two part puzzles are another great option to play Memory with!

Creative Play Ideas

If your kid is getting bored with the classic game setup, it’s time to get creative for lots of hands-on activities.  Here are some fun things you can do, taking the fun memory game to a new level:

Create a Sensory Bin

Hide one half of the cards in a sensory bin.  Place the other set of cards spread out, face up next to the bin. Have your kid find the cards in the bin, and match it as they find them.  Variation: have your kid use tongs to get the card out of the bin for extra fine motor practice and a fabulous challenge.

Set up a Scavenger Hunt

Create a scavenger hunt by hiding one set of the cards around the room (or yard!). Place the other set on a table. Have your child find them and match them as they find them.

Make It A Relay Race

Add some gross motor play by turning the matching into a relay race! Place one set of the cards on one side of the yard or room, spread out face up. Then on the other side of the room, stack the cards and have your child grab the one on top and run to other side to match it. Repeat until all cards are matched. Variation: instead of stacking the cards and having your child pick the one on top, spread them all out. Then call out a specific one (i.e. if you’re working with color cards, call out “red” and they have to find the red one). This would also be fun for a small group of kids, or for classroom use.

13 Printable Matching Games and Activities to Download

Now for the games! You can always make your own matching games at home by printing out pictures.  Or you can download a PDF file of pre-made set of cards and print them on your home printer.

There are so many options and here’s where it gets super fun. And, if your child is reluctant to give the game a go, pick something they are really into (i.e. different animals or cars and trucks).

Here are some of my favorites – I love beautiful artwork, watercolor designs or realistic pictures. You won’t find any tacky clip-art here. And, nature inspired designs will always have my heart. If it’s something your kid loves to play with AND it looks beautiful in your home – win win!

printable shapes flash cards

1. Shapes & Colors matching cards

A great set for your toddler or preschooler to start learning shapes and colors through play – straight from Little Moon. These are actually Montessori 3 part cards which are perfect to grow with your child — where you can change the focus from just the picture to picture + text, to just text as your child increases their skills.

baby's first words flashcards

2. Baby’s first words cards

These first words cards by Little Radish would make a great first game to play with your early learner to help them learn their first words. These would be great for the simplified version of Memory, if your child isn’t quite ready for turn-taking. They would also make great cards for a game of matching the card to a real life object.

3. colors in nature matching cards

Real pictures of nature photos that illustrate 10 colors. These cards could be used in so many ways. Print 2 sets for a traditional game of Memory. Or have your child work on their colors by trying to match 2 cards of the same color. You could also have your child match the picture with a solid color control card (included).

Free fall printable

4. Thanksgiving 2 piece puzzles (free fall printable)

These adorable free fall printables from Harbor + Sprout are perfect for setting the cozy fall mood. This free set includes 2 types of cards including 2 piece puzzles and memory match cards.

Emotions 3 Part Cards

5. Emotions memory Game

Teach your toddler or preschooler emotions with these 3 part emotion cards from Tacuco. Perfect for growing with your child — starting with just the picture cards identifying facial expressions with emotions, and then adding text as they progress.

farm animal flashcards with real pictures

6. farm animal printable matching Game

These 3 part farm animal cards use real pictures of animals — perfect for helping toddlers and preschoolers learn. For a fun variation on the Memory game, have your child say the animal sound when they find a match.

Free Apple Anatomy Cards

7. Apple Anatomy Cards (Free Download)

These free apple anatomy cards from Books and Willows are perfect learning all about how apples grow, and even come with a beautiful apple anatomy poster.

solar system printables pdf

8. Outer Space Solar System for Memory Match Games

If your kid is anything like mine, they are obsessed with space. I made these planet cards for my son who loves learning about the solar system and space.

Nature Memory Match Cards

9. Nature Memory Match Cards

Beautiful nature illustrations from Whimsy Printables that include 48 cards, perfect for memory match games. They even include a background image for you to print on the back.

crab pattern matching activity

10. Crab Close-up Matching Cards

These close-up crab cards add a fun twist — instead of matching identical objects, have your child match the picture with a detailed close-up card that corresponds with the picture. A great way to practice visual discrimination skills.

Forest Matching Cards

11. forest Matching Cards

Bring the outdoors in with these delightful forest matching cards from Sweet Melody Designs. These matching cards come as part of the larger activity bundle which includes so many fun activities and learning resources.

Nature and Insect Matching Game

12. Nature and Insect Matching Game

Another beautiful nature bundle from Acorns and Aprons includes this fun nature matching game with fun insects, mushrooms and other creatures from the forest.

sight words flash cards with pictures

13. sight word cards

For older kids who are learning to read, use sight words to help them read words as they match. This set includes plain text sight words plus sentence and picture sight words cards that can be combined into lots of printable matching game fun.

5 Tips for Printing Matching Cards at Home

1. Print on thicker paper like card stock, not regular paper.

Find out what the maximum paper weight your printer can handle and use that paper weight. This is the card stock paper that I use in my Canon Pixma printer – it’s thick enough to hold it’s shape, and doesn’t give my printer any trouble. Plus it’s a great price.

2. Adjust your printer settings

Print on the “envelope” setting on your printer, which allows for the thickest paper.

3. Save Money with an ink tank printer

Invest in an ink tank printer if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, to save lots of money on ink. After doing some research, this Canon Pixma G5020 will be my next purchase, with a really reasonable price and can handle cardstock too.

4. Laminate For Durability

You can laminate your cards for extra durability, or if your child is really into tearing the cards. This will also help make your colors vibrant. I typically print on cardstock and skip laminating. However, if you’re going to laminate then you can print on cheap copy paper

5. Get Perfect Corners

I love the look of rounded edges, and this is the corner punch that I use to get perfectly round edges.  And love that it has multiple sizes built in, to fit different size cards.

Want More Super Fun Activity Ideas?

I’ve got you! Oh, and if we haven’t met, hi! I’m Stefanie—designer of printable activities for busy moms who want their toddlers and preschoolers to love learning (through play). If you like these printable matching games and want more Little Moon in your life, here are some ideas:

Check out this nature walk scavenger hunt game. If your little one loves matching games, take it outside! Discover and find items in nature and check them off as you find them. This picture checklist is designed for preschoolers and toddlers with easy-to-find items.

Subscribe to my newsletter. I send one play activity idea, once a week, giving you some serious inspiration of what to do with your toddler or preschooler that week. I send out freebies and special treats, all for my email list.

Discover some free printables. Download and print some free activities—arts & crafts projects, coloring books, activity guides, fun holiday printables and more!

Read the rest of my blog. It’s home to lots of play & learn activities, arts & crafts projects, activities to build your kiddo’s cognitive skills, and Montessori activity ideas and info.

Shop my printable activities. Explore nature themed printable activities for your toddler and preschooler to help them learn through play. All hands-on activities — the healthiest way for your young kiddo to learn. And designed with watercolor artwork, so you’ll love adding it to your beautiful home.

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I'm Stefanie—Founder & Designer For Little Moon

If you’re a toddler or preschooler parent who dreams of having a kid who is captivated by learning — but are too busy raising your tiny human on exactly 3 hours of sleep to research educational activities — nice to meet you, I’m your new solution.

I’m a cognitive psychologist + toddler mom, and I design nature printable activities to help your little one grow, learn and thrive through hands-on play, in a healthy way.

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