Christmas gift pass

'twas the night before christmas gift pass right left gameWhat it is: A Christmas gift pass/exchange activity, kind of like a white elephant gift exchange, but for younger kids. It’s easier and faster than a white elephant gift exchange and, because there’s no actual choosing involved, will probably lead to less gift-picker remorse/tears.

Best for: A classroom of children, anywhere from 12 to 30ish.

What you need: Each child will need to bring a wrapped gift for this gift exchange activity. It would be nice to set up some rules or a theme beforehand, like everyone bring a wrapped book, or the gift should be anywhere from $3-$5, or please keep it gender neutral, etc. You’ll also need this printable poem to read.

How to play: Have everyone sit in a circle on the floor. Then you can start one of two ways. You can have all the children put their gifts in a pile in the middle of the circle, then let everyone go up and pick a gift. They can probably all go up at the same time. Tell them they’re not going to end up with the gift they pick, so it’s not a decision to stress over. For an easier way to start or for younger children, just have each child hold the gift he or she brought.

Once everyone is seated in a circle and holding a gift, explain how the gift pass will work. You’ll read a poem aloud, and every time you say the words right or left, the children will pass their gift in the direction you say. (So the children will need to have at least a basic understanding of right and left.)

Then start reading the poem aloud. It’s an adaptation of the famous “‘Twas Night Before Christmas” poem. The key difference is words have been added – the words “right” and “left,” as many times as I could get them in. :) (It unfortunately messes with the rhythm a little bit, but it’s for the sake of the game.) Any time you come to one of those words, bolded and underlined for your convenience, really emphasize it. Make sure all the children pass their gift in the right direction. If your class is young, it might be nice to have another parent or teacher helper to oversee the passing.

Hopefully the kids will enjoy it, listening in anticipation for the words and watching the gifts move around the circle. And it’s a great way to practice directions, too. At the end of the poem, everyone keeps the gift he or she ends up with. Then all the children can open their gifts, either together or one at a time.

Note: I didn’t come up with this game. I remember playing it as a child at a class party, but I can’t quite remember when. I couldn’t find the text anywhere, so I wrote a new version. The original author of the poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is Clement Clarke Moore.

Printables: Here’s the free printable poem you can read! The instructions are also included on the printable.

'twas the night before christmas gift pass activity right left free printable

Printable-markerChristmas Poem Gift Pass

Thanksgiving gratitude tradition

gratitudeWhat it is: A Thanksgiving tradition my mother-in-law always does. It’s a talking reflection activity, a great way to develop grateful hearts because it goes beyond the typical “Name one thing you’re grateful for this year.”

Best for: A group of people, any size, at a Thanksgiving dinner.

What you need: You’ll need slips of paper with different items you can be grateful for written down on them. I provide a free printable below. When my mother-in-law does it, they’re always cute crafty papers punched out the shape of leaves or shaped to look like little pilgrim boats or something. Mine are a kind of cheap imitation, but if you print them on cardstock and cut them out I think they might look okay. :) Feel free to use some of my word ideas and make your own cards as cute or as plain as you would like them to be.

How to play: The tradition is pretty simple. At Thanksgiving dinner, each guest will be given one card with different items you can be grateful for written on them. These can include things like familyhomefoodsunshine and some that are more specific (like a random act of kindness). After everyone has eaten, go around the table and have each guest tell a story or explain the time they were most grateful for the item on their card.

My mother-in-law usually preassigns the cards by setting them at place settings. You could also have guests randomly draw a card. But I like having them at the place setting at the beginning of the meal because it gives everyone a chance to think (this is one of those things that you need to think about). One thing to be aware of, some of the topics could be sensitive or difficult for some guests, so allowing trading is always a fine idea.

The stories can be longer or shorter; they might just be a few words. But I’ve found that it’s really a great activity that leaves everyone feeling grateful for the blessings we do have, because a lot of times the time when we were most grateful for something is the time we didn’t have it. There’s something about hearing others’ stories or grateful experiences that is very powerful. I love Thanksgiving at my in-law’s because we do this each time.

If you want an example, say I were given the card food. I might tell about the time when I had finished labor and delivery with my first child, and I was amazed and happy and exhausted and I hadn’t eaten in twelve hours. And then my new son and I made it to our recovery room and he was all swaddled and clean and my husband was there, and I got to order lunch! And the hospital food tasted so good, and I don’t think I had ever been more grateful just to have food to eat. The experiences can be as simple as that.

Printables: Here is the printable I made! I’d recommend printing on cardstock. Feel free to pick and choose. The items should be pretty universal, except for the last three pages. Those pages are specific to the Latter-day Saint or Mormon culture (the church I belong to). Feel free to use or not use those pages as you see fit.

Thanksgiving gratitude talking

Musical pictionary

music-pictionaryWhat it is: A version of pictionary where you draw and get other players to guess song titles instead of just regular terms.

Best for: Any group of people, from 2 to more than 20. Pictionary is very adaptable.

What you need: You’ll need a drawing surface, like a whiteboard and dry erase marker, or a chalkboard, or a big pad of paper and marker.

How to play: You basically play just like pictionary (visit that post for in-depth instructions) but with song titles! So how does this change the game? First of all, they might be harder to draw than regular Pictionary terms. Let’s take an example. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from The Lion King. How would you draw that song title so that your friends would guess it? You could draw a singing lion cub with a speech bubble and a king’s crown inside it. You could draw a bunch of African animals all dancing around like in the scene from the movie. You could draw a clock with a slash through it (for “can’t wait”) and a king’s crown. However you want to! Possibilities are endless. The point is, it might be a little more involved than regular pictionary, and that’s all part of the fun.

Because phrases might be harder, it’s nice to allow a longer time limit, maybe a couple of minutes. Or maybe don’t play competitively and don’t have a time limit at all!

And then I think you should totally assign bonus points to someone who can not only guess the song, but starts singing it as well. :)

Variations: I have a free printable word list below with Disney song titles. But you could play any number of variations. 90’s music, oldies, country, musicals…there are all sorts of categories of music out there! You don’t need a list to play, either. Just have players think up their own song titles to illustrate.

As for variations on pictionary, there’s pictionary telephone and pictionary charades. You can also play pictionary with any group of words. It’s a great game for holidays. On my printables page, I have free printable word lists in all sorts of categories, including for most major holidays.

Printables: And here’s the list of Disney songs! I won’t say it’s comprehensive, but it’s pretty long. There are some obscure ones on there. So if you’re not a Disney song know-it-all, just skip the ones you don’t know. Enjoy!

Printable-markerDisney Songs List


Hot lava

hot-lavaWhat it is: The wonderful game every child thinks he or she invented.

Best for: A small group, or a group to fit however big your playing area is.

What you need: You’ll need a place to play. For me and my siblings and cousins, this was always an indoor game, played in a large living room or bedroom (much to our parents’ chagrin). You could easily play outside as well. A playground would be ideal.

How to play: There’s one rule. THE FLOOR IS LAVA! Don’t touch it!

Ah, this is such a fun game. Kids just love to climb and jump, and pretending the floor is hot lava gives you an excellent excuse to do so. So jump from couch to couch, throw down couch pillows to use as stepping stones, step on the coffee table, just don’t touch the floor!

If you play outside, you can make the grass lava, or the concrete, or whatever you want. You can have some spots of ground be safe spots.

Too bad this game, when played indoors, always makes grown-ups so mad. It’s so fun! I remember playing with my siblings and cousins at my grandparents’ house all the time. We played in the upstairs kids’ room, a room with four sets of bunk beds and couches and a chair: a truly perfect setup for hot lava. But if we were too loud as we leapt from furniture to furniture, our parents would hear the banging downstairs and tell us to stop. Once I remember playing in college (you’re never too old for the classics) in our dorm common room, where we took off couch cushions and made paths across the floor, until a resident assistant told us to stop. So much fun!

Variations: Lava monsters are a great variation to have. Either start with one or two at the beginning of the game, or make any player who accidentally touches the lava become a lava monster. The goal of a lava monster is simple: drag other players into the lava, mua ha ha! (This can be literally dragging, or a simple one-hand tag will do.) When players are captured by the lava monster, they become lava monsters, too!

I know you played this as a child, so do you have any variations to share? Or favorite experiences playing? I’d love to hear; leave a comment!

Murder: Hand-squeezing version

What it is: A group game where one player, the murderer, squeezes people’s hands to “kill” them, trying to kill as many as he can before his identity is discovered. So, whereas the other murder game is all about your eyes, in this one you use your hands.


Best for: A group of about 10, though a little more or less is fine.

What you need: A way to pick a murderer: either a deck of cards or slips of blank paper (or something else you come up with).

How to play: This is another fun variation on the murder game theme (in time for Halloween!). To start, you need to choose a murderer. If you have a deck of cards, pull out one card for each player. Make them all non-face cards, except for one. Shuffle and have each player pick a card, face down. Whichever player draws the face card will be the Murderer. You can do the same thing with slips of paper. Just draw an X on one and fold them all up.

So now one player should be the Murderer, but only he or she knows. To everyone else it’s a secret. Now have all your players sit in a circle on the ground, cross-legged. Then players all hold hands to form a circle, but it’s important that players hide their hands, to the best of their ability, behind backs or under legs. You don’t want your hands just sitting on laps where everyone can see them.

Then announce the start of the game, at which point the Murderer can start in with the dirty work, mua-ha-ha.

The Murderer “kills” people by squeezing the hands of the players next to him. So let’s say Aaron is the Murderer. To his left is Kate, and to his right is Juliet. Aaron might start by squeezing Kate’s hand three times. Then Kate would “pass” the squeeze to the player on her other side by squeezing his hand two times. That player would pass it on by squeezing only one time. And the player who receives one squeeze…is dead.

Which brings us to: optional dramatic deaths. The game gets extra fun if, whenever you “die,” you die a dramatic death: fall on the floor, gasp, shout out your famous last words, etc. Adds in an element of humor and drama. :) At the minimum, just announce you’re dead and leave the circle.

That’s basically the only game play. The Murderer squeezes hands of the people next to him, both to his right and to his left, and the squeezes get passed around the circle, going both directions, and any player who receives only one hand squeeze dies and leaves the circle. So the circle keeps getting smaller and smaller. The Murderer can kill as quickly or as slowly as he wants.

As for the other players, their objective is to guess who the Murderer is before they all end up dead. Players do this with a simple accusation: “Kate, are you the Murderer?” Since Kate’s not the Murderer in this game, she shakes her head no, and then the player who made the false accusation has to leave the circle. Figuring out the Murderer is trickier than you might think, because players have no idea where the hand-squeezes originate from, and when you watch a player die on the other side of the circle, you might not even know from which direction the killing strike came.

The game ends when someone correctly accuses Aaron as the Murderer, or when Aaron kills everyone else. Whew!

Variations: Have you tried the winks version of murder? There’s also mafia, a game with a similar theme.