Monkey in the middle

monkey-in-the-middleWhat it is: A throwing and catching game for a small group. Players try to keep the ball away from one player (the “monkey”).

Best for: A small group, maybe 3 to 5.

What you need: You’ll need a ball to throw and catch. It could be a kickball or an inflated ball. You could even play with a soccer ball that you kick and receive, or a frisbee or some other object.

How to play: Monkey in the middle is one of those simple games that’s easily variable. Players toss or kick a ball back and forth between them, but one extra player (the “monkey”) is left standing in the middle. The other players try to keep the ball away from the monkey. The monkey tries to grab the ball, earning him or her a place on the outside of the circle. :)

When the monkey grabs the ball, the last player to have touched it is now the monkey. You can decide on more specific rules, too. Does the monkey have to grab the ball, or will simply touching it count? You can adjust the rules and playing size to the ages of your players.

This is often one of those games that happens naturally to pass the time or (unfortunately) to bully someone else by keeping something they want away from them.

Don’t play like that. We all know it’s not nice.

But when played with people who agree by common consent to play, it can be a fun game that lasts for a while. :)

Walk on the ceiling

walk-on-the-ceilingWhat it is: A game, or really more of an activity, to play around the house. It’s ideal for one to two players, really entertaining for little children, a new favorite of my four-year-old, and the reason my handheld mirror is broken.

Best for: One, two, or three children in a house.

What you need: You’ll need a handheld mirror, not huge, but big enough to see your whole face in. If you have more than one person, you can have more than one mirror (more fun). Or you can take turns (less fun).

How to play: This is a simple one. You take a handheld mirror and use it to pretend to walk on the ceiling. To do this, just hold the mirror parallel to the floor, pressed against your face right underneath your nose. Then look down into the mirror, which will be displaying a reflection of the ceiling.

If you walk around and use your suspension of disbelief, it kind of feels like you’re actually walking on the ceiling, especially if the mirror is large enough to cover up the view of your feet and the ground beneath you.

So then the fun part comes in the novelty of walking on the ceiling. There are light fixtures to avoid, door frames to step over, and sometimes giant pits (aka, vaulted ceilings) that you could fall into. The ceiling is a dangerous place. It can be fun to play with two people, so you can plan and explore together. You can definitely add more imaginative play too, like a mission to complete or ceiling goblins chasing after you or the spacetime continuum to restore to balance. Something like that.

Just be sure that when you’re playing you’re not totally unaware of the ground you’re actually walking on. Me and my sisters loved to play this when we were little, and I remember getting banged shins from coffee tables in the process. Make sure the rooms are tidy, without too many toys or objects to trip over or step on. (Like Legos. Legos are the worst.)

It’s funny, I recently taught my son Carson to play this. He loved it from the get-go. And asks to play every time I’m doing my hair and makeup and he sees my little mirror. Did I mention he broke one already? Now I know why my mom was always reluctant to let us play when I was a kid. She was worried not only about the safety of her mirrors, but us, too.

I never got it before. I couldn’t understand why she wanted to take away all our fun like that.

I understand now, Mom. I understand.

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

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!

Duck, duck, goose


What it is: A perfect, easy little kid game that’s popular and often learned in preschool or kindergarten.

Best for: A group of young kids (maybe age 5 to 8).

What you need: Just people to play and a large, flat area big enough for everyone to sit in a circle with no obstructions around.

How to play: First, have all your players sit in a circle. Choose one player – we’ll call her Mary – to be It. Mary stands outside the circle while everyone else sits.

Mary starts the game by walking around the outside of the circle. As she passes each player, she touches his or her head and calls them either a “duck” or a “goose.” If Mary says duck, nothing happens. But if Mary touches Jane’s head and says goose, then Jane (the goose) must immediately jump up and try to tag Mary. Mary runs all around the outside of the circle (no cutting corners or changing directions) back to Jane’s empty spot and tries to sit in it. If Mary makes it back before Jane tags her, Mary sits in Jane’s spot and Jane becomes the new It, walking around the circle and calling duck or goose. If Jane happens to tag Mary, then Mary is still It and must try again.

Play continues for as long as you want to play!

Variations: We always played with the mush pot variation. In this variation, the middle of the circle is called the mush pot. Say Mary is running around the outside of the circle, trying not to be tagged by Jane. If Jane does tag Mary, then Mary has to go sit in the mush pot. When we played, everyone would then pat the ground of the mush pot together and yell out “Mush! Mush! Mush!” Yeah, super humiliating. Then Mary has to stay in the mush pot until someone else gets sent there.

Also, just because it’s a little kid game doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for older players, too. The chasing and tagging could get more extreme in this case, and more fun. I guess the classic games are just always classic. :)