This kid-favorite is an excellent game for teaching strategic thinking. Participants sit in a circle, and one child walks around the outside tapping each head in turn and saying “duck.” Eventually they pick one child to be the “goose” and run around the circle to try to take that child’s place before the “goose” catches them. If they reach the end without getting tagged, the “goose” returns to their own seat and the original player continues around the circle.
As kids play this game more, they start thinking about how to pick a “goose” (such as someone who isn’t paying attention) who will give them a better chance of getting back to their seats without getting tagged. Duck, Duck, Goose teaches children to plan ahead and gives them immediate feedback on the quality of their decisions.
2. Musical Chairs
This game helps teach kids to resolve arguments peacefully, deal with disappointment and practice patience. Set chairs in a circle, one fewer than the number of children in the game, and then play music as kids walk around the circle. Every time the music stops, children must try to sit on a chair. Kids who don’t get a chair are out. Then remove a chair and begin again.
As a game of Musical Chairs progresses, children must learn to deal with the frustration of being out of the game, therefore practicing patience and waiting graciously. They must also learn to use their words to work out arguments about whose chair is whose or who got there “first." Be sure to have an adult on hand specifically to ensure conflicts are settled peacefully and to help kids who are no longer in the game stay cheerful.
3. Simon Says
Simon Says is an excellent game for helping kids learn to pay close attention to instructions, while also giving them a taste of leadership. In Simon Says, one kid asks their peers to do silly actions by saying “Simon says tap your head” or “Simon Says jump like monkeys.” Then the other kids will do the action—but only as long as the leader adds “Simon says” to their instructions.
Kids who don’t pay attention quickly discover that if they don’t listen, they’ll be the only one doing the silly action. That gives them extra motivation to listen closely to the entire set of instructions before getting started.
4. Row Your Boat
Self-awareness is an important skill for children to develop as part of the learning process. That’s one of the reasons we ask children to assess their own learning at Whitby. When children are small, this can start with physical self-awareness. Knowing how to moderate one's body is a very useful skill that prepares kids for later life. The game here is simple: pair children up facing one another with knees bent up in front of them and holding hands. Instruct them to rock back and forth in time to the song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” They’ll need to work together and keep an eye on their own movements at all times. It works best to play this game with a CD or a song on YouTube, so you can incorporate a "freeze" element by stopping music abruptly. This helps children focus on auditory cues and match their physical movements to them.
5. Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is a great game for teaching problem solving. In order to stay hidden for the longest possible amount of time, children have to assess their options so they can pick the best possible hiding spot. This builds spatial awareness, because kids must consider factors such as which hiding places will offer the most cover from the most vantage points. As they gain experience with the game, kids will take an even more in-depth assessment approach, thinking about which spots are frequently used during free play and therefore most likely to be checked first.
6. Parachute Games
Playing with a parachute is a fun way for kids to learn teamwork. Kids stand around a circle, holding a parachute (or large sheet) between them. When a ball or other object is placed on the parachute, kids toss the ball up and down. Kids must move in sync or the ball will fall off the side of the parachute. If playing with a big parachute, kids have to work together to keep multiple balls in play at the same time, or learn how to throw the parachute up so one child can run underneath before the parachute falls.