Kids are natural actors. After years of teaching theater games to kids ages 5-12, I’ve yet to encounter a child who doesn’t want to play. Some kids are better actors than others, but they all have the natural want-to. Very few have inhibitions. If I tell my group to pick a farm animal to become, I’m immediately surrounded by mooing, baaaaa-ing and oinking throng. I have yet to hear, “Do I HAVE to?” That part is wonderful.
While I’m no expert at theater, and though my 1/2 hour teaching slot at our drama class is anything but fancy or refined, kids love it. Theater games and improve exercises are very free form. Implication: You can do it too. But be prepared to embrace some chaos. Kids who are alive with imaginative fun are not sitting around quietly!
Here are a few of my class’ favorite games. Next time you have a group of bored kids around, try a couple of these and see how quickly time passes and how much fun you all have. But leave your perfectionism behind.
Duck Duck Animal—A twist on the familiar game Duck, Duck, Goose. Instead of saying, “Goose,” the child says the name of another animal and that child must become that animal as he/she races around the circle and tries to tag “it” before he/she reaches their spot in the circle. Smart kids quickly say slow animals such as “snail” or “turtle.”
Statue Maker—A classic game. One child is the statue shop owner. Another is the shopper. All other kids are statues. As the game begins all statues dance and wiggle until the statue maker says, “freeze.” The shopper, who has been outside the room, reenters and is shown the statues one by one. The shop owner turns on each statue and it performs its function and is then turned off. After each statue has performed, the shopper picks his/her favorite. The chosen statue becomes the next shopper and a new shop owner is chosen. This is my group’s favorite game. It is raucous and fun. (Young children will usually imitate each other and often end up chasing the shopper until turned off. It can help to suggest a theme for the statues, such as animals or sports. It is also helpful to remind children they are not to touch any other children.)
New York, New York—(Also called Lemonade) Divide your kids into two groups of at least 3 each. Each team goes to opposite sides of the room or designated outdoor area and decides on a vocation or activity, for example skiing or gardening. Both teams come up to the middle line. Team A says: “New York, New York,” Team B replies: “What’s your trade?” Team A: “Lemonade!” Team B: “Show us some if you’re not afraid.” At this point Team A begins to act out their agreed upon vocation and the other team tries to guess what they are doing. Once a correct guess is shouted out, Team A tries to run back to their base before being tagged out by members of Team B who are chasing them. Teams then switch roles.
Tangled Knot–(at least 10 kids) All children stand in a small circle. Next, they reach across the circle with closed eyes and find two hands to hold. Then the game begins. The children must untangle the giant knot created without letting go of anyone’s hands. Going slow is the key!
Detective–All children stand in a circle. One child is chosen as the detective and leaves the room. Another child is chosen to be the leader. He/she will lead the group in motions, similar to Simon Says—clapping, hopping, patting head, and turning around—when the detective returns. The detective is invited back into the room and stands in the center of the circle. He/she must guess who the leader is. The group must try and keep that knowledge from the detective by not making eye contact with the leader, and the leader must be careful to change up the motion only when the detective’s back is turned. Subtlety is the key. Once the detective correctly guesses the leader, a new detective and leader is chosen.
Mirror–Children pair up, and face one another. They take turns being the leader and the mirror. The leader moves his/her body very slowly and the mirror must “mirror” the actions. The game is to mirror so well that an observer can’t tell who the leader is and who the mirror is. Then kids switch roles.
For more ideas, check out: On Stage: Theater Games & Activities for Kids by Lisa Bany-Winters.
-posted by Donna Detweiler, who volunteers to do theater games with kids because of how she LOVED playing these games as a child. She wants to pass it on!