If left to their own devices, many kids are true adventurers. And yet, we’ve seen more kids than we’d expect be reluctant to set foot into the woods—arguably where the fun and learning go down! We mostly notice hesitation, but have even heard wee ones say that we (i.e. people) are supposed to stay on the walkways, ball fields or playgrounds of our local parks. Having spent their young lives on the beaten path, this misunderstanding is rather understandable. We’ve found words, even those carefully chosen by a teacher, don’t quite convince kids like these to take their game off-road. What does, you ask? Hide-and-seek.
It turns out, hide-and-seek works incredibly well—not only at getting reluctant kids “into” their surroundings, but at keeping all kids highly engaged. They love hide and seek. Who doesn’t? It never gets old, especially when you play outdoors. With the right twists, it can captivate kids of all ages. The more we’ve learned about it and observed how kids play it, the more we appreciate how powerful the game really is.
We’ve made our own variations on hide-and-seek and use them with kids ages 3 to 5. These age ranges are general guidelines. You know your kids best, so strike the balance with just enough challenge while avoiding making them frustrated. Check out our Hide-and-Seek for kids ages 0-2 and for kids ages 6-8.
The basic rules: To play any variation on hide-and-seek, start by agreeing on boundaries within which the hiding must take place. The more participants and/or the older the kids, the larger the area. Whoever is “it” must pick a spot, close his or her eyes (this can be challenging still for some kids this age), and count out loud to some number between 10 and 100.
Classic hide-and-seek (minimum: 2 players): Once he has finished counting, the “it” player yells, “Ready or not, here I come!” The rest of the players must remain wherever they are. Then, the “it” player searches for the other players, finding them one by one. The first player found is “it” during the next round. The last player found wins.
Playing with a “home base” (minimum: 3 players): The set up is the same, except that the tree or other landmark at which the “it” player counts will act as “home base.” Once the “it” player says, “Ready or not...” s/he tries to find and tag the other players. Meanwhile, the other players can run from their hiding spots back to “home base.” If they reach home base without being tagged, they are safe. The first player to be tagged is “it” during the next round. If no one gets tagged, the same person is “it” during the next round.
Why is this activity great for kids?
For many reasons, variations of hide-and-seek are played all over the world, dating back to at least 2nd century Greece. Searching for better and better cover, kids learn, first hand, about the trees, brush, logs and other features of the outdoors...and they get off of the paths! Psychologists tout the emotional benefits, saying that kids get hooked on facing and, in the moment, conquering the fear of separation from loved ones (parents, friends). We have watched hide-and-seek build independence and self reliance—the more they play, the further kids will push themselves. Science topics like camouflage and predator/prey relationships can easily surface as kids play and talk with you about the game. Kids learn new strategies as they play, thinking critically about how and where best to hide each round. Finally, to remain in a hiding spot and keep from being noticed requires considerable focus and self control, skills needed for success in school and life. Let us not forget, that counting practice really pays off. I had a preschooler who couldn't make it from ten to eleven without exclaiming, "Ready or not, here I come!"
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